Readers have been asking me for a long time to write about a few things regarding food:
- Meal Planning/Food Prep
- Healthy Eating on a Budget
- How to Food Plan on a Budget
I’m pretty experienced with food prepping because I’ve been doing it now for about seven years. I always grocery shop on the weekend–typically Saturday–and I usually prep my food on Sundays. I’ve gone through several stages of food prep too. The “all-organic” food prep, the “Paleo” food prep, the “spend 8-hours-in-the-kitchen” food prep, and the “ain’t-got-time-for-that-so-throw-it-in-the-microwave” food prep. Let’s face it, food prep can be extremely boring.
I’ve never really written much about prepping before,
because I feel like most of my food is pretty boring. I eat ground turkey every week. Sure, I throw in a plate of scallops and asparagus every now and then, but that’s usually because Erik is cooking something awesome for dinner and I get to have some too. My food picks don’t change very often so I’ve never felt like I needed to write much on the thirty different ways to use ground turkey.
But recently, Erik and I have been doing a lot of reading on finances, creating budgets, living life debt free, and learning how to plan and save for the future. I know, I’ve never felt so adult-ish. My dad would be so proud. And one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I usually spend WAY too much money on food. On our current budget, I spend $50 each week on my food. I pay for everything in cash, so I can’t go over my limit. You have no idea how many things I would typically pick up and throw into my cart just “because.” This also keeps me from eating out, grabbing food on the run, cooking more than one pack of bacon in a week, or just randomly swinging by the store for some Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups when I’m craving something sweet. I also know that when I’m out of food, I can’t just go to the store again. I eat what’s in my fridge, cabinet, freezer, etc., until it’s time to plan for the next week.
I don’t know what your current budget may be or even if you have one, but I would set a limit if I were you. If you are cooking or prepping for a family, set a limit for your family, or maybe a limit for each person. Erik’s weekly budget is $75. He’s a guy, he eats more, and he also makes more money than I do, so that plays a factor as well. Luckily, he also buys and prepares his own food for the week so I don’t have to worry about it.
Once you have your budget, plan your meals.
This doesn’t have to be fancy–I typically plan out my meals on scratch paper or on the notepad of my phone. Then I make a list of the foods I need to buy–if I’m lucky I might already have some ingredients left over from previous weeks. Here’s my list for the current week:
- Upon Waking: Accelerator shake made from coffee, coconut oil, and whey protein.
- Breakfast: 1 egg with 1/2 c egg whites, sprinkle of 2% cheddar cheese and a couple spoon fulls of organic salsa. I might cook my eggs in a tsp of ghee or Smart Balance. I also might add a slice or two of bacon and/or maybe 1/2 sweet potato. (This is also sometimes my dinner. I really love this meal.) Important note about breakfast: Many of my readers know that there are new discoveries showing that breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day! Gasp! This is why I drink my accelerator shake first, and a couple hours later–if I need it–I eat a meal centered around protein and fat, avoiding insulin-spiking carbs (in which I save for peri-workout.) Doing this actually helps burn more fat and preserve muscle mass!
- Lunch: Chicken breasts with sauteed squash in coconut oil and a spoon full of pumpkin seeds.
- Snack: 1 tomato, 1 mozzarella string cheese
- Pre-Workout: I might eat a couple more eggs with cheese if really hungry.
- Post-Workout: My favorite thing right now–cereal, almond milk, Dymatize ISO cake batter protein powder. I typically only have the cereal if it’s a heavy lift day. If not, just the protein powder and a piece of fruit or smaller carb serving.
- Dinner: Low-carb chili made from organic diced tomatoes, ground turkey, frozen cauliflower, frozen mixed peppers and onions, and lots of spices: chili, red pepper, onion, garlic, turmeric, cayenne. Side of gluten free corn bread on days that I lift. (Every day?)
- To battle sweet cravings: frozen grapes
- Extras: I sometimes keep gum on hand if I’m at work and feeling the need to snack on “snack-type” foods hanging around. I also really try to drink as much water as possible each day, and I always keep packs or cans of tuna (and sometimes the pouches of baby food–especially sweet potatoes) on standby just in case! I always check to see if these items are on sale!
To be fair, I already had a handful of ingredients I needed for this week that I had either previously bought (the can of diced tomatoes and the gluten free cornbread mix) or had left over from the week before (coffee, whey protein, coconut oil, pumpkin seeds, string cheese, salsa, and grapes). I used to shop at our local Martin’s/Giant and even the local Food Co-Op because of the awesome organic/gluten-free/whole-foods/locally grown and raised availability. But these stores are really pricey. And I’ve read a lot about organic foods and how there are really only a few “musts” when it comes to buying those. For example, I read that if you had to choose between organic produce and free-range/organically raised meats, go meat over produce. I’ve also read several times that if you peel a fruit or veggie, don’t worry about buying organic. So being on a budget, these are the battles I don’t fight.
My local Food Lion actually has a great organic and locally grown foods section and is much cheaper than the competitors.
Unless there’s something I can’t get at Food Lion (like nitrite/nitrate free bacon) that’s where I get the bulk of my foods. And what I love about shopping there is that they always have the BEST prices on meat. Compared to other stores, I can get free range/no steroids/no hormones meat and almost every single time, I can find it marked down and ready to sell!
I don’t even really like chicken breasts but I keep finding them marked down and I feel like I can’t afford NOT to buy them! Typically, I will buy my meat for the week and then buy extra and freeze it because I always find it marked down every time I go in. Right now, I’ve got 5 frozen chicken breasts in the freezer for next week waiting on me. That’s going to save me at least $6 from next week’s budget! And did I mention what Erik and I do every time we have money left over? We save it for a fun date night at the end of the week or the end of the month. Last month we had two dinners out! And those dinners seemed extra special because we knew we were still saving money for our future and working towards our goals without being too spend-thrifty. It’s actually a lot of fun!
I only spent $46 at the store for the whole week!
So yesterday I went to Food Lion and for $46, I bought chicken breasts, ground turkey, two bags of frozen vegetables, four tomatoes, a box of lemon pudding mix, two containers of yogurt (I really wanted more than two but didn’t), two packs of gelatin, almond milk, cereal (one box–I really wanted two), one carton of 18 eggs, one carton of egg whites, one pack of bacon (I didn’t get the “heatlhy” kind this time), one pack of 2% shredded cheddar cheese, one sweet potaoto, and a bag of carrots (I just realized I forgot to cook my carrots). Side note: I love cooking carrots until they’re soft and then tossing them in coconut oil and cinnamon. Instead of snacking on crap foods whenever I get the urge to eat something, I can just eat a couple carrots and this really helps. I’m your classic “snack-eater.” Having a lot of healthy options around really help me! This cart of food, combined with some other items in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, will make up all my meals for the entire week and I’ll probably have leftovers going into next week as well.
The best part of it all is that all my foods are healthy–for the most part–and they fit my needs for lifting weight, building muscle, and even burning fat.
- Give yourself a budget and don’t spend a penny over.
- Food planning isn’t difficult. It just takes a little time, experiments, trial and error.
- You’ve got to allow yourself a few hours to prep your food and over time, you’ll need less time. I went from 8 hour food-prep to 2. If you can’t set aside this time, it will never happen.
- I refuse to make homemade salads from scratch. That takes FOREVER.
- Ground turkey, frozen steamable bags of vegetables, and a “good” fat like avocado, nuts, seeds, or coconut oil will make the perfect dish…no matter how you cook it.
The best way I can help you is by answering your questions. What are your food prep questions? Eating healthy on a budget questions? Ask them in the comments section below and I’ll respond with my answers. You can TOTALLY do this!
My friend Emily emailed me to ask what is the name of the Costco salad I referenced, what I use as a dressing, and also how I make my cauliflower/egg hash above. I wanted to answer here in case anyone had the same question.
The Costco salad is a “Sweet Kale Vegetable Salad Kit” made by Eat Smart. And I stole this info about it right off the website. The salad contains:
Eat Smart’s new Gourmet Selections Vegetable Salad Kits are restaurant-inspired salads that are nutritious AND packed with great taste. The Sweet Kale Salad creates a harmony between the bitter kale and the sweetness of cranberries and poppyseed dressing. This unique blend of vegetables is topped with roasted pumpkin seeds for a zesty crunch. The Sweet Kale Salad is nutrient-dense, containing seven superfoods and offers delicious flavors that will keep you coming back for more. GLUTEN FREE and vegetarian friendly!
So yes, the dressing actually comes with the salad and I used it! I’m pretty famous for not using salad dressings and making my own because I’ve never ever EVER found a salad dressing I like or agree with as far as ingredients are concerned. This dressing isn’t perfect but it’s relatively low in sugar so I said “heck with making my own, I’ll just use this.” And it was really really good! If you’re concerned with cutting out sugar (shouldn’t we all be?) I would just use oil and vinegar. I typically use extra virgin olive oil (sometimes flax oil), and I also use either red wine vinegar, balsamic, or apple cider vinegar. When I make my own dressing (Erik’s favorite!) I use about a quarter cup olive oil, a cup of red wine vinegar, a TBS (or two?) of dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic. It’s really good! (And I totally estimated these amounts.) Also, I honestly debated NOT including the dried cranberries when I ate this salad because they contain so much sugar. However, they looked so good that I decided again, “heck with it!” The label on the salad says that the bag equals four servings but I easily turned it into six because I added protein to the salad. I’m a big eater and I felt full. One serving, per the label and including the cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and dressing, is 150 calories, 9 grams fat, 15 grams carbs, 2 grams fiber, 10 grams sugar and 3 grams protein. If you eat JUST the salad (no dressing, no cranberries, no seeds — though I would totally keep the seeds — pumpkin seeds are so good for you but that’s a whole new post) then one serving is 20 calories, 0 fat, 2 carbs, 2 fiber, 1 g sugar, 1 g protein.
NEXT: The Cauliflower Dish.
This is super easy and even more easy to modify depending on your needs. On Sundays I love having bacon. Well, every day I love bacon, but it’s kind of a tradition in the house to get up and cook it on Sunday. So I usually cook a few slices of bacon and then in the meantime, chop up a head of cauliflower. You could save time and probably money if you used frozen cauliflower (thawed before cooking), but I like fresh for this dish. When I remove the bacon from the pan, I add the cauliflower to the leftover bacon grease. I keep the heat around medium and cook the cauliflower til it’s really tender. A fork should be able to mash it. I then add 1-2 whole eggs, and a generous pour of egg whites (maybe a cup?). I stir the eggs in really well and cook that until the eggs are cooked all the way. I put a thin layer of 2% cheese on top, place the lid on the pan, keep everything on med-low until the cheese melts. Crumble up the bacon and then add it back to the mix before serving. This is SO good. You could make it healthier by opting out of bacon…maybe using ghee to took the cauliflower in (clarified butter)….or even use mozzarella. But in my house, Sunday traditions are hard to break.
Em, I hope this helps!!