Bad Credit Helper: How to Save Money Through Meal Planning

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As many celebrity health enthusiasts will tell you, eating healthy food is easy. You just have to ask your personal shopper to buy only the best ingredients, which your personal gourmet chefs will transform into meals that are not just good for you, but dance across your taste buds like magical flavor pixies.
What’s that? You don’t have personal shoppers and chefs? Well, there’s still a way you can have healthy food that won’t dominate your entire schedule. Is it easier to pick up fast food on the way home? Sure, but the costs add up, to say nothing of the medical costs that can come with an unhealthy diet.
What is this miracle solution? Meal planning! Meal planning is a magical (not really) strategy to turn a few hours into a whole week of meals (really). How does it work? The experts are here to tell you!

So what is meal planning?

Simply put, meal planning means coming up with a list of meals you want to create for the week and making the preparations all at once. That way you’ll be able to efficiently prepare healthy food without having to devote time to it each day.

“I tend to buy things in bulk and prepare them ahead of time, then freeze them,” said nutrition expert Dr. Caroline Apovian (@DrApovian). “That is one option if people can sit down and think out their meals a week in advance.”

Jamie Jeffers, creator of the Medium Sized Family blog (@MediumSizedFam), put it this way: “Meal planning feels like such a chore sometimes. But think of it this way; every time you meal plan you’re basically paying yourself in savings. How often have you looked around, decided there was nothing to eat, and ordered pizza instead? A meal plan can save you from the stress of decision making at a hectic time of the day.”

Laura Hall, a marketing executive at Shiply (@shiply), suggests: “Do your shopping with meals in mind. That way you’ll know that you have all the ingredients for a specific meal, and keeps your mind thinking in terms of meals rather than mindlessly buying individual snacks or ingredients that may or may not be enough to make something you actually want to eat. Think about the week ahead and plan when you’re going to actually be in the house. If you’ve got dinner with a friend on one evening, you won’t need to plan a meal for that day. Making meals in advance can help too, and Sundays are great for cooking—if you know you only need to reheat a meal at home rather than having to take a long time to cook something new, you’ll be more likely to eat it as it’s more convenient.”

Strategy, delicious strategy.

If you want to succeed at meal planning, you’ll need another kind of plan: a game plan. Pick a strategy you know you can commit to and stick with it. Not feeling creative? Thankfully the experts we spoke to had some suggestions you can use.

According to Jeffers, you should choose a plan that helps you avoid monotony: “Many people assign a meal to a particular day. Soup on Monday, chicken casserole on Tuesday, and so on. That doesn’t work well for my family. What if Monday is just too hot to eat soup? Or on Tuesday something pops up and you don’t have time to make a casserole?

“Instead, I create a list of meals that we’ll eat for the next two weeks. Each day, I choose the meal from the list that works best. If I’m having an easy day, I can make that more time-consuming meal. On a bad hair day, I can choose something simple. Be sure to have a good mix of these types of meals on your list!”

Brad Nierenberg, also known as Brad the Gourmand (@GourmandBrad), offered a chicken-based meal plan you can try out: “Write out your meal plan. Select a base food that you can portion out and serve in a variety of ways. In this sample plan, the base ingredient is chicken thighs. Purchase all the ingredients you’ll need for the week at one time.

“Season a package of 10-12 chicken thighs with salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Then use those baked thighs throughout the week for different entrees. While the chicken is baking, prepare 2 cups of rice in a rice cooker or on the stove top. You can now make your entrees in advance, or prepare them each evening in a short amount of time. Roast vegetables in a 400-degree oven until slightly caramelized.

  1. Rewarm 1-2 thighs and serve with roasted vegetables and a small amount of rice.
  2. Remove the skin from 2 thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces and use the leftover rice to make chicken fried rice. This should make enough for at least two meals.
  3. Remove the skin from 1 thigh, cut into bite-sized pieces, and add to a large entree-sized salad.
  4. Remove the skin of 2 thighs, place in a small baking dish with some red pasta sauce, lay a slice of provolone or mozzarella cheese over each piece of chicken, and bake until bubbly for a healthy version of chicken parmesan. Serve with a side salad.
  5. Other possible uses for remaining chicken: chicken salad, chicken and rice casserole, chicken enchiladas, chicken curry with rice, and chicken soup.”

Natasha Rachel Smith, financial expert at TopCashBack (@TopCashBackUSA), gave us her top tips for being the best meal planner you can be:

  • “Plan before grocery shopping. Start off by planning what you will have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This will help give you an idea of what you need to buy before you get to the supermarket and avoid unnecessary purchases that will go to waste.
  • Buy in bulk. Consider buying the non-perishable necessities in bulk such as salt, vinegar, oil, pasta, rice, and beans to help save money. Consider buying a membership to wholesale stores such as Costco or BJs to take saving money to the next level. In addition to the buy-in-bulk savings it offers, you can earn one to three percent cash back via topcashback.com.
  • Use the same ingredients for more than one meal. Make the most out of your meal prep and repurpose some items to make several dishes! Not only will you save money on buying fewer items but nothing will go to waste (i.e. having a spinach salad for lunch and spinach as a side for dinner). Since fresh fruits and veggies tend to spoil first, I recommend making sure you use those items first!
  • Don’t toss your packed lunch in favor of last-minute cravings. It’s tempting to splurge on junk food, but it’s not worth wasting the food, money, or time it took to prepare your lunch. Commit to your packed lunch and don’t stray away from your meal preparations. If you’re the type to give into lunch-time office cravings, pack a lunch that is just as delicious. You can always meal prep homemade pizza, pasta and wraps!
  • Recycle your leftovers into another meal. Avoid throwing away any leftover meals or ingredients. Instead, plan to recycle your meal! I recommend grabbing any leftover veggies, rice, noodles, and proteins to make a recycle stir-fry. Nothing will get thrown away and you can get creative with how you revamp your leftovers.
  • Coupons and deals. Look through your local supermarket flyers for weekly deals and coupons to ensure you’re getting the best deal on the products you’re looking to buy. You can also cut out coupons to save more off your grocery shopping list!”

Get by with a little help from these meal planning tools.

There are also resources specifically made to help you take your meal planning to the next level. One such tool, Prepd (@getprepd), was brought to our attention by its cofounder, Chris Place. Here’s what he had to say:

“Our whole business revolves around helping people eat better by meal planning—making it enjoyable is a big part of making it sustainable. Our Lunchbox and prep containers work together so you can get organized and our app has hundreds of recipes.

“You can also view all of our meal planning recipes at recipes.getprepd.com or on our Pinterest page.”

Place also shared one of his favorite recipes: “My favorite meals are our 10 minute BLT salads. And recently I have been making a lot of Energy Balls which are cheap to make, store really well, and are a great snack to power you through the afternoon.”

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, money coach and founder of The Fiscal Femme (@TheFiscalFemme), offered us another resource: “I put together this Fabulously Frugal Meal Planning guide with a health coach and foodie. It’s a great resource for planning healthy, easy, delicious and cost-effective meals. We are also launching a Monday Meal Planning Series on June 26th where we share a recipe from a food/health blogger each Monday along with the cost of making the recipe.” You can subscribe to her weekly recipe series here.

With these tools, tips, and some persistence, you’ll become a meal planning master in no time. Plan on, hungry friends!

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Contributors

Dr. Caroline Apovian (@DrApovian) has worked in weight loss and nutrition for over 25 years.  She currently serves as Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and vice president of The Obesity Society. She lives in Boston, MA.
Brad Nierenberg (@GourmandBrad) Brad Nierenberg is a novice home cook and amateur food blogger. He likes to try new recipes but frequently resurrects old family recipes and to keep them alive!
Ashley Feinstein Gerstley (@TheFiscalFemme) is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme where she demystifies the world of personal finance and money in a fun and accessible way so her clients achieve their financial goals.
Laura Hall (@shiply) is a Marketing Executive at Shiply and recently turned vegetarian.
Jamie Jeffer is a wife and mother of five, clawing her way out of credit card debt.  She dreams of bottomless coffee and scones that magically appear on her desk where she blogs at Medium Sized Family.
Chris Place (@getprepd) iis the Co-Founder of Prepd. Originally from London, he has been living in Hong Kong and traveling often to the US over the last seven years. Chris grew up eating very well but as an adult, found it difficult with unpredictable schedules and long working hours. His personal approach to cooking is to make quick nutritious meals that give him energy throughout the day. Prepd Pack has been really great for helping plan meals and keeping organized.
Natasha Rachel Smith (@topcashbackusa) is a personal finance expert at TopCashback.com. Natasha’s background is in retail, banking, personal finance and consumer empowerment; ranging from sales to journalism, marketing, public relations and spokesperson work during a 17-year career period. She’s originally from London, UK, but moved to Montclair, New Jersey, USA, several years ago to launch and run the American arm of the British-owned TopCashback brand; a global consumer empowerment and money-saving portal company.