So you have million-dollar dreams on a minimum wage paycheck?
My dream is to walk into WholeFoods and walk out with BAGS of food. Not just my two items that cost $50. As an athlete (or anyone who wants to put good quality food into their body), it costs. A LOT. Sure! It would be awesome if we could all afford premium meats, all organic veggies and fruits, and gourmet meals. But the reality for most of us chasing those BIG dreams, we are virtually broke. I mean, that’s part of the hunger, right? And I’m not talking about actual hunger (because that’s true too). No, we are HUNGRY to make our dreams come true.
It’s no secret that part of athletic success relies heavily on nutrition. Not just getting the most nutritious foods in our bodies, but we need to get a crazy amount of calories in. Aka, get ready to dump out your wallet and pay a crazy amount more on food.
But what if we can’t afford to spend any more money on food?!!! How can we get a ton of nutritious foods without making our wallets cry?
Luckily I have been in this very situation. One time I was able to buy a month’s worth of food for $80. True story! It wasn’t the most exciting meal, but hey. I was able to fuel my body properly to sustain my training. Here I lay out a couple of money-saving tips for buying food. From “ I’m working in exchange for free meals” broke, to “ It’s a Trader Joe’s week, baby!” whatever your budget, I got ya covered, fam.
Let’s break it down. Here is a plan on how to get the most out of your meal prep budget.
Have a game plan. Pick a day, let's say Sunday, and spend 10 min planning out your meals. I like to break it down by protein, carbs, and fats. Protein is always the most costly. On Sunday, plan out how many meals you are planning to eat every day for the week. I would plan out breakfast, lunch, dinner, pre/post-training meals, and sometimes post-dinner snacks.
Think of the quality and quantity of your food. As athletes, we need a lot of protein, and buying meat is expensive! Some tips when purchasing protein; pick the cheaper cuts. Chicken thighs are way cheaper and still full of nutrients. Also, weigh your meat! If you are counting macros and know what your daily protein intake needs to be, you can calculate exactly how much meat you need to meet your protein goals. Then you can go to the store and buy that exact amount. Additionally, consider non-meat protein sources. Beans and lentils are great sources of protein, and they are super cheap. Adding these legumes to your meals will cut the cost of meat you will need to buy.
Find the best grocery stores. Like I said, I would love to shop at specialty grocery stores, but when you are on a budget, sometimes it’s best to opt for the stores that have cheaper options. Go to local corner stores or community grocery stores. I grew up shopping at Mexican and Middle Eastern grocery stores. There were always fresh fruits, veggies, and meats at a wayyyyy cheaper price. Often, these stores have rice, beans, oatmeal, and other grains in bulk! This will save you a ton in the long run. Depending on your region, some great grocery stores for cheap are;
- Local grocery store
- Grocery Outlet
Cheaper can still be nutritious. You can almost always find some sort of veggies, fruits, grains, and meats at a store, and these food options are way cheaper than any of the pre-made or packaged foods. Think about food as a source of fuel. Potatoes are cheap and a great source of carbs. When you buy vegetables, buy the whole vegetable ( not the packaged, pre-washed ones). Also, go for the “ugly’ veggies and fruits. These might look the prettiest, but we are more interested in our food’s purpose than its looks.
Invest in seasoning and sauces. While veggies, rice, and chicken thighs are cheap and nutritious, it can be boring. So change it up with different seasonings and sauces. It will keep things interesting while helping you stay on your budget.
Limit processed foods! Not just because they aren’t the greatest for you, but all of the packaged food adds up. I love how fun Trader Joe’s is with their food, but that Mochi Ice cream can add to your meal budget. Pick a day of the week where you “treat yourself ” and add that to your meal prep budget.
Buy in bulk. Frozen meats, bulk oatmeal, and frozen veggies are awesome money-saving options. There are some questions on whether the food loses nutrients when it’s frozen, but when you are on a budget, the benefits outweigh the cost. Literally.
Plan your meal prep days. The most costly part of food is the food we don’t eat or the food that goes bad. You know that spinach in the back of the fridge that you bought? Yeah… if we are really critical in planning out what we are going to eat every week, we can avoid wasting food. Good for our wallet and the environment. It’s a win-win!
These are just a few ways to meal prep on a budget. Remember, planning ahead is your greatest resource. I used to plan exactly how much I was going to eat in a week based on my macros. That allowed me to calculate exactly how much food I needed to buy, and I stayed consistent with what I ate. It wasn’t exactly exciting food, but it helped fuel my training. I would scan the papers for coupons and would drive or walk to the grocery stores that had the best deals. It was more work, but it significantly cut my cost of food.
As health-conscious people, we pride ourselves on fueling our bodies with the most nutritious food that helps support our fitness goals. This doesn’t mean we have to go to WholeFoods all the time or buy expensive food. If we stick to the basics, we can get the most nutritious foods at a cheaper, budget-friendly price.
If you want to switch things up once in a while, and you planned for it in your meal prep budget, check out Grown Strong Chef Amy’s recipes!