Want to save time and money? 2 important ways food preparation can help

Unlike many of my friends, I deeply dislike cooking. I’ll bake a cake or make cookies any day of the week, but when it comes to making food that tastes decent, I’m out of my element. Unfortunately, my neglect of time in the kitchen (no sugar and flour sprinkling the counters) means we spend even more on food than necessary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent 12.7% of its annual income on food in 2022. To put that into perspective, that means a household earning $100,000 before taxes spent $12,700 on food . And keep in mind that these are averages. If you have a larger family, you may spend more.

Something I don’t mind

I know I’m late to the game, but I’ve found that making meals on a Sunday afternoon is a good way to make sure I have food during the week and stick to a food budget. For me, it’s pretty much any meal that I can throw in the slow cooker in the morning, put on low heat, and walk away. Just knowing that dinner will be ready when the time comes takes a weight off my shoulders.

The really great part about meal prep, though, is how much time and money it saves. And I want to have a little extra to put into our savings account every month. All it requires of me is meal planning, grocery ordering, and putting things together at the kitchen island while a soccer game entertains (or annoys) me in the background.

More importantly, I’d like to highlight what meal prep can do for you and your budget.

1. You will save time

I found this wild, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans over the age of 18 spend an average of 37 minutes per day preparing food and cleaning. To be specific, men spend an average of 22 minutes and women spend 51 minutes per day on these tasks.

That 51 minutes a day is roughly 25 1/2 hours a month of meal prep and then cleaning up the mess! Here’s how the time breaks down for me:

  • About 45 minutes a week I look through online recipes and a few of my favorite cookbooks to find a few dishes that sound delicious (I make enough to have leftovers).
  • Less than 30 minutes a week to order groceries (we have free same-day delivery with our Walmart+ membership. Even better, we don’t pay for Walmart+ membership because it’s a benefit offered by our The Platinum Card® from American Express).
  • Approximately 60 minutes on Sunday to lay out the ingredients and organize the meals for the week.
  • Less than 10 minutes a day to put the ingredients in the slow cooker, and later rinse the unit and put it in the dishwasher.

That comes out to roughly 9 1/2 hours per month, a savings of 16 hours.

By the way, as much as I say I don’t like cooking, I love browsing online recipes and cookbooks. There’s something inspiring about seeing what other people have come up with. It’s also super easy. Since we don’t eat red meat here, I can Google something like “Yummy Slow Cooker Chicken Dishes” and new ideas pop up.

2. You’ll save money

I don’t know about you, but when I’m “not quite sure” what I want to do, I end up buying a bunch of stuff that sounds good at the moment. When you plan a meal and then cook it, there is more intention behind what you buy. You make a list and that list helps you stay on course. Here are some ways you can increase your savings.

  • Shop your cabinets first. It’s easy to forget what you’ve already hidden behind the jar of olives in the pantry. Before creating a shopping list, make sure you don’t already have any of the ingredients at home.
  • Buy reusable ingredients. For example, brown rice works next to chicken, in grain bowls, and in soups.
  • Buy only what you need. If you’ve ever felt guilty about tossing junk food in the trash, you’re not alone. According to Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, about 40% of the food produced and processed in the US ends up in landfills. Creating a list of meals and groceries allows you to buy only what you will consume.
  • Don’t avoid frozen fruits and vegetables. I have always assumed that frozen fruits and vegetables are not as nutritious as “real” ones. However, Diabetes Food Hub says there are several reasons why you may want to choose frozen over fresh. Before freezing, produce is picked at peak ripeness, when it is at its freshest and most nutritious. While fresh produce can lose its nutritional value over time, the nutritional value of frozen produce is preserved during the freezing process. You might not save a lot of money upfront, but you’re much less likely to throw away unused food.

If you spend less time over the stove or washing dishes each week, you’ll also save money on utility bills, especially electricity, gas and water. That’s easy money in the bank.

While the benefits of time and money saved are vital, an added bonus of meal prep is the stress it reduces. As long as I take time once a week to decide what we’re going to eat and organize the ingredients, I don’t worry about coming up with a meal at the last minute. That alone is worth gold to me.

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