Preparing your own Meals
Meal planning to prepare your own meals can help you stay organized, save money and eat a variety of foods to meet your nutrition needs. Check out this section for how to get started.
PREPARING YOUR OWN MEALS
Making your own meals is one of the best things you can do for your budget and well-being. When you prepare your own meals, you are more aware of the ingredients. This, along with some planning, allows you to save some money while making choices that feel better for you.
Meal planning is when you think ahead about what you might want to eat for meals and snacks over a few days. It helps you make sure you have the ingredients and tools you’ll need to pull it off. It can also help minimize food waste by only buying the ingredients you need for the foods you will make! This is different than having a food journal, where you keep track of what you are eating.
Planning your meals and snacks helps you:
- Make choices that feel better for you
- Save time and money grocery shopping
- Get meals on the table faster and with less stress
- Have time to create more well-balanced meals
- Reduce food waste by only buying what you need and will use
There’s no right or wrong way to plan meals. You can plan for the whole week ahead, or you can plan for a couple of days at a time. Do what works best for you. If you’ve never meal planned before, planning for a couple of days may be a good place to start.
Try these ideas to make planning what you eat part of your routine:
- Set aside some time before you go grocery shopping to make your plan
- Write down your meal ideas or new recipes
- Keep your old meal plans and favourite recipes in a note file on your phone, in a binder or on your computer. You can reuse the plans and recipes that you liked
- Connect with friends and family members to exchange recipes
- Post an empty grocery list on your phone or somewhere you can see it, so you can easily add to it as you remember things
If meal planning seems too hard, or you’re not sure where to begin, try this step-by-step guide to get some ideas and inspiration:
- Choose a meal planning template to help you stay organized. Here is an example to help you get started.
- You could also try using a dry erase board or a spreadsheet on excel or Google. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find something that works for you.
- Write down some meals you want to try. To help you choose, look at things like:
- A meal or recipe you already know and enjoy
- The difficulty level and how much time you have to prepare it
- A dish you want to learn how to make
- An ingredient you want to use, that is in season and/or on sale
- Something that’s already in your fridge, freezer or pantry that needs to be used up
Tip: Consider planning your meals around your schedule – If you have a bit more time on a Sunday, make a meal that will give you more than one portion to grab and go during the week. If you know there are days where you may be tired or short on time, come up with some quick and easy meal ideas, or plan to eat leftovers.
- Think up a few options for different meals. Choose recipes with some of the same ingredients so you will need to buy less. For example, if you roast a chicken one day, on the next day add diced chicken on top of salad, shred it in a burrito, or slice it in a sandwich. Think about recipes you can double and freeze portions for later like soups, stir-fries, and casseroles. Check the space in your freezer and buy some reusable containers to store larger amounts of food.
- Make your grocery list. Once you have your meals written down and your recipes in front of you, start working on your grocery list. Go through each recipe you’re making that week and add the ingredients you need to your list. Don’t forget to check that you have staple ingredients like cooking oil, flour, seasonings like salt and pepper, and onions. Keep adding to this grocery list as you add more meals to your meal plan.
Enjoy! After all that hard work, take some time to appreciate what you’ve pulled together.
Prepare meals at home as often as you can. They can even be something as simple as a sandwich or salad. If you have roommates, talk about sharing the cost of certain items you all use, such as oils or flour, and even consider making a couple meals a week together. This way you can share the cost, prep and benefit from eating with others.
Here are some ideas for making homemade items:
- Try Googling a muffin recipe to replace store-bought muffins or muffins bought at a café.
- Make your own frozen dinners by choosing a recipe and freezing it in meal-sized portions.
- Stock your kitchen with a variety of snacks. Try quick and easy options like nuts, hummus and veggies or crackers, hard-boiled eggs, dried or fresh fruit.
Leftovers are great, but don’t leave them in the fridge for more than 2-3 days. Freeze anything that can’t be used up in this time to prevent waste.
Did you have a favourite recipe growing up? Ask friends and family for ideas. Cookbooks, apps, blogs and online recipes can be helpful to plan your meals. Check out budgetbytes.com or Google ‘healthy budget recipes’ for lots of great ideas. You can also read our article on meal preparation for people who have no time for more tips.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with meal planning and preparing your own meals, consider trying a meal kit delivery service like Hello Fresh or Fresh Prep a few days a week. These services deliver weekly meal kits with simple ingredients and easy-to-cook recipes directly to your door. You can usually find a coupon online for your first order to see if it’s something that will work well for you and be an affordable option. This can help you develop the skills and confidence to shop for and make your own meals, and may even give you a few recipe ideas as well.
Don’t be afraid to add snacks to your plan. Just like your meal choices, nutrient-rich snacks can:
- Give you more energy
- Provide important nutrients
- Help satisfy your hunger between mealtimes
Think about snacks when you are planning meals and add them to your grocery list. Here are some easy ways to eat nourishing snacks on the go:
- Prepare them in advance: this will help you save time. Chop extra vegetables when cooking so you’ll have some for snacks. Make muffins or homemade granola bars and store them the freezer. Boil eggs on the weekend and keep them in your fridge for up to one week with the shell on. Make your own trail mix and have fun trying different combinations.
- Grab and go: Have on hand easy, on-the-go fruit options such as oranges, bananas and apples. Keep chopped vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, celery and peppers in the fridge in a reusable container for easy access. Stores often have individual packs of snacks that you can buy if you don’t have the skills or resources needed to prepare your own food. Try having a mix of snacks you’ve prepared and store bought options while figuring what works best for you and your budget.
- For work or school: try keeping some options like apples, oatmeal, canned fruit, crackers, nuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds in your locker, desk or backpack.
Want to explore and learn more? Here are a couple options that will help you.