Your food expenses are one of the easiest line items in your spending plan to get out of control. Being single, I know that it is much easier for me to pick up take-out that go home and prepare an entire meal. And a lot of your social life as a single person revolves around dining out. However, it can become a huge spending plan buster. So how do you balance the need for quick and easy meals without becoming a burden on your finances? Meal planning and prep is the way I have been able to achieve this goal.

There are many benefits of meal preparation and planning. Filling your fridge and freezer with prepared meals makes it easier to grab a meal when you are in a rush or working late and you don’t have time to prepare a meal. You not only save money, but you are able to create healthy meals and control what is being included in your food. Another added bonus is that you are minimizing the amount of times you need to clean up your kitchen after making meals!

Here’s how to get started with meal preparation and planning:

Plan out your meals for a specific period of time. This can vary from a week at a time to a month at a time. Use whatever period of time works best for you. Once you have worked out your planning time frame, you need to determine what you want to prepare for your meals. From the meal list you can prepare your grocery list to help you stay focused on what to purchase at the store.

Meal prep all on one day. Take a day that you have off – either Saturday or Sunday – and set aside time on that day to make your meals. I find it’s easiest for me to do meal prep right after I have come home from food shopping. This saves me time from putting my groceries away and I have everything out ready to be used.

Make several meals at one time to minimize your meal prep time. Use various cooking tools – such as a CrockPot or an Instant Pot – to cook one meal while you are using the oven and the cook top to make other meals. This will greatly reduce your time in the kitchen. While my meals are cooking, I am usually chopping and breaking down vegetables so that they are easy to use throughout the week for lunches or snacks.

Make some of your meals during meal prep to freeze or refrigerate and make the rest of your meals during the week. Being a single person living in an apartment, there isn’t much freezer space in my freezer and it also gets tiring to eat the same meals all week long. I generally make two to three recipes on my meal prep day, putting some of the meals in the refrigerator and some in the freezer. This way I give myself the flexibility to make something fresh during the week if I don’t want to eat the same meals all week long.

Make meals based on what’s on sale and what’s in season. In addition to planning and making your own meals, it’s also cost effective to what for store sales, especially on meat and produce. Use resources like the Seasonal Food Guide to help you determine what fruits and vegetables are in season. Take advantage of farmers’ market to buy local produce and support local businesses.

What are some other tips you have for meal planning and preparation?