Meal prep is a great and helpful way to make preparing meals a little easier - spending a little time preparing in bulk, and then using that up to save yourself the time cooking again. At this same time, it is a WONDERFUL way to save money and live more frugally.
Here are just a few ways that freezer meals can save you money:
Buying in bulk is often much cheaper than single quantities of items
Stocking up on items when they're on sale can save you lots of money vs. buying items to cook with each week
Having a grab & go lunch can avoid the mid-day dining out
Having a variety of yummy meals prepped & ready to eat can help you avoid the temptation to have take out
The list can go on, and on, and ON
Depending on who you are cooking for and what your goals are, freezer meals can be made either in single servings (like grab and go smoothie packs) or in large batches (like dinner casseroles). The best part is how versatile freezer prep can be in the sense that even a casserole can often be split up and frozen in individual servings which make great single servings for dinner or taking for lunches on the go.
1. Decide What to Make in Advance
The first freezer meal prep batch I did, I did not plan for. Beyond wanting to make a freezer breakfast, I didn't plan ahead, didn't shop wisely, and certainly didn't make a bulk batch. As a result, I didn't save much money and found it more headache than it was worth! Now, I pick a handful of meals I would like to make, and then go forward from there following the methods below. I'm telling you this because...
When done wisely, freezer meals can be a time saver, money saver, and all together a WONDERFUL time.
Try deciding on some recipes that you'd like to make. Make sure you do your research on recipes, and make note of what actually freezes well and is worth prepping in advance.
2. Determine Needed Ingredients & Quantities
This might be the most time consuming part of your prep, but trust me, it is so worth it. Like I said: wise shopping makes this whole process much smoother and beneficial in the long run. What precedes wise shopping? Frugal list making! A little list and a little math later, you've got your ingredients at the best prices you can.
Here's a quick run down of what I like to do:
Make a list of the meals I'm planning to make (with recipes in hand)
Calculate how much of each ingredient you need (for example, if you are doubling the recipe to make a larger batch, make sure you account for double the ingredients for that recipe)
Start a running list of totals for each ingredient you'll need to buy
See if any of the items can be swapped out so you are buying more of one item rather than two separate items - this can often be cheaper
Last but not least: make your grocery list! Yay! I have a freebie I think you'll like for this part, a printable grocery list to keep you on track by store department!
3. Budget & Seek Deals
Once you know what ingredients you need (and how much of them), take a look at some of your local flyers and see what is on sale. There are many great apps if you don't have paper flyers - one I love is Flipp, which allows you to look at many different flyers online :)
Another thing that I sometimes do is add everything to my cart online at a grocery website and take a look at my total cost, then swap out or adjust items to keep it within my budget. This is definitely more time consuming, but it can be a helpful resource for sure!
4. Consider Bulk of Multi-Use Items
Further to my last point - if you are buying in bulk, sale prices will go a long way. Another great reason to keep an eye out for flyers and sales is that there could be an item on sale for a valuable price that you wouldn't have thought to use in your meal prep batch originally.
Another thing you can do is calculate how much comes in a package of the item and try to use the most of it as you can (such as adjusting how many servings you will make of the dish) in your recipes without having any waste. If its an item that stays fresh for a long time - even better!
5. Calculate Serving Quantities
So, I'm sure you know by this point what you'll be making and roughly how much of it. Making note of how many servings you'll be making can be helpful for buying or prepping storage (such as containers, freezer bags, etc.).
A freezer meal tracking log may serve you as helpful at this point as you get ready to fill your freezer with all the yummy meals! I love this printable for tracking best before dates and any additional notes (like cooking/thawing instructions) as well.
6. Buy All Storage Containers/Wrap in Advance
I've made this mistake before - all the meal prep with nowhere to store it...
Once you know how many meals you are planning to make, think about which type of storage you will use and ensure you have what you need.
For individual freezer meals, I like to use small to medium freezer bags. For things like soup, I like to use containers that fit single sized servings. If you are making large quantities (such as a whole casserole), a large freezer dish would be a more suitable option rather than packaging everything individually.
7. Plan Your Cooking Time
If you're going to be making a few recipes, try to plan them around each other. Meal prep and clean up already takes quite a bit of time, so cutting back where you can on waiting periods really makes a big difference in the end.
For example, I often meal prep pasta with meat sauce and a few other recipes all in one batch. I will boil the water for the pasta while I prep the ingredients for the meat sauce. While the pasta and sauce are cooking, I will do some prep for the second meal, and while that is in the oven, some prep for meal 3.
9. Determine Heating / Thawing Instructions
Meals can be so different in thawing time and heating time, so make sure you note down any special instructions. The goal of meal prep (at least for myself) is to have meals to enjoy for the next little while - so in that time, I can't always remember every little detail like how many hours a certain dish will take to thaw to perfection or how long I'm supposed to heat up another dish and at which temperature.
This is also helpful for day-to-do meal planning, such as taking out a meal the morning you plan to enjoy it for dinner or if need be, the night before, and so on.
8. Keep Track of Meals
Tired of having to dig through the freezer to find what you're looking for? Or digging through the freezer wondering how many of a certain meal you have left? A log can help.
A tracking log allows you to quickly reference what you have left without having to dig through the freezer. Simply note the item made, quantity, and any other information such as dates, etc. The freezer meal tracking log (again linked here) can be a helpful tool for you to keep track of this information. This tracking log has got you covered - meal type, servings, best before date, heating/thawing instructions, another applicable notes, and so on.
10. Have Fun Meal Prepping!
I had to. This is a must. Meal prepping can be fun! Follow your recipes, make your notes if you find it helpful, and have fun! It might just be me, but singing and dancing as you cook is almost half the fun. The rest of the fun is having quick, affordable, and YUMMY meals for so many days to come!