Real Women Share Their Cheap Meal Prep Ideas

Photographed by Ruben Chamorro.
If your New Years' resolution was to be more responsible with your money, you've probably figured out that a good way to do that is by eating out less and meal prepping more. But that's easier said than done, right? That's why we talked to real women about the hacks they use to make meal prepping on a budget a lot less painful.
These meal prep pros use inventive food-freezing tricks, low-cost recipes, and a whole lot of veggies, grains, and legumes to make sure they aren't spending too much and still eating well week after week. Ahead you'll find those meal prep ideas they swear by for budget-friendly food.
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Freeze seasoned, uncooked rice

Name: Giu
Age: 33
Occupation: Editor
What is your favorite meal prep hack, idea, or recipe to use on a budget?
Freeze your rice already seasoned with garlic and onions but BEFORE the actual cooking part. Sautée it, salt it to taste, and while still raw, freeze it. When you want fresh delicious rice, just plop the frozen block into a pan with water and let it do its thing. That means fresh rice every day without all the trouble. My best recipe on a budget is poor man's fried rice... Whenever I have old rice that I don't want to just reheat, I throw whatever meat — bacon or sausage are classics, but in a pinch, I have used sliced turkey cut into ribbons because you gotta do what you gotta do — in a pan, scramble some eggs, add whatever vegetable is going bad in the fridge — that old sad soft carrot that's been sprouting in the vegetable drawer is always a good choice — and a splash of soy sauce on top of the rice and let it heat. It's delicious, very fast, nutritious, and endlessly adaptable!
How is it budget-friendly?
You can use the things you already prepared and were going bad in your fridge.
Where does the recipe or hack come from and how do you make it?
The frozen rice hack came from my therapist if you can imagine it!
How often do you make it?
I usually make a big batch of rice like twice a month and freeze in portions for myself and my husband. I make the fried rice whenever I miscalculated the rice portions and there are leftovers.
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Batch-roast vegetables on sheet pans

Name: Jules
Age: 45
Occupation: Student
What is your favorite meal prep hack, idea, or recipe to use on a budget?
Buy cheap veggies, sheet pan roast, and eat all week with different sauces and condiments.
How is it budget-friendly?
Buying the cheapest vegetables saves money.
Where does the recipe or hack come from and how do you make it?
I devised it myself after fatigue and having no money thanks to chronic illness.
How often do you make it?
Weekly or twice weekly
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Replace meat with tofu, mushrooms, or chickpeas

Name: Madison
Age: 21
Occupation: Operations assistant
What is your favorite meal prep hack, idea, or recipe to use on a budget?
I love replacing meat with tofu, mushrooms, or chickpeas. I am not veg or vegan, but they absorb flavor better and create a plain base for all kinds of dishes. I will also add soft boiled eggs to salads or veggie dishes for a protein kick.
How is it budget-friendly?
These alternatives are cheaper than chicken or beef.
Where does the recipe or hack come from and how do you make it?
I usually make fried rice with tofu instead of chicken. I love making chickpeas with kale and herbs or chana masala. I get a lot of these from Bon Appetit.
How often do you make it?
I normally use meat alternatives 3 to 5 times a week. I try to only eat meat once a day.
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Mix and match vegetables, grains, and proteins

Name: Jacqueline
Age: 24
Occupation: Freelance writer
What is your favorite meal prep hack, idea, or recipe to use on a budget?
Instead of preparing the same meal for several days in a row, I roast vegetables and cook grains and proteins, which I can mix and match throughout the week in bowls, mix with pasta, etc.
How is it budget-friendly?
I found I was getting bored of eating the same meals all the time, so this keeps things exciting because I can enjoy different foods without depriving myself. When I'm bored with the food options I have available, I feel I am more likely to eat out and spend more.
How often do you make it?
Weekly, every Sunday.
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Make chickpea "chicken" salad

Name: Skylar
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
What is your favorite meal prep hack, idea, or recipe to use on a budget?
Chickpea "chicken" salad
How is it budget-friendly?
It only requires one can of chickpeas, a little mayo, and any spices you have laying around for multiple meals. It's also versatile and can be used in multiple ways.
Where does the recipe or hack come from and how do you make it?
I got the idea online. You take one can of drained chickpeas and mash them to your preferred consistency. I tend to leave a few unmashed for a little variety in texture. Then you add mayo, the amount can vary, but I usually put a pretty decent sized spoonful in. Throw in any spices you like — I typically go for salt, pepper, and a touch of cayenne. Mix it up and there you have it! I've used this to make sandwiches and wraps, and it typically makes enough for a couple of meals.
How often do you make it?
Once or twice a month
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