At some point in nearly everyone’s life, we vow to lose weight, eat right, and get (or stay) physically fit. In fact, exercising more and losing weight are the top two New Year’s resolutions. But while these are noble goals, sticking with them can be difficult—particularly without good habits or some kind of system in place.
One way to accomplish a healthier lifestyle without having to spend a lot of time is by meal prepping. Meal prepping is the concept of preparing several meals or dishes ahead of time so you can enjoy them throughout the week.
By having pre-prepared meals on hand, you can accomplish several important goals: better nutrition, reduced portion sizes, and avoiding less-healthy options like frozen dinners or fast food. In addition, believe it or not, eating healthier meals can also help you become more financially fit!
Convenient Meal-Prepping Options
Putting a system in place to prepare several meals at once can save you both time and money. This can begin with making a shopping list before heading to the grocery store. By sticking strictly to your list, you can avoid buying “impulse” items that are oftentimes more costly and less healthy.
One of the more cost-effective ways to prep your meals ahead of time is to purchase items in bulk. But make sure that you only purchase what you think you’ll use, even if you have to freeze a portion for later use. Otherwise, you could end up wasting food and the money you spent on it. Alternatively, you could split the goods with a neighbor or friend to save money on bulk purchases.
Some people find it hard to meal prep because they get tired of eating the same meal for several days. To reduce or avoid monotony, you could jazz things up a bit by adding different spices and/or side dishes to go along with your main course.
If you don’t particularly like to cook (or simply don’t have the time to shop and prepare several meals ahead of time), you could consider one of the many meal-prep services that will send everything you need to prepare several meals directly to your door.
Here are some of the popular meal delivery services:
• Hello Fresh offers up to 20 different recipe choices each week, with no weekly or monthly contract commitment.
• Green Chef specializes in USDA-certified organic ingredients, and most meals can be cooked in just 30 minutes or less.
• Home Chef uses simplicity as their mantra, and can help you produce home-cooked meals even if cooking isn’t your forte.
• Blue Apron offers chef-designed recipes that feature balanced Mediterranean meals and quick one-pan dinners that are fast and easy to prepare.
• Healthy Gourmet has no minimum-order requirements, so you can try out this service without having to make a long-term commitment.
These meal-prep services allow you to choose from a wide variety of meals, and many also cater to special diets such as Keto-friendly, paleo, vegan, and gluten-free. Everything is shipped directly to your door, eliminating the need for you to spend time at the grocery store searching for a long list of ingredients. And because many of the meal-prepping services send you only the amount of ingredients you need for specific dishes, going this route can also help you reduce waste.
It’s important to note that the meal-prep services listed above are not the same as ordering takeout from a local restaurant and having it delivered by UberEats. That can be much more expensive and less healthy, depending on the restaurant you order from.
In addition to the tasty and convenient meal options you’ll enjoy, going the route of meal prepping can also have financial benefits. For example, you won’t have to purchase entire containers of ingredients and risk having your leftovers go bad. With most (or all) of the ingredients in pre-measured packages, you could also end up running your dishwasher less frequently, saving you money on your water and electric bills.
Meal prepping and eating at home more often can help you to avoid going out to dinner, which can add up. While going out to eat every night can be more convenient than cooking, it can also be very expensive. Even a no-frills meal for you and your partner can cost upwards of $40 or $50, especially when you add in the cost of tips and transportation. Doing this five nights a week could cost you thousands of dollars throughout the years.
• $50 meal x 5 nights per week = $250 per week
• $250 per week x 52 weeks per year = $13,000 a year
• $13,000 x 20 years = $260,000
And adding a couple of drinks to your tab could more than double this amount. Imagine what an additional $260,000 or more could do for you in retirement!
There are several ways that you can help yourself become financially fit, too, with the money you save from prepping your meals, such as:
• Paying down debt
• Building up an emergency fund
• Increasing your savings and/or investment accounts.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of prepping healthy meals ahead of time is becoming a healthier you! Not only will you feel better and have more energy when you eat right, but you could also reduce healthcare costs both now and in the future.
As we get older, we tend to spend more on healthcare services and medications. According to a recent study, a couple retiring today can expect to spend roughly $285,000 in out-of-pocket healthcare costs—a figure that doesn’t even include long-term care. So by taking steps to ensure better health down the road, you could keep more money in savings and spend less at the doctor’s office and the pharmacy.
Making a Healthy Plan
Putting all of the pieces in place for a healthy physical and financial lifestyle can initially seem overwhelming. Old habits can be hard to break, and new ones may be difficult to stick to, at least at first.
But just like financial and retirement planning, you can change your habits over time—and even automate the process to make it easier. Once you start to see the results, it will all seem worthwhile.
Working with an experienced financial advisor can help you to allocate and diversify your savings and investment dollars, so that over time you can work toward your short- and long-term objectives.
This article appears in the January 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.