Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.
Hey Picky peeps! I have a treat for you today. I invited my pal Dave to write about his experience becoming healthy through diet changes – all while saving money. I know many people in our Facebook group mentioned they wanted to learn how to cook healthy on a budget, and Dave is a great resource. Enjoy!
Dave is a the blogger behind Married with Money, where he talks about money and behavioral psychology as it relates to money and relationships. He’s a self-proclaimed nerd and wants to help improve communication about money.
We were fat.
Not like the cute kind of fat that babies get when they’re growing. The kind of fat that you get when you find true love and you just kind of … let yourself go.
Okay, so neither my wife nor I were ACTUALLY fat, but at the beginning of this year, we realized we needed to make some changes. Our wedding was coming up over the summer (June was an awesome month) and, like most young couples, we wanted to look GOOOOOOD in our wedding photos.
As luck would have it, Kristin’s gym (OrangeTheory) was running a weight loss competition in February. It coincided perfectly with our goals, and that was the catalyst for both of us to start eating healthier. Kristin and I set our targets: Kristin wanted to lose 20 lbs and I wanted to lose 10.
Our diet was the main culprit to our weight gain – as expected.
We would frequently drink during the week, eat unhealthy lunches and dinners, and generally didn’t take great care of ourselves. If Kristin had any shot at winning a weight loss competition, we knew that diet needed to be a main focus area.
Meal Prep To The Rescue
Enter: Meal Prep.
I was skeptical at first, but after the second week I realized that meal prepping is an amazing thing. It keeps our food costs down, makes our mornings a breeze, and has had great effects on our health.
If you follow Tasty on Facebook you can find some great recipes. These were the inspiration for us to start preparing all of our lunches in advance. We set off to browse through their videos for the easiest one-pan meal prep recipes we could find. Because, let’s be real, if I’m preparing a week’s worth of food at once, I want to make it as easy as possible.
We landed on one main recipe that we still use, with some alterations. Since we’re prepping for two, we doubled everything and, unsurprisingly, use two pans. If you don’t like some of the veggies, it’s easy enough to swap anything out, add more, etc. Veggies are cheap and good for you, so load up!
Our Typical Lunches
Here it is in all its glory before we cut anything up.
- A good amount of chicken (we normally do about a third of a gigantic Aldi chicken breast per lunch. This week we did legs! Sometimes we swap this out for thighs, and if the chicken breasts are on the smaller side ,we’ll do a bit more per lunch.)
- 1 gigantic sweet potato (sometimes we do half a potato depending on how big the suckers are, and you can get some BIG ones from Aldi.)
- 1 head of cauliflower
- A lot of broccoli – normally 2-3 heads
Season the chicken however you want. Salt, pepper, garlic powder…that’s our (lazy) standard, but DIY taco seasoning every now and then is an awesome change of pace. That’s what we chose this week.
Pour a little bit of olive oil over all of the veggies. You don’t need a ton; you don’t want your food to get mushy. Then we do specific seasonings for each of the three veggies we normally cook.
- Sweet Potato: We normally do cinnamon, especially in the fall
- Cauliflower: Garlic powder and pepper
- Broccoli: Chili powder gives a nice kick
Time to cook!
We throw it in the oven at 425 degrees F for 30 mins.
After that, we’ll take the veggies out and check on the chicken. If it’s done, great; if not, cook till it registers an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. We’ve found this sometimes takes 45 minutes because of how thick the chicken breasts are. Cutting them up beforehand would reduce the cook time.
Once they’re all done, we let the chicken and veggies cool off a bit before putting them in individual containers for lunches. On the morning-of, I’ll typically add something like BBQ sauce or hot sauce to pump up the flavor, but it depends on how we season the chicken.
There are many more one-pan recipes out there, and you can make your lunches different enough from day to day and week to week that it never really feels like the same thing. If you get sick of sweet potatoes, sub in some brussels sprouts. If you’re sick of chicken, look into taco bowls. There are plenty of options to keep things from getting too repetitive.
Hangry Dave Isn’t Fun
This dish isn’t enough food to keep us from getting seriously hangry in the late afternoon. I basically turn into the Hulk when I’m hangry – with the notable exception that I’m much weaker.
To help, I will sometimes add in some brown rice to my lunch, and we add in some healthy snacks.
Our Favorite Healthy Snacks:
- Baby Cucumbers
- String cheese
- Bean Salad (we do this about once every 2-3 weeks – recipe available here)
- Apples, oranges, or other fruit in season
- Unsalted Nuts
- A piece of dark chocolate because it’s good for you. Science proves it!!
Impact On Our Lives
The whole process takes about an hour on a Sunday morning – including cooking time, which we use to clean the house – and saves us a bit of time throughout the week.
We switched to shopping at Aldi, and this, in combination with planning our lunches and eating more whole foods, dropped our grocery bill by about $150 a month. Some weeks, depending on if we need to stock up on staples, we can get out of Aldi for less than $40 and have all the food we need.
Portion control, largely cutting out sugar, and reducing the amount of alcohol we drink during the week helped us lose the weight we’d wanted, too.
Here’s what we’ve noticed since the beginning of February:
- Impact on the budget: ~$150/month savings on groceries alone, plus decreased dining expenses. And Kristin won $750 for winning the competition! WIN!!
- Impact on our weight: Kristin – Down 20lbs. Dave – Down 15lbs. Success! We hit our weight goals after six weeks and have maintained it since then.
- Impact on our health: We both feel better than we have in a long time (and maybe ever?).
- Impact on our time: Overall it’s about a wash, but we shave ~10 mins in the mornings before work with smart meal prep. That’s a win in my book, since we can multi-task when the food is cooking.
Lame but Life-Changing
It sounds cliché, but meal prepping literally changed our lives. We’re healthier, happier, and we don’t scramble in the mornings to throw together a lunch for the day. We rarely go out to eat for lunches any more, which helps our budget, too.
We’ve been able to use the time meal prepping to talk and bond in the kitchen. Sometimes we’ll clean while food’s in the oven, too. We’ve started cooking more dinners at home (basically all of them now) and are getting more adventurous in the kitchen.
It’s truly been a great change.
I’ll admit I was hesitant at first. Even the phrase “meal prep” sucks. It all sounds so…lame. But now, after 9 months, it’s become ingrained in our lives and has had some great positive effects on us as individuals and as a couple. Meal prepping turned into a time for us to bond in the kitchen and work together.
And hey, if it helps us feel good, look good, and save time and money … what more can you ask for?
Do you prep any meals in advance? Do you have any favorite recipes that we should try out?