How to Save Dollars and Time on Food Prep

Photo of fresh veggies on cutting board with a knifeThere’re never enough hours in the day to do all the chores. However, if you will take the time and plan, you could save dollars and time on food prep.

I get bored eating the same meals over and over. We’ve collected an easy selection of recipes to prepare. After taking steps to cut our budget, we realized food cost had to be the first. In Northern Virginia (NOVA), the price of everything is off the charts.

You may remember in one article I mentioned Sperling’s Best says, cost of living for Reston Virginia is 155.5 compared to the national average of a 100.

Today, I hope to provide some easy steps to planning meals, while saving money. I’ll share a few details of how we’ve done this and offer some of my favorite meals.

With that, let’s get started.

Plan to save $$

We save money when food shopping at Wholefoods (yes, Wholefoods), Trader Joes and Safeway.Click to Tweet

Saturday mornings are when we spend time together, plus take time to decide on the menu for the upcoming week. Once we've made our selections, I start working a list for the different items. I scan cabinets and the refrigerator to make sure we don’t purchase items we have.

We usually shop at several stores over the weekend, to get the best price. I gather the coupons for the different locations we’ve picked for shopping. I then spend time choosing items on Ibotta. That way, I can get cash when I return.

It’s taken me a couple of months to get the hang of Ibotta. I finally cashed in for a $20.00 gift card, which I’ll use towards our next grocery purchase.

Coupons are money in your pocket

You can find paper coupons in magazines, or online to print. Pay attention to the paper coupons you receive at checkout from your visit, and can use on your next visit.


Every month, we receive a savings certificate from CVS offering an average discount of 25% to 30%. The catch – it’s only good for a 7-day period. When I go to CVS and plug our phone number into the coupon machine, I receive more coupons. I often receive an Extra Rewards bonus for $3-$10 off the total purchase.

I use these coupons for toiletries, and food items I know they carry. I’ve saved as much as $30 off my total purchase.

Let’s go shopping

As mentioned earlier we shop several different stores for food items. Wholefoods is our place for meat, and the 365 brands. The 365 brands are as good, if not better then name brands, but cost a lot less. Wholefoods has an app you can download, then at checkout, they scan the barcode and, poof you save money.

Target rocks

Target has an app you can download as well. With the Target app, I get weekly savings on lots of food and toiletries. Take the time, pick the coupons, then place them in the cart on the app. At checkout they scan the barcode on your phone with the items, and, once again, you save money.

I also have the Target red card linked to my checking account. By using this card, I save 5% off every time I shop.

Target great example of saving. Udi's Gluten Free (GF) bread cost 4.99 for the loaf. Ibotta offers $2 off that price. I can use this offer up to 5 times. Wow, my cost is 2.99.

There are lots of other ways to save.

Trader Joe’s is the place to be

Trader Joe’s is the place to shop for fresh vegetables. The Trader Joe brands are very low in cost. They carry a big supply of gluten-free items I love. Some of my favs: gluten-free pumpkin spice bread mix, pancake mix, muffin mix, GF chips, fresh spices, and any kind of nuts are the best price around.

Safeway for general merchandise

We go here to buy brands we like for breakfast meats, soups, or a quick stop since it’s very close to our home. We do find things like yogurt and cottage cheese brands which I prefer.

Be careful with convenience, though. Shopping for something you forgot at a place that’s close can be costly. It’s always better to reduce or eliminate these trips with proper weekly planning.

Doing that reduces the Safeway trips a lot.

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Meal prepping

I’m a lucky wife. My husband is a great cook and grill man! He plans two meals, and I prepare two meals for the week.Click to Tweet

We coordinate the meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the week. Prep time for the meal is on Saturday or Sunday. An hour or two is time well spent and reduces the stress of cooking during the week. Think about it, an hour every weeknight or one to two hours on Saturday or Sunday!

I continue looking for ways to make the process less time-consuming for meal prep. I started off cooking up to four hours on a Sunday. Now I can prep in less than an hour, maybe an hour and a half, depending on the meal. The trick is not to fix two meals together.

Remember, it’s about being smart with your time.

Recipe favorites


Take this primary ingredient and mix it up, with different meats and vegetables each week.

The base recipe is Keto, so we are in a healthy zone, plus it stays with you in the morning.

Basic recipe; 8oz. Cream cheese, and 6 to 8 eggs. Soften the cream cheese before placing it in a bowl with the eggs. I use eight eggs. It makes it fluffier!

Spice list; powdered onion, garlic, basil, oregano, thyme, dill, parsley flakes, salt, and pepper. Spices; 2 tsp. of each to start, then adjust to your taste. We don't like bland food. So, I use more spices. To be safe, start small.

Instead of onion powder, I like fresh onion, green onion or even shallots. Using fresh is worth the chopping to me for the flavor.

Add the spices to the cream cheese and eggs. Take a hand mixer, mix this all together. Next, add a bag of frozen, drained spinach, and cooked bacon.

Place in greased baking pan, top with white cheddar cheese and paprika. Bake 350 for about 45 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven when the top starts getting a brown crust on top.

The week before I used sage ground sausage and a smaller amount of spinach. You can mix this up with like peppers, chopped broccoli, etc.

Creative lunches

I’m a big salad girl at lunch. Plus, love me some hummus, either plain or red pepper (Wholefoods brand for $2.50 a container).

I’ve been making salads with Boston lettuce, black forest ham, fresh green onions, hard boiled egg, cucumbers, with ranch or garlic honey roasted creamy dressing.

The brand Bolthouse Farms is yogurt based, low-fat and low-calorie. You can find it in the refrigerator section.

Additional ideas: leftover chili, or tomato soup, with a half ham and cheese sandwich on my Udi's GF bread.

On the weekends my hubby will smoke a whole chicken. We use the dark and white meat to prepare a smoked chicken salad. I made some tonight and added a secret ingredient recommended by a friend – honey! It is, by far, the best chicken salad I’ve ever tasted.

The recipe; mayo, pickle relish, hard-boiled eggs, salt, pepper, and honey. I’m an add to taste kind of girl! Plus depending on the amount of chicken you have.

My hubby is great at eating leftover meals from the weekend for lunch. Other times he throws together a protein shake with fruit, peanut butter, honey and almond milk for his lunch.

One of my hubby’s new creations is a chicken salad sandwich with a fried egg on top. I like wrapping a piece of ham and lettuce around the chicken salad like a sandwich. Be creative with what you have!

Dinner fixings

After working all day, the last thing I want to do is come home and plan what to have for dinner. Most days after work I want to hit the gym, or the mat for a hot yoga class, to wash away the day.

That is why it’s easy for me to take the time on Sunday to prepare a couple of meals for the week. It saves from having to think about what to fix or make at the end of the day. It keeps us from eating out at the gym after a class or workout.

Another area where we've saved a lot of money is from not eating out. We use to eat out at least one or two meals a week. Now it's rare. It makes for a nice-looking bank account!

As I mentioned earlier, my hubby is a grill man and a great cook. His two meals for the week will consist of something from the grill like smoked chicken leg quarters, or turkey burgers, or smoked pork loin. We add a veggie for the side and dinner is served.

He does prepare an excellent sausage and pepper dish with pasta sauce. That provides a couple of meals. We often freeze half for another week.

Mama Lemon’s favorite

My love for Mexican food is off the charts. We eat gluten free, low fat, and low calorie.Click to Tweet

Many of you may not care about the dietary ideas, that is great. My enchiladas are one of our favorites.

I use ground turkey, sage sausage, or ground chicken. I cook half the sausage with the turkey and the remaining sausage with the chicken, (yes, I had two skillets rockin').

For enchiladas add; ½ fresh onion, one can diced green chilis, 1tsp. Taco seasoning, chili powder, garlic, salt, pepper, cilantro, cumin to taste, one 8oz. can diced tomatoes. I use corn tortillas with a green enchilada sauce (my favorite brand Frontera). I top with fresh con queso or mixed Mexican 3 cheese crumbled and diced black olives. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.
Refrigerate for a meal later in the week.

With the enchilada’s meal, I add guacamole, made from a fresh avocado. Quick to do; clean the avocado, place in a bowl, combine garlic powder, salt, pepper, two teaspoons salsa, and minced onion to taste. Along with the meal add pinto beans, sour cream, chopped green onions, salsa, and on occasion corn chips.

I mix it up with a green or red enchilada sauce. We get three meals out of the enchiladas. I freeze one meal for another week, and we use two for the week prepared.

Two skillets

Remember I had two skillets rockin’? In the other skillet, I prepared PF Chang’s chicken for lettuce wraps.

The recipe – 1lb ground chicken, ½ lb. Sausage, ½ yellow onion diced, 1/3 cup hoisin sauce, 2tbls Soy sauce, 1tbls rice wine vinegar, 1tbls. Asian chili garlic sauce, three garlic cloves, 1tsp ground ginger, one 8oz can water chestnuts diced small, three green onions chopped, salt & pepper to taste.

Place it all in the skillet and let simmer. Not only do we have lettuce wraps one night, two nights later, but I also mix the meat with rice and veggies. YUM! I’ll place a container of the meat in the freezer for the following week.

With two skillets of meat, I’ve made five meals. The only items we pick up to go with the meals for the next week are the fresh avocado, sour cream, and green onion. At times I add corn to the meat for a little different taste or other frozen vegetables. It depends on what is in the freezer.

Final thoughts

We cut our food budget by $350 a month with taking the few steps I talked about today.

It takes only a little time in planning to shop. If you do that, it will help you save a lot of money.

I’m always looking for ways to improve and use recipes and will share as new ideas arrive.

Now it’s your turn share with us how you save, a great recipe, or how you plan to save time and money.

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