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  • Writer's pictureJolanta Nowobilski

How To Add Variety To Your Meal Prep On A Budget ( Especially If You Are Cooking For One )

When I started living on my own during my undergrad, I got tired of eating the same thing for a week straight. I did this because I was told this was the best way to keep my budget down, especially since I thought my plant based diet was supposed to be expensive. After a while, I gathered a few tricks here and there to add some variety to my meal prep for just myself while staying on a budget. Here's what I learned.



A rice and bean dish in a white bowl on white linen
A rice and bean dish in a white bowl on white linen

Switch Up Your Starches


Starches, like rice, potatoes, and oats, are some of the least expensive ingredients. Switching out between these sides within a week can add variety without breaking the bank.


Say you make a big batch of chili for the next few days. You could add variety by pairing it with:


- baked potatoes

- steamed sweet potatoes

- rice

- Fritos.


Also, these sides can be stretched further into other dishes, if you decide to make enough for that.



A split red onion on a wooden cutting board with scattered peppercorn in the foreground and various produce in the background
A split red onion on a wooden cutting board with scattered peppercorn in the foreground and various produce in the background

2-In-1 Produce


Speaking of stretching out your sides, when thinking about the produce you want for that week, think of the different ways you want to transform it that week. Aiming for just two ways to use that fruit or vegetable can be beneficial. If you can stretch it to three or four ways, more power to you.


Some examples of how I like to stretch out some of my inexpensive staples:


For cabbage: coleslaw, okonomiyaki, roasted wedges


For carrots: carrot mash, glazed carrots, curtido (with cabbage)


For apples: cinnamon apples, eaten raw (prepped with lemon juice)



A plate of pesto pasta with a small dish of pine nuts to the side
A plate of pesto pasta with a small dish of pine nuts to the side

Sauce It Up!


Having your own stash of sauces can help liven up your food. Sticking to two or three main sauces can help with adding variety.


Also, some sauces are made from classic combos (like sriracha mayo), so you can get three out of two.


If you're up to the challenge, making your own sauces can help cut costs here. Even though it may not be considered a sauce in the traditional sense, salad dressing is an easy thing to whip up that costs much less than premade (tastes better, too!)



A bare fridge with the exception of a lone can of soda
A bare fridge with the exception of a lone can of soda

Use Your Friend, The Freezer


Make extra food to store in the freezer. This is especially helpful for the days or weeks where you can't be bothered to make meals.


This is also a great place to store cooked grains and legumes. Make a big, minimally-seasoned batch of your favorite beans to use in different recipes in the coming weeks (or months). If you're planning on using the frozen beans in a stew or curry, just chuck them in like you would canned (though they may take slightly longer to cook). If you want to use the beans in, say, a cold salad, let them thaw in the fridge.


The freezer is also a great place to store cookie dough to bake off whenever the mood hits.



An overhead shot of some potted herbs
An overhead shot of some potted herbs

Build Your Herb Garden


Building your own herb garden can be intimidating. But it doesn't have to be! You can start be re-growing your green onions (not technically an herb) in a container of water. (There's already people more qualified than me to Google and learn from about this technique).


Once you have confidence in your green onion-growing skills, you can grow your green thumb by learning to propagate the herbs you already buy at the grocery store. (Again, there's already plenty of tutorials on how to do this, so I'll let you Google it if you're not familiar).


Or, if you're lucky and they sell already potted herbs at your grocery store, you can make a jumpstart there.




I'm curious to hear from you! Even if you are not plant based or vegan, what are some tips that have helped you on your cooking journey?



Disclaimer: This post is intended for education and entertainment purposes only. Consult your health care provider to address your unique needs.


2 Comments


green333marie
Mar 27, 2021

Love the point a mix up the carbs and making your own sauces!

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Jolanta Nowobilski
Jolanta Nowobilski
Mar 27, 2021
Replying to

I'm glad you found this helpful!

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