Playing the Meal Prep Game.

Grocery food prices are among the cheapest in the United States. Having lived in various cities in Asia, Australia and North America, the food prices here are among the cheapest.

By comparison, dining out (even for a casual meal) is pretty pricey: $10 per entree (no drinks, just water allowed) + appetizer + tips = average of $60-$70 for 2 adults and 3 kids, and that is with the younger two sharing an entree. A greasy fast food meal will be upwards of $25. Total expense/week if we ate out 5 times per week = $350 = $1400/month + regular grocery bill. Current grocery bill (dear husband normally would dine out 1 meal/week with the kids if I work on the weekends) = $450-$500/month.

Living in a household with three kids, including an almost teenager with an appetite to match, we do try to minimize dining out as much as possible. My kids even commented, “My mummy doesn’t like eating at restaurants, she likes to cook!”.

Besides, after a long day at work (I work 10-12 hour days), I don’t normally feel up to dealing with 3, potentially whiny, kids at a restaurant.

With 2 working parent, it takes some ingenuity to get a warm dinner prepared almost every night and breakfast/lunch during the morning rush. I must admit, I do cheat once or twice a month, and tell my husband to get takeout for dinner if I could not get dinner prepared on time before leaving for work.

My favorite kitchen gadget, the Instant Pot as I used it for multiple meals a day. It does not necessarily cook quicker than stove-top cooking, but I do not have ‘watch’ the food while it cooks. Also, with the timer and stay warm function, I can be sure of a warm, freshly cooked meal when we get home after work/school.

We have a pretty hectic schedule on the weekdays when both my husband and I work – wake up at 615am – put eggs in instant pot – get ready/potty/brush teeth/change – get easy-peel hard-boiled eggs out of instant pot – older kids will feed themselves while I prepare school lunches x 3 kids – wake the toddler up and get her ready for breakfast, bundle the toddler in the car and get the older kids to the bus stop to catch the school bus.

Simple Ideas for School Lunches: Leftovers (my children’s favorite), Sandwiches, Cheese Stick, Pepperoni Slices, Chicken Nuggets, Cheese Quesadillas, Burritos, Mac n Cheese, Carrot Sticks, Edamame, Ham Slices with crackers, Granola Bars, Variety of fruits, frozen go-gurt, yoghurt cups

If I do not have anything prepared for dinner, I would use the slow cooker for stew and preset my instant pot to cook rice (I am Asian, we eat a ton of rice!), before leaving for work.

By the time the kids are home (either my husband or I will pick them up) by 5 – 6 pm, dinner is ready to be served. After dinner/homework time, it is normally clean-up time before planning ahead for the next day’s meals, by either defrosting and marinating meat/cutting vegetables/etc.

In order for the schedule to run smoothly, and to remain (reasonably) sane, there are meal prep that is done in advanced. I normally look out for our grocery store ads on a weekly basis. If I see cheap meat on sale (price point: $1.49/pound for boneless chicken pieces, $0.79/pound for bone-in chicken, $1.69/pound for boneless pork, $1.99/pound for ground beef, $2.99/pound for boneless beef cuts), I will stock up on 10 – 20 pounds at a time.

My preference would be to purchase these at the local Albertsons or Safeway, as they will normally separate the meat into 1-1.5lb packages and would even marinate the meat. One of my favorite frugal grocery blogs I follow religiously is frugallivingnw.com – as Angela Davis is based in Oregon, everything posted on her site is normally available where I live. Every Tuesday or Wednesdays, I would visit her website to come up with a list of grocery deals, especially bulk produce, meat and other coupon deals. Since Safeway purchased Albertsons, everything available on their JustForYou member site are honored at both outlets – this means that with their targeted offer of $2 off $20 or $3 off $25, I sometimes pay less than $1.50/pound for boneless chicken thighs – which according to Angela would be a ‘stock up price’!

If I am working long stretches in a row, I normally try to cook a few back-up meals in advance and freeze it. Food such as pasta sauce and lasagna, or curries freeze quite well.

When motivation strikes, I could even throw together a curry dish while relaxing in the evening – by adding everything into the instant pot, I am guaranteed a delicious, flavorful curry dish with minimal effort every time.

One thing I do splurge on is rice. Growing up with delicious “Ho Mai”/Jasmine Rice, this is one area I do not skimp on. After scouring the local grocery stores, and with the large quantity of rice we consume, the best price for imported Thai/Vietnam Jasmine Rice is our local wholesale grocer (where restaurant owners buy their produce) – we pay $35/50 lb bag of rice.

Another staple and ‘must-have’ in my house are eggs – all 3 kids could eat 2-3 eggs/meal if I let them! It is also a pretty versatile food item: I could make hard-boiled eggs, omelettes or fried eggs, or use it to complement other dishes.

How do you busy mums – both Stay at Home Mums and Work At Home/Out of Home mums do it? Any other tips or ideas to share on meal preparation?

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2 thoughts on “Playing the Meal Prep Game.

  1. I keep hearing about the Instant Pot, but keep reisisting because of the price. We already have a rice cooker and a slow cooker. How is the Instant Pot better than those two?

    1. Hi lauren, thanks for asking. Before i got my pot, i felt the same way you did. Now, i use my instant pot 2-3 times per day. Apart from cooking rice and soups/stews like you would in a slow cooker, the instant pot cooks flavorful curries and stews quickly. Within 20-30 minutes, i could get very tender, fall off the bone, pork and beef with the instant pot. I have also cooked desserts like cheesecakes and creme brulee in the instant pot. The last time i used my slow cooker was over a year ago. By the way, check out the upcoming black friday sales. I paid $49 bucks for mine and used it all the time. I do not get any commission from instant pot to tell you all that~!

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