When life gets busy, maintaining healthy habits can seem daunting. The good news is that with a little preparation and practice, you can form a simple schedule that will save you time, money, and keep your eating habits on the right track. When you eat well, you feel better, you will be able to accomplish more and ultimately lead a happier life.

By learning to prepare your own meals, you will gain budgeting skills, become more conscious of your eating decisions, and learn valuable cooking techniques.

Here are some tips to help you get there:

Find Inspiration

If you’re uninspired and not sure which types of meals to plan and prepare, utilize the internet for inspiration. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest, Instagram and thousands of fitness/lifestyle blogs. It’s common to fall into a routine when meal planning, but keeping it interesting pays off. If you become bored with your meals, it is easy to ignore them altogether and opt for quick (and often expensive) junk food.

Here’s a list, “7 Of the Best Food Blogs for Eating on A Budget,” for some ideas to get you started.

Another useful tip is to keep a meal-planning notepad on your refrigerator. There, you can jot down items you may have forgotten to initially buy, or any inspiration that strikes in the middle of cooking one of your delicious meals. 

Planning Makes Perfect

Like any new endeavor, it’s important to make a game plan before jumping in. Ask yourself a few questions to figure out what’s important to you. How many meals per week do you need to plan for? Is the goal to eat out less? Are you going to try limiting processed foods or perhaps excess sugar? The choice is all yours, but knowing your priorities before heading to the store will save money and keep you focused on your goal.

The first step is deciding how many meals per week you want to meal plan for. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, so you may want to start with planning for one meal every day and work your way up to more.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. The most important part of cutting food costs is good planning. While a meal out at a restaurant can cost $15-20, a balanced meal prepared at home can easily cost less than half that. A good way to ease into this concept is by substituting ingredients for processed or prepared foods at the store or your favorite lunchtime deli. For example, instead of buying a pre-made salad or sandwich, buy the lettuce, toppings, fillings, and bread separately. Then, you can prepare the food yourself and make your hard-earned cash stretch a little further.

Not only is this method likely to cost less than buying pre-made food, but the ingredients you buy will begin to form a well-stocked kitchen over time. As you learn new recipes and discover different methods of cooking, you’ll gain the ability to get creative with the basics you keep in the cabinet and refrigerator.

Set Up Your Meal Calendar 

Once you know what your goal is, sit down and look at the week ahead to figure out how much of each ingredient you will need. Take a look at your plans for the week and figure out any events that will change your routine. Will you be going out to eat with friends for lunch? If so, that’s one less meal you need to prepare.

You don’t want to buy too much food only to have it go bad and waste money. At the same time, you don’t want to buy too little food and have to make a grocery trip in the middle of the week when you’re busy with work, family and activities.

There are several apps and services that can help with this process, which can seem intimidating at the first go. Luckily, technology has made the process of compiling recipes and grocery lists much easier. There are simple apps and templates that allow you to fill pre-made charts and lists with grocery needs and meal plans, like Mealboard. If you want to discover new recipes, there are more advanced apps like Pepperplate, Yummly, and Mealime that can help you find tasty inspiration and generate grocery lists accordingly.

Go for It! 

Now that you’ve got a few ideas and some determination, it’s time to get started. You’ve chosen your recipes, and made a grocery list: now, you can head to the store and give your plan a try!

If your first week of meal planning doesn’t go perfectly, don’t be discouraged. Budgeting and healthy eating habits take time to build. Try to learn from your initial mistakes, be open to new ideas, and let your imagination take over in the kitchen.

Your decision to be conscious of your financial and physical wellbeing will pay off if you stick with it!