Food is getting more expensive as the buying power of a single dollar bill declines. What used to buy a pound of chicken can now barely cover a carton of eggs. The price creep extends not just to your local grocer but to fast food chains and your local mom and pop stops and corner pubs as well. When you’re penny-pitching, you might be looking for ways to fill your tummy without breaking the bank. Luckily, you’re not alone. As meal prepping continues to grow in popularity, we’ve identified some key ingredients that are delicious and nutritious, and the devices you need to start you on your meal budget journey.
Essential Meal Prep Devices
You'll save time with your meal prepping thanks to two devices; an air fryer and a rice cooker.
Benefits of an Air Fryer
There’s nothing worse than coming home after a long summer day and figuring out what to eat. Sure, you can fry some chicken up on the stovetop, or worse… bake it in the oven. Even with central air, you’ll surely work up a sweat. . So instead of rooting around through your fridge for lunch meat as a quick dinner or heading back out into the heat for fast food, throw some chicken in the air fryer.
With a bit of seasoning or marinade, your thin-cut chicken strip chicken tenderloins will be done in under 30 minutes (Bonus points for making your own breading using eggs, panko, and flour.) Nowadays, the fryer market is so oversaturated, that every Bed Bath and Beyond has a dedicated showroom solely for them. If you’re looking for a bargain, check out your local second-hand store or social media marketplace.
Some of the best benefits on an air fryer include:
- Easy Cleanup – Cooking mess is isolated to fryer bed.
- Healthier than Pan Frying – Despite the name, little frying is occurring, as they are actually convection ovens.
- Energy Efficient - Air fryers, on average, run at about 1500 watts as opposed to the estimated 2.3kWh that are used to run your average in-home oven. Each kilowatt is about 1,000 watts so compared to a conventional oven, an air fryer should use about a third less energy.
Benefits of a Rice Cooker
You don’t have to get an expensive or fancy cooker for your first outing. When you’re starting out, the entry level Aroma brand Rice Cooker from Target for only $20 will do a great job.
Immediately you’ll notice the difference is night and day compared to cooking rice on your stove top. No more huddling over a pot of boiling water and waiting for the perfect rice consistency. Traditionally, rice cookers call for a 2:1 ration for cups of water and rice
Why a rice cooker? For one, your consumption of rice will go up! Brown rice is full of dietary fiber, protein, and is a cholesterol and fat free carbohydrate. It’s also highly filling and extremely cheap. A great substitute if you’re looking for a nutritious side dish for all of your prepped meals. Pro-tip: Don’t stick to bland white or brown rice. Mix it up mid cook with a flavor blast:
Must Buy Ingredients For Your Meal Prep Summer
Now that you have the two most important devices needed for your meal prep journey, it's time to put them to good use.
1. Chickpeas that make a delicious snack
Sweet, Savory, Spicy, or Scrumptious. These snackable treats are as tasty as Chex Mix with more nutritional value and you can make them in under 30 minutes.
Grab a can of chickpeas (aka Garbanzo beans) off your shelf, drain them, and season with whatever flavor your heart desires. Set your air fryer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and cook for at least 15 minutes or until crunchy. There's a thin line between undercooked and burnt chickpeas, so you’ll want to routinely monitor the consistency of your snack.
On the flip side, grab some cinnamon and brown sugar and give your chickpeas a light dusting. Hit them with a little bit of butter cooking spray and cook.
Try some pepper, a dash of salt, and some garlic + onion powder mix. Finish it off with two tablespoons of your preferred oil.
Cayenne, Chipotle, Red Pepper Chili Flakes. Nothing is worse than grabbing a bag of “spicy” chips and getting some mild heat at best. Now, you pick the spicy level.
Experiment Why not attempt to make your own everything bagel seasoning chickpeas. Cool Ranch or Sweet Nashville Heat? Anything is possible when using chickpeas as your base.
2. Ground Chicken/Turkey are the perfect base
As the price of ground beef rises, there’s merit in giving Ground Chicken and Ground Turkey a try. Nine times out of ten, you can replace a ground beef recipe with chicken or turkey, and get the same meal. Ground Chicken serves as a great base for a lot of meal prepped meals and has significant protein value.
Ground chicken or turkey is a great base with no oven involved. While you can buy chicken breasts, we’re going for speed and efficiency by cooking it on the stove top. For that reason alone, try pairing your grounded meat with sweet potatoes and frozen broccoli, both of which can be prepared in the air fryer.
In preparation, dice your sweet potatoes, and cook them in batches at 400 degrees. Cook until they can be easily pierced with a fork. You can fry your broccoli at 400 degrees as well for 8 minutes. For larger batches, cook for 15 minutes and drain any accumulated water halfway through the cook. Combined with a side of rice, avocado, and a dressing of your choice, and this meal has almost everything you need to get you through your mid day stomach rumbling. **
3. Baked Oatmeal to revolutionize your breakfast.
Oatmeal, is a staple of a good morning and the breakfast equivalent to rice.
If you’re a new cook, this recipe is full-proof. Just mix the following ingredients in a baking dish and cook at 375 for 35-45 minutes
3 Cps of Rolled Oats
1 Tsp Baking Power
1 Tbsp Butter
1.5- 2 Cps of Milk
Baked oatmeal encourages experimentation, so try looking up a recipe featuring a fruit and flavor profile YOU enjoy. you may be a vanilla household who absconds bananas. Throw in peanut butter, protein powder, cinnamon sugar, other fruits, whatever your heart desires. With under 10 minutes of prep work and 40 minutes of cooking, you’ll get a great breakfast bar, post-workout meal, or mid-day/late-night snack.
If you’re inspired by what could be your meal-prepped summer, consider downloading our Digital Banking App to track your meal prep spending this summer with receipt capture. Misplace your wallet while out at the grocery store? Use card control to quickly disable your card. Digital Banking, empowering your meal prep summer.
** The author is not a doctor or certified nutritionist