One morning I realized with horror that a bill I had forgotten about came out of my account, leaving me with precisely $4 to my name. Well, that was my fancy Monday lunch out the window!

How to Meal Prep on a Budget: Kelly's Pasta Dish
My hastily prepared pasta lunch

With 20 minutes until I had to leave, I desperately tore apart my barren cupboards, trying to find any semblance of a meal that I could throw together, even though I hadn’t gone grocery shopping in days. There were bags of pasta, a can of beans, rice, and cereal bars. Not very helpful.

The fridge held questionable tomatoes, string beans, an unopened jar of mushrooms, and chopped red onion. Veggie pasta it was!

As you can see from my amazing photography skills, I took this dish to work with me and ate it as I wrote. If you’re like me and have no idea how to measure a healthy, normal amount of pasta for one human, this meal could last you for lunch, dinner, and probably breakfast.

Making Use of What You Have

I made use of what I had already in my kitchen instead of buying senselessly. This may seem like common sense to a lot of you, but using up what’s in the cupboards is a great way of keeping yourself running smoothly through rent week.

It also forces you to experiment with new recipes. While your friends might head out to a fancy brunch this Saturday, you can rest easy knowing that you tried garlic string beans for the first time, and they weren’t half bad.

If you’re short on ideas of how to spice up the food that’s already in your fridge (perhaps literally), there are many websites that will help you out with recipes. Supercook and MyFridgeFood are like search engine for food, matching up the ingredients you have with popular recipe sites.

If you use them, you can discover amazing recipes you never knew existed that you can make immediately. No need to shop away your remaining $4! Not being able to afford fancy groceries doesn’t mean your meals have to be boring.

Getting Friends’ Advice on How to Meal Prep

Also talk to people around you to get tips for how to make the most of the groceries you have. I moved into my new apartment in February, and my roommates have taught me so much already.

Shauna is a 6 a.m., five-day-a-week gym-goer who spends her Sunday evenings meal prepping for the upcoming week. I know — I hate her, too. Now, don’t recoil in horror as I did at the words meal prepping. Aside from the gym-bunny connotation of the words, meal prepping makes logistical and economic sense.

“Some don’t see the point in meal prepping, but I’m all about it,” Shauna says. “Busy work and social life schedules can affect your eating habits hugely, so preparing meals in advance helps me maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as my weight. It’s also great to do midweek because it allows me to have a ‘treat yo’ self’ attitude on the weekends.”

How many times have you gone to your refrigerator or cupboard and noticed rotting and/or expired food that you totally forgot about?

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Imagine you had cooked that food earlier in the week in anticipation of it expiring. Now you wouldn’t have a fruit fly infestation because of rotting potatoes, would you? (Long story — I still have nightmares.)

My point is, don’t shy away from trying new things with your food. Cooking five meals on a Sunday night and freezing or refrigerating them for later use makes life a lot easier. When you get home at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday after a cramped subway journey where everyone is drenched from the rain, the last thing you want to do is cook. But if you’ve done meal prep, your chicken and veggies are simply waiting to be heated before consumption. Bliss!

Our fridge is a Tupperware haven.

My other roommate, Elsa, is vegan. I've never lived with a vegan before, or had any close friends with this lifestyle. So living with Elsa has been an eye-opening experience. Without being pushy or condescending, she’s given me little tips to reduce my animal product consumption.

I'd been replacing cow’s milk with almond milk for a while, but our entire apartment is now a cow-milk-free zone. Elsa tells me that it’s extremely easy to cook vegan food at home on a budget.

“Fruit, vegetables, lentils, beans, and whole grains like oats, pasta, rice, and quinoa are freely available and can be cheap if you shop around,” she says. “You save money if you don’t buy many expensive alternatives. But if you keep an eye out, you can usually find some specialty brands on sale.”

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Last but not least of my roommates, we have Dave. He’s fond of a beer or two and sneaks chicken wings when his girlfriend, Elsa, isn’t around. Sadly, it seems that not all my roommates can be perfect food preppers with healthy, frugal diets.