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In this episode, Michelle interviews Maggie Kornahrens, who shares her meal-prepping pro tips that help you save both time AND money, all while giving you that good feeling of having your s*** together!

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Full audio transcript:

INTRO [00:00:00] Hello. And welcome to the Young Scrappy Money podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Waymire. And each week, I’ll be bringing you tips and tricks to help you take control of your finances as well as interviews with people who made big financial changes in their own lives. So join us. And we’ll help you get your financial s**t together.

MICHELLE: Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome to this episode of the Young Scrappy Money podcast. Y’all, I am super pumped to share this day with you. And here’s why. When I decided to overhaul my budget, when I originally quit my marketing consulting job and was freelancing for a little while, one of the biggest places where money was just oozing out of my bank account, like hemorrhaging money, was food.

And so this is true for a lot of the people I talk to, a lot of my coaching clients. For most of us, food is our number one love and also our number one expense. One of the things that really made a huge difference for me was actually meal prepping.

And so in order to share this love with you, I have a veritable meal prepping guru with me. I’ve got Maggie Kornahrens with me today. We’re actually recording this one face to face.

MAGGIE: Live!

MICHELLE: Which is super exciting, yeah. She is marketing by day, mothering by night. And she is a self-proclaimed meal prep guru— I guess maybe not self-proclaimed because I just proclaimed you that right now.

MAGGIE: I accept your title.

MICHELLE: So I think to kick it off for folks who are listening who are maybe not super familiar with this concept, what is meal prepping?

MAGGIE: So meal prepping is the idea of planning typically for an entire week in advance when it comes to food. Not everybody does three meals a day. I do. Meal prepping to me is a method of keeping things organized on a weekly basis for myself, my two kids, and my boyfriend. It just makes things easier. So meal prepping is a lot of things to a lot of different people. But at the end of the day, I think it’s about a sense of control— both for nutritional purposes and for financial purposes.

MICHELLE: So you basically— once a week, you kind of sit down. You plan out everything you’re gonna eat in the coming week.

MAGGIE: Yes.

MICHELLE: How much do you— I mean, prepping is in the title. So I assume the point then is to actually make all of the food in one go as well.

MAGGIE: Yeah. So on Sunday afternoons— so my typical Sunday looks like this. I wake up. I have a cup of coffee. I get ready and watch soccer at Alliance Brewing in South Knoxville. And I spend some of that time to plan for the entire week on my phone.

So all of the meal prepping that I do is with two different apps. I either use eMeals, which is not free— you pay quarterly— or another app I just started using called Mealime. That is free. And so I take the time to go through all of the different recipes that are available for the week. And I select about five or six of them.

And those two apps build out your grocery list for you. And they break it out by section in the grocery store. So you go to produce, and all of your produce is grouped together. And you go to dairy, and all of your dairy’s grouped together. And then I have some staples, like sandwich stuff for lunches and what have you.

And then Sunday afternoon, I go to the grocery store. I spend about an hour. And since the grocery list is conveniently segmented by section of the store, it doesn’t take very long. And obviously, one of the benefits of having a grocery list is that you have to be disciplined to stick to the list. Because one of the other benefits of meal prepping is that you don’t buy random s**t that you don’t need. Because it’s the random s**t that you buy that blows your budget out of the water.

And so after I finish grocery shopping, I come home. I segment out all of the dinner ingredients into baskets. And then the baskets live in my fridge. So Monday night, I come home, and I pull out the Monday basket. And Tuesday night, I pull out my Tuesday basket. And so I don’t have to think about it. Because life’s too busy to think about what you’re gonna eat.

And also Sunday afternoons, I make all of the lunches for my kids for the entire week. They’re seven and nine. And so they’re eating lunch at school obviously. And I make— sometimes I make a different meal every day of the week. Sometimes I make the same lunch every day of the week. But I build them all into these little containers called EasyLunchboxes. They keep everything nice and fresh for all five days.

And they stack in the fridge. And so the fridge looks like the work of somebody who has control issues. Because there’s baskets and lunchboxes, and everything’s organized. And that is a true representation of who I am. I have control issues.

[00:05:05] And so then really the only thing I ever have to think about is what’s for breakfast. And I have, you know, routine staples for that, whether it’s oatmeal, or eggs, or waffles, or what have you. But every meal for every day of the week for every person in my household is planned on Sunday.

MICHELLE: All right. So I’ll just be super real with you. You’re kind of blowing my mind right now.

MAGGIE: It’s— it’s been an evolution. The whole process of meal prepping started with lunchboxes for me. Because I became a single mother when I was really young. And so I went from having two incomes to one really quickly. And I was on my own.

And so it was a method of— I’m quite serious when I say it’s a control thing for me. It is the one— it’s one thing that I know I can be in control of during the day when I’m away from the kids. Like if they’re at school, they’re on their own. That’s up to them. They have to survive on their own. But I can provide them with a meal. And at the end of the day, I know that I’ve taken care of them for at least one point, for at least one small 30-minute section of the day.

But, yeah, it was by necessity that I started this. And then when I started working out of the home, there was a lot less time during the day all of a sudden. I mean, I basically am home for an hour in the morning. And then the kids are awake at home for like two hours, three max, in the end of the afternoon. So I don’t have time to go grocery shopping during the week.

And Sunday afternoons just became a really convenient time to get it all done. But, yeah, this whole concept of putting dinner ingredients in baskets, that was my boyfriend’s idea. And I’ve run with it. And (SNAPS) by the way, it was such a great idea that BuzzFeed featured it on their meal planning article last year.

MICHELLE: S**t, son.

MAGGIE: That’s right.

MICHELLE: That’s amazing.

MAGGIE: It was a— it was a badge of honor.

MICHELLE: So these couple of apps that you mentioned, can you say the names for me one more time?

MAGGIE: So it’s eMeals.

MICHELLE: eMeals.

MAGGIE: And Mealime.

MICHELLE: OK.

MAGGIE: I don’t like that one because it’s hard to say.

MICHELLE: Mealime.

MAGGIE: Mealime.

MICHELLE: Mealime. See? Somebody’s marketing department— no offense, Mealime. I’m sure your app is stunning. And I’m excited to take a look at it. And I’ll be putting in the show notes all these names. So if you’re like, “How do you spell this thing?” I’ll definitely put it in there for you. But that’s kind of, again, blowing my mind simply from the standpoint of up until today, and also I guess until this Sunday when I do my meal prep, I have been doing this crazy old-school method called “Let me google stuff and see what recipes are out there.”

MAGGIE: Oh, yeah.

MICHELLE: And it turns out there’s like a million hecking recipes. So these apps basically curate for you the list of recipes? And then you just pick and choose, and it makes lists?

MAGGIE: Yes, yes.

MICHELLE: Shut up. This is amazing.

MAGGIE: It’s incredible. So I’m like you. In the beginning, I was pulling recipes from Pinterest, from my mind, from wherever. And that was taking almost as much time as like the grocery shopping and prepping part— the finding recipe part. So finding an app that literally delivers the recipes to you in your inbox once a week was a huge timesaver. So all in all, I’m spending about two hours a week planning for the entire week.

MICHELLE: Wow, that’s awesome.

MAGGIE: Yeah.

MICHELLE: So I assume— I’m sure we’ve got a bunch of listeners who have dietary restrictions, allergies, dietary preferences. I assume you can kind of filter those out.

MAGGIE: You can.

MICHELLE: So if you’re vegan, or you have a—

MAGGIE: Yeah. Gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, clean eating, calories, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah. Whatever it is that you wanna be not eating, there’s a version out there that can help you with that.

MICHELLE: Wow.

MAGGIE: Yeah.

MICHELLE: I just feel like I need to, like, sit with this new truth of how much time I’m about to save.

MAGGIE: Yeah. It’s pretty incredible.

MICHELLE: That’s awesome.

MAGGIE: So I feel like when it comes to meal planning or meal prepping, there are sort of the two schools of thought. So I like the approach, this basket idea, where you’re sort of organizing your dinners in advance, but you’re not necessarily making them in advance.

MICHELLE: Right.

MAGGIE: So what are some of the pros and cons? Like how would you know to choose between one of those two methods— or like a combination?

MICHELLE: So I typically— the food that I cook is a lot of whole ingredients. And so we’re using a lot of, you know, chopped vegetables. And that’s it. I don’t do a lot of pasta. I don’t do a lot of rice. And those are the things that take time the day of, especially rice. So quite frankly, if I have to cook rice, I’m probably gonna get it from Trader Joe’s and microwave it.

[00:10:03] But I don’t cook dinner ahead of time during the week because I want the vegetables to be as fresh as possible when we’re eating them. There are the occasions when, if I know that I have to put something in a Crock-Pot because there’s a soccer game or a Boy Scout what have you, later on in the week, I will take time the night before to dump everything in the Crock-Pot and put that in the fridge. So in the morning, all I have to do is take the entire Crock-Pot out of the fridge and put it in the heater.

And then it’s ready to go. So I don’t even have to take time in the morning to prep that dinner.

But the whole basket idea is so you don’t have to comb through your pantry or your refrigerator because it’s overflowing in the middle of the week. And frankly, I— I mean, my kids are old enough that they can help prep in the beginning of the evening.

Or, if I don’t get home, and my boyfriend beats me, I can tell him, this basket is for dinner tonight. And he gets started on it. So it’s just simplifying. I like to meal prep for dummies. I mean, I want it to be as simple as possible.

MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s awesome. What kind of baskets do you use?

MAGGIE: The Dollar Store, we go to the Dollar Store. And they have to— I wanna make sure that they can all fit on one shelf.

MICHELLE: Oh, yeah.

MAGGIE: And so it was a little trial and error. I guess I could’ve measured my refrigerator.

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s— that’s for—

MAGGIE: That’s for nerds.

MICHELLE: Yeah, only nerds have measuring tapes.

MAGGIE: Measuring tapes. Yeah, so I just went to the Dollar Store and got, like, baskets.

MICHELLE: All right. All right. Like plastic?

MAGGIE: Yeah, man, just plastic blaskets— a dollar.

MICHELLE: Wow.

MAGGIE: So I have six of them. So, so far, I’m $6 in in terms of investment on my meal prepping.

MICHELLE: That’s a pretty good ROI.

MAGGIE: Yeah.

MICHELLE: OK. So $6 baskets. And then you also mentioned that you use a specific kind of lunchbox for kids’ lunches. So what’s going on there? What other options did you research? And how did you decide on that specific food portable solution?

MAGGIE: Right. So lunches for me and the boys, I’ve always wanted to make sure that they were eating a wide variety of food. And so I needed to find a lunchbox container that was sectioned out, but also a single unit. Like, sure, there’s all sorts of Tupperware containers and plastic bags. But I wanted to be conscious of what I was using in terms of plastic.

So I have the same— they’re called EasyLunchboxes. I found these years ago. They are $13 for a set of four. And so I have two sets. So let’s see. I’m $6 in on baskets and $26 in on lunchbox containers. So I’ve had all of that stuff for years now, so it was like a single— you know, right now I’m less than $50 in. That was a single investment I made four years ago.

And I just— in terms of the lunchboxes, I just needed something that was sturdy enough to not get destroyed in a backpack. I needed something that I could use if I needed to, and I do. They’re microwaveable. They’re dishwasher-safe. They’re cheap and reusable.

MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s great. Because I feel like meal prepping kind of has this— it’s maybe not like a stigma, but like a stereotype to it. Right? That meal prepping is only for people who have a lot of time, or have a lot of money, or I think even worse have a lot of money to invest on the front end. I think we have this conception that it’s expensive to meal prep as opposed to it being like a vital budget and money-saving tool.

MAGGIE: Oh, yeah, for sure. So I’m on my single income. I actually pay child support. And so I know what I spend and when and on what all month long. And like you said earlier, food is a huge expense for a lot of families or even single people. And this is a way that I can keep tabs on how much I’m not spending through the month.

MICHELLE: So talk to me about some of those numbers then. I’m particularly interested in hearing like if you had a sense of what your food budget was before you started meal prepping—

MAGGIE: Oh gosh.

MICHELLE: To then like now when you’ve got this beautiful, streamlined process. Like are you— you know, I assume you eat out occasionally on weekends and stuff.

MAGGIE: Yeah.

MICHELLE: But what does that look like, the before and after picture?

MAGGIE: So before, I would say— with just the three of us, myself and two kids— I was spending at least $160, $180 on groceries for the week. And that was like meal planning light. There was no structure in place. I was doing like you were doing, where you’re like combing through recipes and hoping for the best. And that was too much for me at the time.

[00:14:58] So now, I’m spending $130 or less for four people for seven days a week. And you kind of average it out to like two and a half meals a day because there’s the occasion when my boyfriend will eat lunch when he’s at work. Or, I’ll have to go out to lunch with my clients or whatever. And so you’re not really accounting for that. So at $130 a week for four people, seven days, two and a half meals a day, it’s less than $2 a meal for the whole week.

MICHELLE: That is stupid cheap.

MAGGIE: Yeah. And then breakfast is typically cheaper. Like it’s— that’s an average. So it’s less than $2 a meal on average. Dinner is obviously more expensive if you’re eating proteins. But, yeah, it’s less than $2 a meal for every person in the house for a full week.

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MICHELLE: So I’ll ask the hard question. One of the other big I guess sources of pushback that I get for meal prepping is I know folks who just either hate cooking, or it’s not their cup of tea, or they’re not very good at it, not super skilled or comfortable in the kitchen.

MAGGIE: Sure.

MICHELLE: So what recommendations do you have for somebody who maybe doesn’t have a super aggressive skill level?

MAGGIE: So I used to meal prep for a girl at work. I would prep for her, myself, and my boyfriend all at the same time. And one of the easier ways to get that done quickly without much skill or without much, you know, fuss in the kitchen is I would go to Trader Joe’s and get a couple bags of stir-fry— they’ve got like a stir-fry rice and veg— and that delicious bag of orange chicken that they have at Trader Joe’s. And if you combine those two things, that’s three meals in and of itself for about $7.

So that’s still less than— that’s like $2-ish per meal per person. So that’s no prep whatsoever. You’re just dumping two bags into a skillet. And then if you portion them out for the week, you’re good to go. The meal prepping that I do is all homemade. Like I’ll do burrito bowls and whatnot, but it’s all being assembled at the house by me. But that’s by choice because I enjoy cooking.

But for people who don’t, there are ways around it. If you’re just paying attention to cost, how many servings you can get out of one container, then you can still average about $2 or about, you know, around there— less than $3 if you’re really into ingredients that are more expensive. Yeah, but there are plenty of options in terms of starting with a frozen product and microwaving it during the week when you’re at work.  

MICHELLE: Yeah. One of the other questions that I have for you— so I think in particular understanding that the app is really useful for maybe stuff like dinner, which again is sort of like, here’s a formal recipe. And I’m buying ingredients, and I’m making it. You kind of made it sound like lunches, for example, are a little bit more freeform.

MAGGIE: Yes

MICHELLE: So how do you get your lunch ideas?

MAGGIE: So I follow a couple of meal prepping places on Instagram. There’s some accounts. Like the EasyLunchboxes account has a lot of really good ideas. She is reposting how other people use those containers all the time. So it’s interesting to see.

You know, some people are into hummus and dips and pita. Or, some people are protein-heavy. Or, some people are creating those meals on Sunday, like chicken and stir-fry, and using it that way. Lunch is basically whatever’s on sale at the grocery store. Or, you know, my lunches are different from the kids’ lunches.

And so it’s just a matter of— some of the time for lunch, I’m using whatever’s leftover from dinners the week before. So if I have spare vegetables leftover, I’ll just cook those up and throw in some shrimp. And that’ll be lunch for me for the week, trying to use as much— as many ingredients in the home as possible. But lunch— there are plenty of apps out there that do fold in lunch ideas as well. But for me, it’s just a matter of cleaning out the pantry.

MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s great. I think, too, a lot of us get intimidated. Because, again, meal prepping is like this Pinterest-heavy, glorified—

MAGGIE: Yeah. I used to be like that. Like I— oh my gosh, the very beginning of meal prep for me, I used to cut letters out of cheese. This was like the penultimate of crazy. I cut letters out of cheese. And then I made a cornstarch-based glue. And then I glued the cheese letters onto sandwiches. See? That’s not necessary. Like I’m sure it looked good in a photo.

[00:20:12] But now at this point, it’s just like making food that I know everybody’s gonna eat. Because I’m not buying food to have it be thrown away. And quite frankly, all of those beautiful pictures you see on Pinterest inside lunchboxes, that s**t’s getting shaken up in a lunchbox on the way to school anyway. So it doesn’t look good.

So I mean, there’s no— there shouldn’t be any hangups in terms of creating lunches that look good. I mean, I get that flavor and enjoying food starts with your eyes and your nose. But just f**king eat it.

MICHELLE: Yeah. I mean, as much as I’m 110% here for, like, a fully Super Mario themed nibbly bit lunch experience.

MAGGIE: Yes.

MICHELLE: The point about lunches getting shaken up is actually a very good one because that— every now and then, I’ll get on my meal prep high horse. And in my— so I use, like, Tupperware.

MAGGIE: Right.

MICHELLE: Which is not super exciting. I’ve got one-cup ones, and two-cup ones, and then the three-cup, square flat ones. And sometimes in the flat ones, I’m like, I’m gonna do a plating. So I’ll put the rice in such a measuring cup so it has this perfect dome. And there’s, like, here’s a smattering of beans. And here’s some fajita chicken.

MAGGIE: Right.

MICHELLE: It’s like this beautiful just like sunshine for your mouth, until I take it to work. And I open it up. And I’m like, oh, this looks like the inside of a burrito if somebody just like—

MAGGIE: Dumped it out.

MICHELLE: Yeah. They shook that tortilla right on out into a bowl.

MAGGIE: Right, yeah.

MICHELLE: Which I think is validation, too. Like if you’re listening to this, and you’re like, my lunch is ugly, that’s totally fine.

MAGGIE: They’re all ugly.

MICHELLE: This is a normal part of the process.

MAGGIE: That’s right. There’s no sense in making it look pretty.

MICHELLE: Yeah. Unless it’s just you, and you don’t ever wanna share with anybody, and you have all the time in the world. Then you should make flowers out of carrots. You should do that. But, you know, you don’t have to. So what other benefits of meal prep can you share with us? If somebody’s listening, and they’re like, I’m not convinced yet, what else do they need to know?

MAGGIE: So I think the top— if you had like a top three reasons why you should meal prep, money savings is definitely one of them. You are in control of what you eat. So you’re not at the mercy of whatever your office decided to cater or whatever restaurant is nearby. You’re in complete control of what goes into your body. So if you’re meal prepping for weight gain, weight loss, any of those things, or because you do have dietary restrictions, that ball is in your court.

And I guess the third reason would be, you know, the satisfaction of knowing that— I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a third. I think it’s like nutritional value and financial control. I don’t know what else you would need.

MICHELLE: Yeah. What else is there? If that’s not enough to sell you on the idea that meal prepping is great, then—

MAGGIE: Then you can come talk to me, and we’ll duke it out.

MICHELLE: Yeah, no. Maggie has offered to fight anybody over meal prep. Her sleeves are rolled up. I see visible tattoos. It’s like hardcore meal prep time over here.

MAGGIE: I have a little knife tattooed on my back. That’s a joke. I don’t. I don’t. I do know some chefs, though, that have recipes tattooed on their arms. That’s pretty boss.

MICHELLE: Yeah. I feel like if I got a food-related tattoo, it would just be a stick of butter.

MAGGIE: Oooh, that’s a great one, though. Like with teeth marks, like you took a bite out of it.

MICHELLE: Yeah, like I took a whole bite out of butter. That’s actually my meal prep. I just get one stick of butter for every day. I label them with the days of the week. It’s like a whole day of calories, but it fits in my pocket.

MAGGIE: Yeah, until it melts.

MICHELLE: Until it melts.

MAGGIE: And then it’s weird because people are licking you.

MICHELLE: Ugh. As you can see, I am clearly an expert in this field, which is why I do not need any professional help at all on this podcast. Cool. So I know you mentioned that, you know, you kind of got into this because of single parenthood. Tell me more about that story.

MAGGIE: Sure. It’s a great one. I was married for about eight years. I moved to start a career. He did not come with me. I took the two kids, obviously. They’re mine. They’re his, too. But they’re mine. And that was like an instant separation. I mean, you are physically two states apart from each other.

And there was no help to be found. Like my family did not live nearby, so I was on my own immediately— and working out of the house for the first time at the same time. So it was so many life changes happening all at once. And with two kids underfoot who were two and four at the time, there was just a whole lot going on.

[00:25:15] So that truly was when I started trying to figure out how to get control of my life. I went through a really bad depression after the divorce, during and after the divorce, that took me off my game for about two years. And so I think coming out of that fog of depression, and you’re starting to look at your life and go, wow, I really need to get my s**t together, one of the things that I started— one of the places where I started getting my s**t together first was my finances.

Because I realized, you know, it was all on me to buy groceries, to donate to— donate— to contribute to the college fund, to contribute to my 401(k). I had to figure out how to make that s**t work on my own. And so I controlled the exterior life of my own before I could ever even address the interior mental health of mine. And I still do that. I can almost guarantee you that’s why I meal prep on Sundays is so I can feel like I have got my s**t together on a week-to-week basis.

Maybe that’s my third thing. So it’s finances, it’s nutrition, and it’s mental health. Because otherwise, I’m running around in the morning trying to fight with myself and two kids to get ready for school and work. Ain’t nobody got time for that. So if I can streamline anything— like I’m so process-oriented both at work and in my personal life, if I can streamline it, I will. Because it keeps me sane, frankly.

MICHELLE: Yeah. I do— I do feel like that’s totally true. Like on the— we’re pretty good about meal prepping most Sundays. That’s our day as well, like laundry and meal prep. I feel like if those two things happen on Sunday, one, it’s like 100% a successful day. And, two, I’m ready to kick down the door on Monday.

MAGGIE: Yes, yeah.

MICHELLE: And be like, lookit, I am here. I am serving s**t. And I am prepping— like, my food is prepped.

MAGGIE: Right, right. You don’t have to think about it. You free yourself up to think about things that require your attention.

MICHELLE: Yes. Awesome. Dude, thank you.

MAGGIE: Yeah.

MICHELLE: Thanks for, like, coming and chatting meal prep with me. Any other parting words of wisdom? Anything else you wanna share before we part ways?

MAGGIE: Don’t be stupid. Eat smart.

MICHELLE: When you run for president, I hope that’s your campaign slogan.

MAGGIE: It will be. That’s fun. I like that. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to say that out loud.

MICHELLE: Yeah. You’re so welcome. And, y’all, thank you so much for listening today. It’s a pleasure. I hope you go and download some apps, and buy some b**ching Tupperware, and get in there on Sunday or whatever day works according to your schedule. Everybody’s different. It’s totally fine. And start to be a little bit more mindful of the way that your food budget is organized. So thanks for listening, guys. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.

END CREDITS: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Young Scrappy Money podcast. If you want to read about my work as a financial advisor and financial coach, you can do so at www.youngandscrappy.com. That’s www.youngandscrappy.com. Thanks again for listening.

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