Summer is an exciting time for Chicago youth, especially those who are employed through the One Summer Initiative or other job programming. For some Chicago youth, this summer may mark their first time receiving a paycheck, and for others this may be one of the many checks they’ve earned; however, what ties everyone together is the struggle to budget and, specifically, how the temptations to eat out complicate money management. Fear not, effective meal planning is an essential practice that allows one to save money and can help individuals lose weight.
Meal planning, similar to what its name implies, is planning and preparing your meals in advance at home. On average, if a person were to go out for burgers and fries every day for a year, they’d spend a whopping $1600 (Get Real 39). This statistic speaks to the importance of meal planning as a money management tool. By purchasing groceries, home cooking them, and bringing balanced meals to work for lunch breaks, youth could save lots of money which could be put into a savings account or invested. This is why it is imperative for everyone to begin to meal plan.
Chicago Nutritionist, Karen Kim, advocates for basic meal plans that are in line with those advocated by the United States Department of Agriculture. These plans include a serving of fruits, vegetables, a protein, and a carb (see the image below). Kim says that this method is a simplified guide to formulating healthy and filling meals—meals that don’t have to be expensive. Simple staples like chicken, rice, green beans, and apples are examples of food that can be purchased inexpensively, cooked easily, and eaten to help youth get healthier and avoid spending copious amounts of their paychecks during their lunch hours.
One Summer Chicago Money Mentor and teen financial ambassador, Kaliah Little, explained her experiences with meal planning as “life changing.” She explains, “at first, I would go out for lunch—Potbelly one day, Chipotle another—but it just got really expensive, especially downtown... meal planning helped me save money, avoid stress from waiting in restaurant lines during rush hours, and eat healthier... I’m not going to lie, meal planning takes discipline, but once you begin and start to get the hang of it, meal planning gets easier and you can really put the extra money you save to good use. I’m buying some of my college textbooks with the money I saved!”