Over time, you could save roughly $1,400 over the course of a year (!!!)

By Julia Malacoff
August 29, 2018
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Most people know that making meal-prep lunches is cheaper than eating takeout or going to a restaurant, but many don't realize that the potential savings are pretty huge. It might be fun to break up your day by going out to grab lunch with your office BFF, but the advantages of prepping your lunch ahead of time go beyond being kind to your bank account-you'll likely end up eating healthier thanks to meal prepping too. Here's how. (Related: How to Meal Prep Like an Olympian)

Meal prepping lunch can save you cash-and that's not all.

"I find that when I buy groceries to make a meal I used to buy out (ex: I loved buying salmon, broccoli, and sweet potatoes from Dig Inn), I can make three or four portions for the cost of one at a lunch takeout place," explains Talia Koren, founder of Workweek Lunch, which offers a weekly meal-prep program (totally budget-friendly, BTW).

According to a recent survey by Visa, Americans spend an average of $53 a week when they buy lunch out. If you live in an extra-pricey city like NYC or San Francisco, you could be spending even more than that. (Related: I Survived Eating on $5 a Day in NYC-and Didn't Starve)

But with meal-prep lunches, you can eat meals that are very similar to your lunch go-tos-at a fraction of the cost. "A burrito bowl at Chipotle costs at least $9 with tax, depending on what you get in it. But you can make three of those portions at home for the same price," Koren points out. "Black beans, rice, and other classic burrito bowl ingredients don't cost that much! The same goes for other classic lunch choices, like salads, sandwiches, and soups."

Oh, and you'll likely find that meal prepping makes it easier to make healthier choices at lunch-a serious bonus. "The control over the ingredients helps a lot if you have dietary restrictions or if you're a picky eater, plus your portions are likely to fit your hunger needs better," Koren notes. (FYI, here are some healthy meal-prep hacks for people cooking for one.) In other words, you won't feel like you have to keep eating after you're already full because you dropped 10 bucks on your meal. Plus, having a pre-prepped healthy lunch ready-to-go will keep you from impulsively splurging on tempting, less-healthy options nearby.

For approximately $25, you can make six meals at home (more on that below), meaning you'll have one extra meal you can use for dinner (or share with a friend!), and you'll save about $28 in the process. If you go from buying lunch every day to meal prepping, you could save somewhere in the ballpark of $1,400 a year on lunch alone. Pretty crazy, right?!

Even if you don't switch to meal prepping *all* of your meals, it can still make a big difference budget-wise. "In New York City, I saved $250 a month by eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home 75 percent of the time," says Koren. "It helped me enjoy the experience of eating out more, and I got pickier about the quality restaurants I'd go to." (Related: Why Starting a Healthy Meal Prep Lunch Club Can Transform Your Midday Meal)

No, you don't have to eat the same thing for lunch every day.

One major pain point when it comes to meal prepping lunch is that people often don't want to eat the same. exact. thing. every day of the week. The desire for variety is part of why many people choose to buy lunch. Here's the great news: You don't have to commit to the same meal all week if you're meal prepping your lunch.

"Actually, I don't usually recommend someone eat the same five lunches in a row," says Koren. After all, that gets boring, fast. "I have been using a system where I prep at least two recipes on Sundays for lunch so I have some variety, and I can switch them on and off," she explains.

If that seems too complicated, there's another strategy that might be appealing: "If you're a novice cook and two recipes on one day seems like a lot, you can try doing a buffet prep," Koren suggests.

That's when you cook ingredients without any recipe and build meals as you go. So for example, you might roast broccoli, sauté spinach, bake chicken, and cook a big batch of quinoa. "Then every day can be different without having to cook more food," adds Koren. (This 30-day meal-prep challenge for beginners will help you reuse your leftovers too.)

Another common issue with meal prepping is that it's hard to use up an entire package of certain foods (like a pound of chicken breasts) with just one recipe. That's another reason Koren pairs two recipes a week for lunch that taste different but share some ingredients. Not only does this save money, but it also minimizes waste.

"If you buy ingredients to make one meal, you're going to have leftover food that either gets used in another meal (which takes more time to make) or it goes bad in your fridge," she says. "My recipes have people use an entire zucchini, an entire bell pepper, or an entire pound of ground turkey so you have nothing left to figure out what to do with or throw out. When you waste food, you're wasting money too, so meal prep helps you avoid that."

Two Meal Prep Lunches to Try

Convinced you're ready to give it a go? Here's everything you need to know. (Want more ideas? Scope these meal-prep ideas that aren't sad chicken and rice.)

Budget: $25, minus spices, which works out to $4.16 per meal for 6 meals, 3 of each recipe. (Koren bought these groceries in Colorado, so prices in your area may vary slightly.)

Time commitment: 60 to 90 minutes, depending on your cooking experience

Grocery List

  • 1 14-oz (396g) package extra-firm tofu
  • 1 12-oz (340g) package spaghetti (preferably protein pasta like Banza)
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 3 carrot sticks
  • 1 yellow onion
  • veggie broth (or water)
  • garlic
  • soy sauce
  • 16 oz (453g) ground turkey
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • oil of your choice
  • store-bought or homemade pesto (Koren likes Trader Joe's)
  • grated cheese of your choice (Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Feta, etc.)
  • red sauce of your choice
  • dried thyme
  • dried parsley
  • cumin powder
  • onion powder
  • cayenne
  • salt
  • pepper
  • red pepper flakes

Recipe #1: Turkey Meatballs


  • 6 oz (170g) gluten-free pasta (use half a 12-oz box)
  • 16 oz (453g) ground turkey
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced and divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons oil of your choice
  • 6 cups kale, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons store-bought or homemade pesto
  • Optional: cheese of your choice for garnish
  • Optional: red sauce of your choice for meatballs


  1. Prepare pasta according to the package. Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  2. Prepare the meatballs by adding turkey, onion, 1/2 of the garlic and all the spices in a bowl. Mix well and form 9 balls with your hands.
  3. Add the oil to a skillet over medium heat. After 2 minutes, add the turkey meatballs. Let them cook for about 5 minutes before rolling them over. Repeat this step until they're cooked through (about 15 minutes) then remove them from the pan and set aside.
  4. Add a little bit more oil, the kale, and remaining garlic to the pan. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the kale is soft.
  5. To assemble: Toss the pasta with the pesto and reserved pasta water then divide into your containers. Add the kale, turkey meatballs, and garnishes (if using). This meal is freezer-friendly and reheats best in the microwave or on the stove.

Recipe #2: Vegan "Chicken" Noodle Soup


For the Tofu Marinade

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons veggie broth
  • Ground pepper

Main Ingredients

  • 1 14-oz (396g) package firm tofu
  • 6 oz spaghetti or noodles
  • 3 celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 carrot sticks, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cups veggie broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes


  1. In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, veggie broth, and ground pepper. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Drain the tofu, cut it into cubes, and add the pieces to the bowl with the marinade. Toss gently to coat the pieces and set aside.
  3. Prepare the soup by adding oil and the chopped onion to a big pot over medium heat. Stir well and after a few minutes, add the rest of the veggies. Let cook for 5 minutes. Then add the broth and spices and bring to a boil. Add the pasta (uncooked) and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste the soup as it cooks and adjust the spices as needed.
  4. While the soup cooks: Prepare a baking sheet with cooking spray. Add the tofu to the baking sheet and spread the pieces out evenly. Bake for 15 minutes. Flipping the tofu pieces halfway is optional.
  5. When the tofu is done (it should be slightly crispy on the edges), add it to the soup. Turn off the heat and divide the soup into three meal prep containers. This meal is freezer-friendly and reheats best in the microwave or on the stove.