Millions of people around the world meal prep every week — and for many of those people, myself included, the extra savings on grocery bills alone make meal prepping worth it. But how much does meal prep cost, and can meal prepping actually help you save more money in the long-run? In this helpful beginner’s guide, we’ll cover average costs for solo, couple, and family meal prep, including five ways that you can save extra money on your weekly meal prep.
- How much does meal prep cost each week?
- What is the average meal prep cost per month?
- Does meal prep save money in the long run?
- Tips for saving more money with meal prep
How much does meal prep cost each week?
One of the reasons that people meal prep, in addition to saving themselves the effort of cooking every single day, is to save money. So, naturally, one of the most common questions that people have about meal prep is how much it’s going to cost them — and the answer is that it largely depends on a variety of factors, like:
- How many people will you meal prep for? Are you doing a solo meal prep, meal prep for two, or meal prep for an entire family?
- How many meals will you prep each day? How many times will you prep each week?
Are you prepping breakfast once a week, or three meals a day for a full week?
- Which ingredients will you use for your weekly meal prep? Will your meals frequently include meat, or will you incorporate cheaper protein options?
- How much storage space do you have for freezer meals? Do you plan to batch cook or buy any of your ingredients in bulk to save money?
As you can see, the answer isn’t entirely straightforward. But to offer a rough calculation, here’s what a week’s worth of meal prep might cost for a single person, a couple, and a family.
Solo meal prep cost per week
Let’s assume that a single person preps 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) every week. Breakfast consists of grains and fruit, and lunch and dinner consists of meat, vegetables, and grains. Here’s a breakdown of how much those ingredients might cost*:
- Meat: $10-$20/week (8 oz. of chicken or beef each day)
- Vegetables: $5-$10/week (6 oz. of frozen or fresh vegetables each day)
- Fruits: $5-$10/week (6 oz. of fresh fruit each day)
- Grains: $5/week (2-3 cups of pasta, rice, or bread each day)
- Miscellaneous: $10/week (to cover breakfast foods, snacks, and pantry items like olive oil or spices)
Based on these calculations, it would likely cost around $35 to $55 a week for a single person to meal prep, and around $70 to $110 a week for a couple to meal prep. And for a family of four to meal prep (two adults and two kids), costs are likely going to hover around $140 to $220 a week.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is more of a conservative estimate, one that includes sticking to a strict 7-day meal plan without much wiggle room for extra purchases. Depending on your own situation, your meal prep budget may be higher or lower based on your needs. For example, meal prep for two in my household costs us around $120-$150 a week. It’s also important to remember that food prices can vary wildly across different areas of the country, with groceries costing upwards of 10% more in some states.
*based on food prices at Kroger in Ohio as of January 2023
What is the average meal prep cost per month?
If the average weekly cost for solo meal prep is around $55 per week, a month’s worth of meal prep might cost somewhere around $220. However, you can potentially shave off around 10% of that cost (or more) each month by doing a monthly meal prep, rather than a weekly one.
Meal planning for a month allows you to shop for ingredients that are on sale, especially those that go on sale during the holidays (such as turkey and pork around the end of the year). With monthly meal prep, you can also plan to buy ingredients in bulk, which can help reduce grocery bills. And don’t forget that if you’re meal prepping bulk freezer-friendly recipes, which can be stored for much longer than a few days, cooking bigger batches of food can also help save money on ingredients.
Does meal prep save money in the long run?
Not only is meal prep one of the best ways to save more money on monthly grocery bills, but it can also save you more time, which is a valuable commodity in itself. With that said, here are some up-front expenses that you should be aware of if you’re a beginner.
Meal prep containers
Meal prep containers are essential for portioning and storing your food each week or month. Generally, a set of meal prep containers can range from $20 for a set of plastic containers, to upwards of $50 for airtight glass containers.
If you don’t plan to create your own meal plans from scratch, pre-made meal plans are an option. Single meal plans usually cost anywhere from $5-$10, but you can also purchase bundles or sets to save money. Meal planning apps are also an option if you’d prefer a monthly subscription model.
Most people already have the basic kitchen equipment necessary for meal prep, such as knives, measuring cups, pots, pans, and sheet trays. However, specialized kitchen appliances that are useful for meal prep — like rice cookers or blenders — can easily cost a few hundred dollars up-front.
Stocking your pantry is one of the best ways to make sure that your meal prep sessions flow smoothly. After all, there’s nothing worse than starting a recipe and realizing that you’ve run out of the spices you need. Stocking up on items like seasonings, oils, sweeteners, baking goods, and other pantry items can add up quickly.
Now obviously, a $50 set of glass containers or a $200 pressure cooker is nothing to scoff at — but think of these items as long-term investments. While they might cost more initially, when you meal prep consistently, these investments can help you save more money over time.
Tips for saving more money with meal prep
Speaking of saving money with meal prep, if you want to save more money on your grocery bills each month, here are five quick tips you can follow:
- Buy ingredients on sale. One easy way to save money is to plan your weekly menu around on-sale ingredients at your local grocery store. Whenever possible, purchasing these ingredients in bulk while they’re on sale can also reduce food costs.
- Buy ingredients in bulk. Another way to reduce your weekly grocery budget is to buy ingredients in bulk. Often times, certain ingredients — like grains, beans, oils, and spices — are a fraction of the normal cost per oz. when purchased in bulk.
- Prep freezer-friendly meals. Cooking and freezing food in big batches is a great way to reduce grocery costs. Not only does batch cooking save money by using fewer ingredients, but you also save time by not having to prep new meals each week.
- Make your own meal plans. One of the most useful skills you can learn for meal prep is how to create your own meal plan. As long as you can spend a few hours planning out your own menu, you don’t have to pay anyone else do to it for you.
- Meal prep consistently. On any given day, any kind of meal preparation can be helpful — but you’ll get the most out of meal prep if you stay consistent. If you can make meal prep a regular habit in your life, it will pay off in the long run.
Eleesha Lockett is a nutrition professional, meal prep expert, and freelance writer who specializes in crafting empathetic and inclusive health and wellness content. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Psych Central, SELF, Shape, Verywell Health, and Well+Good. She holds a master’s in Human Nutrition from The University of Bridgeport, which she uses to share her passion of nutrition (especially meal prep) with others.