Getting good at meal prep saved an initially 'terrible chef' $1,400 in 1 year

Talia Koren
Talia Koren is the founder and CEO of Workweek Lunch.
Courtesy Talia Koren

People sometimes start meal prepping when they have a physical fitness goal — but when I started, I had my sights set on being financially fit. Even though I had a full-time job right out of college and no debt, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Where was my money going? Food. Turns out, relying solely on takeout and restaurant meals is a good way to burn through disposable income.

So six years ago, determined to build an emergency fund and save enough for a vacation, I decided to start batch cooking, prepping my meals each week, to replace my takeout habit. I was a terrible chef at first, but I made it work. While eating my initially depressing salads and overcooked chicken stir fries at my desk at work, I thought about what I'd do with the money meal prepping would save me.

Eventually my cooking improved, and my hard work paid off. After about a year, I had saved $1,400, which was enough to pad my emergency fund and take myself on a solo snowboarding trip to Colorado.

When my co-workers started commenting on my lunches and asking questions, I thought other people might have the same struggles with prepping food for the work week. I started Workweek Lunch as a blog and Instagram in 2016 and launched the WWL Meal Prep Program, a weekly online meal plan subscription, in 2018.

We now have nearly 3,500 active members.

We tried meal prepping and buying lunch to determine which method is best

Video by Jason Armesto

How you can save real money with meal prep

I currently spend a total of $300/month on groceries for two people, $150 for just me. Before I started meal prepping, I spent $400/month on myself alone.

My go-to takeout lunch was sweet potatoes, broccoli, and salmon from Dig Inn, a fast-casual lunch spot in New York City. It usually set me back around $13. Once I realized I could make three servings of that meal at home for the same cost, I was off to the races.

A great place to start with meal prepping is by making meals you'd normally buy for lunch or dinner. You might be surprised how easy it is to recreate your favorite takeout salad, stir fry, or tacos at home for less.

Making larger batches of meals also helps you use up whole ingredients so you're not left with a random quarter of a bell pepper or half a bag of spinach at the end of the week. Leftovers tend to be forgotten and tossed in the trash. And wasted food = wasted money.

What meal prep in Talia Koren's kitchen looks like.
Courtesy Talia Koren

5 steps to help you get started

  1. Plan your meals. If you go to the grocery store without a plan, you run the risking of coming home with a bunch of random ingredients that looked good, but you won't know how to make them all work together. Or you revert back to cooking something you've made a million times. Instead, create your grocery list with the ingredients in the recipes you've chosen for the week, and you'll be off to a good start.
  2. Shop your pantry. The best way to not spend more money on food is to use up stuff in your kitchen you've already paid for (or inherited, if you have parents who love to give you extra ingredients constantly like mine). Check your pantry for ingredients you already have, then choose recipes based on that.
  3. Cook what you love. Understanding the basics of how to cook your go-to proteins, how to nail your favorite grains, and how to roast vegetables, can get you far in the kitchen. You don't have to become a master chef, but you can learn enough to make food you'll look forward to eating and not toss in the trash.
  4. Use your freezer. Food wasted is money wasted, so if you don't think you'll be able to eat a meal or use up an ingredient before it spoils, look up if you can freeze it. Freezing ingredients and meals for later is a great way to extend the life of food you already paid for.
  5. Be realistic. If you've never meal prepped before or if you don't like cooking, don't dive in with a massive cooking session, like the ones you see on Instagram. Start out by cooking two to three lunches or breakfasts for the week. You could also just prep your favorite snacks and desserts and still save money. See how it goes. Remember that there is no one one right way to do it, so create a system that works for you.

Talia Koren is the founder and CEO of Workweek Lunch, a website and online subscription that helps thousands of people all over the world meal prep to save time and money, and eat delicious home-cooked food. Talia lives in Queens, NY, and enjoys developing tons of recipes every week in her tiny kitchen while inspiring her 400K Instagram following. When she's not cooking, Talia loves to snowboard, travel, and watch tons of TV.

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