Want to meal prep without breaking the bank? Here’s a guide

Meal prep jars full of vegetables.
Meal prep jars full of vegetables. | S’well, Unsplash

A new meal prep trend has people buying family size meals from restaurants like Texas Roadhouse and Chipotle, and then divvying up the meals into containers to eat throughout the week.

TikToker Nikka Rene posted a video of her Texas Roadhouse family order which included grilled barbecue chicken, mashed potatoes, a salad, green beans and the chain’s famous rolls and cinnamon butter.

She said the family size BBQ chicken (which includes four chicken breasts, a family sized salad, two family sized sides and bread) costs $39.99 in her area.

Ordering family sized meals is part of a broader trend on TikTok where people order family sized or catering from restaurants like Texas Roadhouse, Olive Garden, Chipotle and others, and then divide up the food to meal prep it.

If you’re looking to save time on meal prep, this is one way to do it. But the trend also might not be the most economical.

One of the benefits to ordering from a restaurant instead of meal prepping is the saved time. The food comes already cooked and so all that’s left to do is to divide it up into containers. But is there a cheaper way to do this than ordering from a restaurant?

After adjusting for the same amount of food available in the Texas Roadhouse meal, already prepared chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and dinner rolls (including the price of butter, but you’d have to add the cinnamon to it) cost around $26 at a grocery store in Salt Lake City. The cost would be even less if instead of buying already prepared foods, one was purchasing food at the grocery store to make a similar style of meal.


Earlier this year, the Deseret News calculated the cost of ordering Chipotle versus making it at home. While Chipotle cost $109 (the catering option had a minimum of 10 people), the upfront cost of everything from the grocery store to make similar food came to $83.79, but lowered to $68.52 if you had butter, rice, seasonings and staples like that already on hand.

Bon Appetit calculated the cost difference between eating at home and buying a catering or family package from restaurants like Chipotle or Panda Express or Sweetgreen. “Sorry, TikTok. Though it’s virtually impossible to make an apples to apples comparison between home and restaurant meal prices without recipes, and our per week grocery spend data is based on household sizes instead of individual budgets, making your own food generally costs less than ordering catering.”

The best deal was at Boston Market, according to Bon Appetit. The chain serves homey meals like chicken and turkey with mashed potatoes, stuffing and cornbread. It cost around one cent less per meal for a person to purchase Boston Market compared to making the equivalent meal at the grocery store.

One of the potential downsides to using restaurants to meal prep instead of groceries is the sodium and sugar content. Restaurant meals tend to be higher in sodium and sometimes higher in sugar and fat than making meals at home. While fat and salt are fine in moderation, one of the hidden costs of using restaurants to meal prep might be consuming more sodium, fat and sugar than is recommended.


What are the benefits of meal prepping?

One of the benefits is the mental freedom meal prepping offers. When you decide what to make and have it divided into containers, then it’s easy to heat up one of the containers and eat it. This can be especially helpful for when you are trying to eat healthier or eat meals more at home.

Cooking at home has been shown to be an indication of a healthier diet, according to a study from Johns Hopkins University. The study found those eating at home tended to eat fewer calories even when they weren’t trying to lose weight.

Meal prepping can also save you some money. If you are a savvy shopper, you can spend a substantial chunk less on groceries than you would eating out.


Can you meal prep to lose weight?

Yes, meal prepping can help you to lose weight. One of the advantages to the meal prepping is you can measure out all the ingredients to know exactly how much you are using and then portion your food accordingly.

Meal prepping can also help you make deliberate choices about what to eat. When you have to go to the grocery store with a plan of ingredients to buy, this means you spend more time thinking about a healthy meal.

One way to make meal prepping for weight loss seamless is to come up with a formula like protein, vegetable, whole grain carbohydrate and fruit. Then, rotate the foods in those categories to have meals like a spinach salad topped with salmon, quinoa and strawberries.

It’s also a good way to relax.

Some research shows cooking is a great way to relax. According to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “But what might not be as obvious is that cooking (or baking) can also be an effective way to relieve stress. It’s an opportunity to be creative, stimulate the brain and even connect to the people (or places) you aren’t able to visit.”


What meals are good to prep?

By nature, meal prepping involves eating leftovers. Not all food tastes as good the next day as it did when it’s freshly made. Here are some suggestions of what to make meal prep wise which preserves flavor and taste.

  • Turkey or beef or chicken or vegetarian chili.

  • Baked potatoes with toppings.

  • Vegetable soup.

  • Pea soup.

  • Greek bowls with quinoa, tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken or falafel and feta cheese (store topping separately).

  • Meatballs with salad (you can use the meatballs over pasta or rice or in a sub).

  • Vegetable sheet pan with vegetables like zucchini, squash, potatoes, onions, turnip and others along with a protein of your choice.

  • Pulled pork salads.

  • Steak, broccoli and rice.

  • Lentils, rice and vegetables.

  • Avocado egg salad.

  • Egg casserole.

  • Chickpea salad.

  • Balsamic chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli.

  • Chicken or vegetable stir-fry.

  • Chicken lettuce wraps.

  • Vegetable fajitas with black beans.

  • Overnight oats.

  • Pork chops with vegetables.

  • Chicken, vegetable and rice pilaf casserole.

What if I hate cooking and want to meal prep?

Here are a couple guides to meal prepping without cooking: