How to Meal-Prep a Week of Healthy Lunches for Less Than $20
If you've gone to a movie (in an actual movie theater) recently, then you know easy it is to spend $20. One ticket, a water and a small popcorn, gone! Heck, most pizza places charge $24 for a large pie these days. Twenty bucks doesn't get you very far anymore. Or does it? One way to you can help stay on track with your budget is to meal-plan. By planning out meals for the week, you'll be less likely to resort to expensive takeout or last-minute trips to the grocery store where you inevitably buy something you already have at home in the pantry.
See More: The Best Budget Recipes
If you're looking for cheap meal prep ideas, look no further. Here we've come up with an affordable, healthy and yummy lunch menu for the week on a budget of just $20. With some planning ahead and a little bit of prep work on Sunday afternoon, you'll be pleasantly surprised just how far $20 can get you. And by batch-cooking and using the same ingredient in multiple ways, you'll not only stay on budget but you'll also save time during the busy workweek. Meal prep on a budget has never been so easy!
Tips for Saving at the Grocery Store
- Make sure to check your pantry before you shop. What do you already have on hand?
- When you plan your trip to the store, keep in mind that it may make sense to purchase smaller quantities of some of the ingredients. The couscous, for example, may be available in bulk. That way you can buy only what you need (about 2/3 cup) instead of a larger box. The same goes for the chicken: you'll only need 2 chicken thighs so, if possible, purchase them at the meat counter. Alternatively, you can always plan to freeze extra chicken for another use.
- When looking for the best value, look at the unit prices. They're usually on the lower left side of the price marker. Just make sure to check which unit each sticker is using to make sure you are comparing the same unit and amount.
Sunday Meal-Prep Steps
Step 1: Make the Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are a surprisingly affordable protein. We also love that this recipe comes together with only 5 minutes of hands-on time. For easy cleanup, line your baking sheet with foil or parchment. As the chicken bakes, move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Cook a Batch of Easy Whole-Wheat Couscous
This super-simple method for cooking couscous takes less than 10 minutes. While the couscous stands, move on to Step 3. Once the couscous has finished cooking off the heat, make sure to fluff it with a fork before measuring it out for the lunch recipes.
Step 3: Hard-Boil 4 Eggs
Use our foolproof method to get perfect boiled eggs.
Step 4: Make the Basil Vinaigrette
This bright green vinaigrette is a shortcut to big flavor; it's used on two of the lunches. You will not need all of this dressing, nor all of the Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette (below), so you'll have some extra dressings on hand for salads at dinner too.
Step 5: Whisk Up the Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette
This all-purpose salad dressing adds flavor to more than just salads. It also makes an irresistible dipping sauce for crunchy vegetables or crispy chicken strips. You can store both salad dressings sealed in jars in the fridge. If they solidify when they get cold, simply warm them to room temperature in a warm-water bath before using.
Step 6: Wash & Prep the Kale
Assemble the Lunches
These recipes were specially designed to be able to be assembled ahead of time and stay fresh for the week. So, assemble your week of cheap meal prep lunches on a Sunday or whenever you do your meal prep to have ready for grab-and-go lunches during the busy week.
Store these healthy meal-prep lunches in an air-tight meal-prep container to keep fresh (To buy: amazon.com, $30 for 5). Store any dressings or dips separately in a leak-proof container (To buy: amazon.com, $11.50 for 8) and wait to add till ready to eat to prevent wilting.
Get the Recipe: Mason Jar Power Salad with Chickpeas & Tuna
3 cups chopped kale + 2 tablespoons Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette + 1 (2.5-oz.) pouch tuna + 1/2 cup drained canned chickpeas + 1 carrot, shredded.
Cost per recipe: $1.50
Get the Recipe: Egg Salad Lettuce Wraps
3 hard-boiled eggs (only 2 yolks) + 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt + 1 tablespoon mayonnaise + 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard + salt and pepper + 2 minced stalks celery + 2 tablespoons minced red onion, wrapped in 2-3 iceberg lettuce leaves, topped with 1 tablespoon chopped basil and served with 2 carrots, cut into sticks.
Cost per recipe: $1.89
Get the Recipe: Chopped Cobb Salad
3 cups chopped iceberg lettuce + 1 Oven-Roasted Chicken Thigh, diced + 1 stalk celery, diced + 1 carrot, diced + 1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and diced + 1 tablespoon crumbled blue cheese + 2 tablespoons Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette.
Cost per recipe: $2.01
Get the Recipe: Couscous & Chickpea Salad
Cost per recipe: $1.79
Get the Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Grain Bowl
2/3 cup Easy Whole-Wheat Couscous + 2 tablespoons Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette, divided + 1 Oven-Roasted Chicken Thigh + 2 stalks celery, chopped + 1 carrot, cut into ribbons with a vegetable peeler + 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese + hot sauce to taste.
Cost per recipe: $2.67