Buying groceries can seem pricey, especially if you're trying to eat a more nutritious diet. But ordering delivery is actually three times more expensive than cooking at home, per a July 2019 MarketWatch report — and that doesn't include the incalculable cost to your health.
The solution: Strategic meal planning can help you stick to your health goals without breaking the piggy bank or resorting to Seamless. Using delivery services can also save you time and money while having nutritious recipes to look forward to throughout the week.
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"Low-cost meal plans can be a great investment because they save time, make dinners more interesting and promote dietary variety," says Austin-based dietitian Jenna Volpe, RDN. "When people don't meal plan, they may be more likely [to get] less nutritionally balanced options like takeout or fast food."
Here are the best cheap meal plans to order instead of takeout and step-by-step instructions to help you build a budget-friendly plan with wholesome, feel-good ingredients.
The Best Budget-Friendly Meal Planning and Delivery Services
- Best Overall: Dinnerly (Starts at $4.99 per serving, Dinnerly.com)
- Best Budget: EveryPlate (Starts at $4.99 per serving, EveryPlate.com)
- Best for Breakfast: Daily Harvest (Starts at $5.99 per serving, Daily-Harvest.com)
- Best for Meal Planning: eMeals (Starts at $4.99 per month, eMeals.com)
- Best Organic: Green Chef (Starts at $11.99 per serving, GreenChef.com)
- Best for Variety: HelloFresh (Starts at $8.99 per serving, HelloFresh.com)
- Best for Vegans: Mosaic Foods (Starts at $5 per serving, MosaicFoods.com)
- Best for Ready-Made Meals: Thistle (Starts at $11.50 per serving, Thistle.co)
- Best Low-Carb: Factor (Starts at $10.99 per serving, Factor75.com)
- Best Gluten-Free: Splendid Spoon (Starts at $8.65 per serving, SplendidSpoon.com)
- Best for Portion Control: Revive Superfoods (Starts at $6.99 per serving, ReviveSuperfoods.com)
- Best All-in-One: Hungryroot (Starts at $65 per week, Hungryroot.com)
How We Chose
There are many meal planning services and meal delivery kits available, but they can be quite pricey. In addition to affordability, we researched the best options based on the following criteria:
- Ingredient quality
- Variety and customization
- Dietary preferences
We chose the best meal delivery services with offerings under $12 per serving, though half of our picks have choices starting at $5 per serving.
We also spoke with registered dietitians on the most nutritious yet budget-friendly picks, plus how to meal plan on a budget.
1. Best Overall: Dinnerly
Dinnerly is best known for its affordability, and the rumors are true. The meal delivery service starts at just $4.99 per serving, and you can build your weekly meal plan from selections like stir-fried noodles, burgers, tacos and steak.
Simply choose your desired delivery day and make your meal choices, and Dinnerly will deliver your planned meals in an insulated box.
The meal has a variety of nutritious options with lean proteins like salmon, chicken and tilapia. But it can also include dessert for those with a sweet tooth. More than 100 new recipes are released every week, so Dinnerly keeps your weekly meal plan fresh and exciting. To keep costs low, Dinnerly's recipes typically call for fewer ingredients and can be made in five steps.
While Dinnerly doesn't cater to many dietary restrictions, you can opt for the vegetarian meal plan. Options include plant-based burgers, smoothie bowls, flatbreads and more. For those looking for minimal effort, you can include ready-made meals for a small upcharge.
Buy it: Dinnerly.com; Price: Starts at $4.99 per serving
2. Best Budget: EveryPlate
Starting at $4.99 per serving, EveryPlate is a meal kit delivery service that's budget-friendly and flexible. It's a sister company of the well-known meal kit service HelloFresh. Depending on the plan you choose, the cost reaches up to $6.49 per serving, but this is still pretty cheap compared to other options.
"For people who don't have dietary restrictions or food allergies, EveryPlate is a great option because it's extremely affordable," Volpe says. "From a nutrition standpoint, the meals are relatively balanced in that they include something from every food group."
For those with allergies or restrictions, such as those following gluten-free and vegan meal plans, you may find it challenging to avoid certain foods with EveryPlate. The service has a veggie-friendly meal plan, though.
With family-friendly and quick meals to choose from, it's also a good option for larger households and those who want dinner in a jiffy.
Buy it: EveryPlate.com; Price: Starts at $4.99 per serving
3. Best for Breakfast: Daily Harvest
Up to 90 percent of U.S. adults aren't eating enough fruits and vegetables, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you fall into that camp but want to learn to love fruits and veggies again, Daily Harvest will do just the trick. Plus, it's Volpe's personal favorite as all deliveries are plant-based, gluten-free, made with whole-food ingredients and contain no refined sugars.
The price per serving ranges from $5.99 to $11.99 with lattes, forager bowls, soups and smoothie kits being the most affordable. So, if you're looking for a quick breakfast or pre-workout snack, Daily Harvest is a good option.
Volpe particularly loves the convenience of Daily Harvest. Many meal delivery services require up to 30 minutes of prep and cook time, but this option is for those in a hurry. "The meals are very easy to prepare with no cutting, chopping or peeling required — you just need to heat them in the oven or blend them in a blender," she says.
Buy it: DailyHarvest.com; Price: Starts at $5.99 per serving
4. Best for Meal Planning: eMeals
Meal delivery kits are like a two-in-one service — you create your weekly menu from a curated list of recipes and receive your ingredients within days. The downside is that the recipes to choose from can be limiting if you thrive on variety or have dietary restrictions.
If you'd like more choice or if you follow a special diet, eMeals takes the guesswork out of meal planning for as little as $4.99 a month when you sign up for the annual plan.
You'll build your weekly meal plan — including breakfast, lunch and dinner — based on your preferences and restrictions. Members have access to the full collection of recipes, so the choices are endless.
eMeals has a variety of plans to choose from, including budget-friendly, diabetes, plant-based, kid-friendly and more. Once you've made your selections, eMeals creates a shopping list that you can navigate yourself or send directly to third-party platforms like Instacart to do the grocery shopping for you. Unlike other options, eMeals doesn't send your groceries in an insulated box each week but you can still use eMeals to plan your meals and get the ingredients delivered to your door.
The recipes on eMeals are developed by a professional food team and registered dietitian, so this service is ideal for those looking for nutritious meals. Some popular meals include grilled chicken, salads, tofu, soups and tacos.
Buy it: eMeals.com; Price: Starts at $4.99 per month
5. Best Organic: Green Chef
Anyone with dietary restrictions has likely been told to just cook at home. But those who follow meat-free, gluten-free and other meal plans also deserve cheap, tasty and convenient meals delivered to their doorstep — and Green Chef, a HelloFresh company, is just the service for the job.
Of the options out there, Volpe is most intrigued by Green Chef. "They use lots of organic ingredients, and they use ethically sourced animal products with high-quality standards," she says, adding that they support local, sustainable suppliers. Plus, each meal is ready in 30 minutes or less, making Green Chef a busy person's best friend.
Green Chef starts at $11.99 per serving, so it's pricier than some other options, but the nutritious and organic ingredients mean you get a lot of bang for your buck. Green Chef steers clear of GMOs, antibiotics and pesticides, so you can feel good about the quality of the ingredients. The service also caters to keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, Mediterranean and gluten-free meal plans, which is the most versatile we've seen.
Buy it: GreenChef.com; Price: Starts at $11.99 per serving
6. Best for Variety: HelloFresh
If there's one meal delivery kit you've likely heard of, it's probably HelloFresh. The company is one of the most popular meal plan services, and it's easy to see why. The new HelloCustom feature allows you to choose from more than 100+ options by swapping sides and proteins each week — on top of 30 new recipes to choose from weekly. So, you can pretty much create your dream meals.
Servings start at $8.99 a piece, and you can set your dietary restrictions to vegetarian or pescatarian. HelloFresh also offers Family-Friendly, Quick and Easy and Fit and Wholesome meal plans. The menu changes each week, but members can expect favorites like risotto, pasta, enchiladas, fajitas and cheeseburgers to make routine appearances. You can also choose from soups, wraps, bowls, salads and sandwiches.
Buy it: HelloFresh.com; Price: Starts at $8.99 per serving
7. Best for Vegans: Mosaic Foods
Meal planning isn't always easy when you're vegan, but you do have options — Mosaic Foods is one of them. Mosaic Foods is a plant-centric company that gives back: Two pounds of nutritious food are donated to families in need for every box sold.
Mosaic Foods is the more nutritious, meatless alternative to takeout. Meals are ready in less than 5 minutes, made with whole-food ingredients and cheaper than eating out. It's powered by a chef and dietitian duo who create delectable but plant-powered recipes like pizza, smoothies, bowls, soups and more.
This option is ideal for weekday lunches or for someone looking to eat more plants with limited-time kitchen finesse. All meals are microwave-ready, so there's minimal prep and practically zero clean-up. Prices vary depending on your selections, but servings cost as little as $5 when you choose family meals. Most meals will come out to around $9 each.
Buy it: MoisaicFoods.com; Price: Starts at $5 per serving
8. Best for Ready-Made Meals: Thistle
If you don't want to cook but want nutritious, ready-made meals waiting for you in the refrigerator, Thistle may be the meal-planning solution for you. Meals start at $11.50 a pop, which is a bargain for the nutritious, customizable and convenient meals included in the plan.
Like other services, Thistle is subscription-based. But you can pause, skip or cancel any time. Unlike other services, Thistle lets you plan three meals a day plus juices, snacks and wellness shots.
The meals are designed with nutrition in mind, and all meals are gluten- and dairy-free. The company uses high-quality ingredients and sources organic foods when possible. Some of the mouth-watering ready-made meals include Thai peanut salads, Italian minestrone soups, brownie batter smoothies and more. The downside? Thistle isn't available everywhere just yet.
Buy it: Thisle.co; Price: Starts at $11.50 per serving
9. Best Low-Carb: Factor
HelloFresh-owned meal delivery service Factor is just what low-carb and keto dieters may be looking for. Starting at $10.99 per serving, Factor offers affordability, versatility and convenience. Upon signing up, you can select your food preferences, including keto, high-protein and vegetarian options.
The more meals you plan each week — the more you save, and not just on cost. Each meal averages around 600 calories. The pre-portioned servings can also help those on a weight-loss journey.
Some low-carb and keto-friendly offerings include grilled chicken with zucchini noodles, beef with broccoli rice and shredded turkey with mashed cauliflower. So, Factor gets pretty creative with the vegetables, making it more likely you'll sneak in some fiber without going overboard on the total carbs. Still, the meals rely mostly on protein sources like chicken, tofu, beef and fish. If upping your protein is on your mind, Factor can certainly help.
Buy it: Factor75.com; Price: Starts at $10.99 per serving
10. Best Gluten-Free: Splendid Spoon
Ready-to-eat? Check. Gluten-free? Check. Vegan? Check. Splendid Spoon is a simple meal delivery service for all your breakfast, lunch and dinner needs — without having to worry about animal-derived or gluten-containing ingredients. Everything is made for you, from smoothies to vegan meatballs, so you can sip or heat and move on with your day.
In addition to gluten-free and vegan options, Splendid Spoon is free of GMOs, artificial sugars and dairy. It also has low-sodium and high-protein pickings. Depending on your preferences and allergies, you can indicate your ingredient avoidances for recommendations tailored to you.
Servings start at $8.65 each and increase depending on the item. Build your meal plan from nutrient-rich choices like kale pesto noodles, coconut curry rice, power greens smoothie and more.
Buy it: SplendidSpoon.com; Price: Starts at $8.65 per serving
11. Best for Portion Control: Revive Superfoods
Wanting to eat a bit healthier and having the time to do so don't always go hand in hand. Revive Superfoods makes it easy to eat more fruits and veggies without the hassle of planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning. Sure, you'll have to choose your meals, snacks and desserts each week, but that's the fun part.
Revive Superfoods has options for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even offers oat-based ice creams for a more nourishing dessert. For snacks and appetizers, choose from the service's oat bites and soups.
The menu mainly consists of smoothies, but Revive Superfoods also offers oat bowls, acai bowls and meals — all of which are pre-portioned for portion control and made with nutrient-rich, plant-based ingredients. Pricing starts at just $6.99 per serving.
Buy it: ReviveSuperfoods.com; Price: Starts at $6.99 per serving
12. Best All-in-One: Hungryroot
Meal delivery services don't always eliminate trips to the grocery store entirely, but Hungryroot does. The artificial intelligence-powered service combines meal planning, recipe development and grocery shopping — it even has dessert and snacks covered (it's known for its Almond Chickpea Cookie Dough).
Pricing starts at $65 per week, and you can use Hungryroot to completely replace your grocery shopping. It offers options for breakfast, lunch and dinner for every day of the week while some services only cover some meals.
Hungryroot offers a very personalized experience, letting you omit allergens like nuts, eggs, shellfish and soy. Many recipes come together in 10 minutes or less for a quick and easy meal that also reduces food waste. The selection rotates weekly, so just like grocery shopping, you can change up your meal plan as often as you'd like. As a type of online grocer, Hungryroot even carries brands like Beyond Meat, Vital Farms, Simple Mills and more.
Buy it: Hungryroot.com; Price: Starts at $65 per week
A Budget-Friendly Sample Meal Plan
If you plan to make every meal at home from scratch, you'll need seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners each.
The total amount you'll need to spend for the meal plan below will vary based on your geographical location and your local supermarket's prices, but the budget can serve as an estimate to begin your own personal meal plan.
If you were to buy every item required for these sample recipes, you'd spend around $120 for the week, averaging out to about $5.60 per meal.
You might already have a few of these ingredients in your pantry, including olive oil, spices, condiments like mayo and mustard and various types of vinegars, which will bring your total cost down.
Pencil in a few days where you can enjoy dinner leftovers for lunch. If you don't eat up eating the entire meal you cooked, you can store it in air-tight containers and freeze it for a future meal (and you'll thank yourself later).
Breakfast: Four-Ingredient Banana Oat Pancakes
These flapjacks are the epitome of an inexpensive, nutritious breakfast. Each serving has 10 grams of protein for 204 calories. Each recipe makes 10 small pancakes, so eat five this morning and save five for later in the week.
Choosing meat-free meals is an easy way to stay within budget. This chili is flavorful, thanks to the orange juice, fire-roasted tomatoes and spices — and has just 352 calories per serving. Plus, beans are an affordable and nutritious addition to any meal.
Because avocado oil is pricey, you can substitute olive oil instead. You could also use spinach, kale or collard greens in place of Swiss chard.
Dinner: Homestyle Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup
Use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store to make this comforting soup easier to prep. Plus, you can use the leftover chicken later in the week. (Depending on the size of your family, you might want to buy two or more chickens, as two recipes call for the poultry this week.)
Although this soup calls for fusilli or corkscrew pasta, you can choose any type of whole-wheat pasta that's on sale to make the soup.
Breakfast: Four-Ingredient Banana Oat Pancake Leftovers
Pull out those banana pancakes that you made on Monday and enjoy them this morning.
Lunch: Chicken Noodle Soup Leftovers
Dish up a bowl of leftover chicken noodle soup for lunch to save yourself both time and money.
Dinner: Tzatziki Rotisserie Chicken Pitas
That leftover rotisserie chicken needs to be used up, and these Greek-inspired chicken pitas are just the ticket. Double the recipe, so you can enjoy the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Breakfast: Egg Salad Tomato "Bruschetta"
This recipe is a cross between egg salad and classic bruschetta, which is an Italian tomato-based salsa. Instead of using crostini as the base, you'll top tomato slices with egg salad. This delicious recipe is both budget-friendly and packs 8 grams of protein.
Lunch: Tzatziki Rotisserie Chicken Pitas Leftovers
Pack up the leftover Tzatziki chicken pitas and take them to the office with you for a microwave-free lunch.
Dinner: Veggie-Loaded Pasta
Whole-wheat pasta is high in satiating fiber. This veggie-loaded pasta ups that fiber content by adding a bevy of roasted vegetables. Make sure to season the vegetables with salt and pepper to bring out their natural flavors. Pack up the second serving of pasta for lunch tomorrow.
Breakfast: Peanut Butter Protein Oatmeal
Rolled oats are one of the most budget-friendly breakfasts, with a 32-ounce bag amounting to about $4. Swirl in a spoonful of peanut butter for a dose of both protein and healthy fats.
This breakfast doesn't cost much per serving but has 16 grams of protein, thanks to added egg whites.
Lunch: Veggie-Loaded Pasta Leftovers
Whole-wheat pasta holds up better than its refined counterpart after spending a night in the refrigerator, so it makes for an ideal next-day lunch option.
Combine fresh spring vegetables with protein-rich white beans over a bed of greens for this veggie bowl. During other times of the year, substitute your favorite seasonal vegetables, such as sweet potatoes during the fall or cucumbers in the summer.
Breakfast: Oatmeal Smoothie
If you're on the go in the morning, smoothies make for an easy breakfast that you can take with you. To keep this oatmeal smoothie recipe budget-friendly, use almond milk or regular dairy milk instead of hemp milk — while it might change the nutritional profile slightly, the smoothie will still keep you satisfied through lunch.
Lunch: Mac and Cheese and Peas
Sometimes you need a bit of convenience food to make it through the week — instead of ordering delivery, pick up a family-sized macaroni and cheese from the freezer section of the grocery store (just remember to check labels to compare products and choose those that are lowest in sodium and fat).
To make it more nutritious, add peas — or, if you still have Swiss chard, collard greens or kale from earlier in the week, use up the last of that instead.
Dinner: Simple Turkey Burgers
These burgers require a few simple ingredients, but the recipe is easy to double, triple or even quadruple to make extra burger patties to freeze for the future. Serve it on a lettuce bun, using the leftover romaine from the chicken pitas earlier in the week.
Breakfast: Middle Eastern Eggs in a Mug
There's no need to take out the nonstick pan for these Middle Eastern-inspired eggs. Crack two eggs into a coffee mug and whisk them with a few additional ingredients. Pop the mug into the microwave for a little over a minute, and then enjoy it with some whole-grain pita chips.
Lunch: Leftover Mac and Cheese and Peas
That family-sized mac and cheese comes in handy for leftovers! Enjoy a second portion for lunch, and then freeze the rest of the pasta in individual containers for future use.
Dinner: Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs
The turkey burgers used just a quarter-pound of ground turkey, so use another half-pound to make homestyle spaghetti and turkey meatballs. The sauce is made from scratch, making it a better alternative to jarred marinara, which are often loaded with sugar and sodium.
Breakfast: Savory Oatmeal Topped With a Fried Egg
Use up the last of your two dozen eggs by enjoying oatmeal that's topped with a fried egg and cheddar cheese. Substitute the rolled oats that you already have for the steel-cut variety named in this savory oatmeal recipe.
Lunch: White Bean Tuna Salad
Beans and tuna are two of the most affordable proteins in the supermarket. This hearty salad combines them to make a protein-rich lunch option that perfectly serves one person. Plus, you can use the leftover beans from Monday's chili recipe. This recipe boasts 230 calories and 42 grams of protein per serving to keep you going throughout the entire day.
Dinner: Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs Leftovers
It's been a long week — cut yourself some slack, skip the cooking and enjoy your spaghetti and meatball leftovers.
Cheap and Healthy Snacks
- Fresh or frozen fruit (around $4 a pound)
- Carrot sticks (about $2 a bag) and celery sticks (about $2 a head)
- Bell pepper slices (around $4 a pound)
- Roasted chickpeas ($1 per can)
- Broccoli and cauliflower florets (less than $4 a head)
- Popcorn (about $5 per 30-ounce container of kernels)
- Rice cakes and whole-grain crackers (about $3 a box)
- Nuts and seeds (about $12 per 19-ounce canister)
How to Build a Budget Meal Plan That's Nutritious
1. Shop the Circular
Your local grocery store's weekly sales flyer, known as the circular, is key to making a budget-friendly meal plan.
Take a look at what's on sale this week and then prepare your meal plan around those options.
For example, if chicken breasts are on a deep discount, plan to pick up at least 2 to 4 pounds — depending on how many people you're cooking for — and focus on poultry-centric meals for the week.
2. Look Up Coupons
After you've waded through the circular, do a search for coupons for additional discounts. Downloading the grocery store's smartphone app might yield extra savings.
But don't purchase an item just because there's a coupon for it, per Maine SNAP-Ed. Make sure that it's a product that you actually need and you plan to use that week — otherwise, you're simply wasting money on food that you and your family probably won't eat or benefit from.
3. Avoid Prepped Produce
To save money on produce, avoid pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables and fruits as well as bagged salad mixes, which usually cost more than foods you prep yourself.
Instead, opt for fresh produce that you bag on your own, or frozen produce (which is already washed and cut).
There are ways to cut down your grocery bill but produce isn't the area to skimp. "Set the intention to always include a big serving of veggies at every meal and find ways to make it happen," Volpe says. "I like to throw handfuls of baby spinach into my pasta while it's still cooking for the last few minutes before I drain it all together at the same time."
Frozen and canned veggies can be just as nutritious but easier on your wallet.
4. Make a Loose Plan
Making a meal plan is key to staying on a weekly grocery budget, but you should remain flexible as you put it together. This is particularly true for figuring out how to use the ingredients that are on sale that week.
"Get comfortable with substituting ingredients in a recipe," Bri Bell, RD of Frugal Minimalist Kitchen, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "For example, if the recipe calls for chicken breasts, but chicken thighs are on sale, swap it out! This works in almost all recipes."
A budget-friendly meal plan also ensures that you're using all of the ingredients you buy — rather than purchasing a head of cauliflower, using half of it and then letting the remainder languish in the crisper. It also allows a meal to pull double duty by serving as dinner one night and as lunch the next day.
5. Embrace Leftovers
Planning for leftovers also makes creating a meal plan easier because you don't need to look up as many recipes.
"Less is more," dietitian Stefanie Dove, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
"We've all gone down the Pinterest rabbit hole at some point. Instead of selecting five recipes that require extensive preparation, start with two key recipes that you want to explore and build from those. This allows you to get comfortable with meal planning and preparation without becoming overwhelmed," Dove says.