Eating well on a budget It seems the price of everyday items just keeps creeping upward, and for some, that…

Eating well on a budget

It seems the price of everyday items just keeps creeping upward, and for some, that makes sticking to a healthy diet on a budget even more challenging.

But eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, some of the least expensive items in the grocery store, such as beans, whole grains and veggies, are affordable and should constitute a major part of your diet. David Brue, executive chef at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says that plant-based diets, including vegetarian diets, can be delicious and healthy. They can also be more budget-friendly than diets that feature more expensive animal products, especially if you buy in bulk and plan meals in advance.

But doing all that work to shop and prep ahead of time can be tiring, even if it’s the cheapest way to go. Enter several popular meal kits and prepared meal delivery services that provide inexpensive meals directly to your door. After all, time is money. So while meal delivery services tend to be pricier per meal than doing it all yourself, the convenience and time saved may be worth the extra expense.

Choosing the right meal delivery service

But not all meal delivery services are created equal. Knowing which one is right for your situation “can be arduous, especially as the options continue to mount,” says Trista Best, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements, a supplement company based in Delaware.

Best recommends a plant-based diet, as they’re typically budget- and health-friendly. She notes that “when considering a meal delivery service, it’s important to look for one that is able to meet the nutrient and variety needs of your household and potential guests.”

Plans that offer more options and those that are customizable may be easier to tailor to your specific needs. The following meal kit services are among the least expensive offerings on the market today.

Home Chef

Fast facts:

— Most meals are ready in about 30 minutes.

— No commitment sign-up, which means you can skip weeks or cancel without hassle.

— Little-to-no-prep meals are available via the Fresh and Easy option.

Home Chef touts the highest rate of customer satisfaction among leading meal kit companies. It offers a wide range of recipes and, in May 2021, added a la carte options that include breakfast and desserts.


The cost for Home Chef varies depending on the size of the order and meal options selected. Standard meals start at $8.99 per serving. The minimum weekly order value is $49.95.

The meal kits are also available in stores, such as Kroger, at different price points. Shipping costs may vary.

Sample meal: Mahi-mahi with honey mostarda and sweet potatoes with pecan butter.

— Calories: 740.

— Fat: 31 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 8 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 78 grams (including 13 grams of fiber and 24 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 39 grams.

— Cholesterol: 150 milligrams.

— Sodium: 1,590 milligrams.


Fast facts:

— Low cost.

— Flexible meal options.

— Flavorful, family-favorite, comfort food options.

— Meals ready in about 30 minutes or less.

One of the least expensive options out there, EveryPlate caters to families on a budget. They’ve simplified the recipes and aimed for family-friendly meals that can be put together quickly on a busy weeknight and on a budget.


Plans typically begin at $4.99 per meal, though the number of servings and number of meals per week may vary.

— Three meals for two people per week: $38.94 ($6.49 per serving).

— Six meals for two people per week: $65.88 ($5.49 per serving).

— Three meals for four people per week: $65.88 ($5.49 per serving).

— Six meals for four people per week: $119.76 ($4.99 per serving).

— Shipping costs $9.99 per week.

Sample meal: Jammin’ fig pork chops with green beans and crispy potatoes.

— Calories: 600.

— Fat: 30 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 7 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 49 grams (including 5 grams of fiber and 15 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 31 grams.

— Cholesterol: 110 milligrams.

— Sodium: 650 milligrams.


Fast facts:

— Vegetarian options are available.

— Meals ready in about 30 minutes or less.

— Flexible options let you skip weeks.

— Family- and picky-eater-friendly meals.

Another low-cost option for meal prep delivery is Dinnerly, which keeps its costs lower than other companies by sending digital recipe cards rather than paper and offering simple dishes with fewer ingredients.


As with other meal delivery services, the total cost depends on the plan:

— Three meals for two people each week: $48.33 ($6.39 per serving).

— Six meals for two people each week: $79.47 ($5.79 per serving).

— Three meals for four people each week: $78.27 ($5.69 per serving).

— Six meals for four people each week: $129.75 ($4.99 per serving).

— Shipping costs $9.99 per box.

Sample meal: Cheese-stuffed turkey meatloaf with peas and mashed potatoes.

— Calories: 800.

— Fat: 41 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 66 grams.

— Protein: 47 grams.


Fast facts:

— Easy-to-follow recipes with pre-measured ingredients and easy-to-understand nutritional information.

— High-quality ingredients.

— Most meals can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

— Some meals come in at under 650 calories each.

HelloFresh is one of the largest meal kit delivery companies out there, and it has an extensive menu. In addition to being budget-friendly, the company offers a wide variety of world cuisines and flavors to choose from, including African, Korean and Latin American recipes. Meals are dietitian approved and come prepped with pre-measured ingredients. Just mix and cook.


Each plan option is available for two to four people and ranges from two to six recipes per week. Examples include:

— Meat & Veggies plan, three meals for two people per week: $59.94 ($9.99 per serving).

— Veggie plan, four meals for four people per week: $127.84 ($7.99 per serving).

— Family Friendly plan, six meals for four people per week: $191.76 ($7.99 per serving).

— Shipping costs may vary.

Sample meal: Cozy chickpea and egg breakfast skillet.

— Calories: 660.

— Fat: 23 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 6 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 82 grams (including 19 grams of fiber and 12 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 34 grams.

— Cholesterol: 200 milligrams.

— Sodium: 1,160 milligrams.

Prepared meal services

In addition to meal kit services where you do the assembling and cooking of ingredients, prepared meal services are another way to eat well on a budget. The following services are designed for busy folks who don’t want to cook, but do want to get good food for a good value.

Mosaic Foods

Fast facts:

— Plant-based pre-made frozen meals. Just heat and eat.

— Recyclable packaging.

— Breakfast, lunch and dinner options.

Mosaic Foods offers a range of pre-made meals that cater to busy families on a budget. They also offer pizzas, smoothies, soups and oat bowls, so there’s something for every meal of the day and just about every plant-based eater’s palate.


The cost per box depends entirely on what items you put in it. All items are available a la carte, and a box contains 6, 12 or 18 items. Shipping is free for boxes with 12 or 18 items.

Sample meal: Italian ‘sausage’ and pumpkin lasagna.

— Calories: 400.

— Fat: 19 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 9 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 36 grams (including 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 24 grams.

— Cholesterol: 75 milligrams.

— Sodium: 650 milligrams.


Fast facts:

— Fresh, not frozen, heat-and-eat meals.

— Rotating selection of at least 50 meal options per week.

— Balanced nutrition in each meal.

Freshly was acquired by the Nestlé corporation in October 2020. The weekly subscription company’s aim is to offer healthy foods at a reasonable price to break down barriers to healthy eating. Freshly meals are cooked and shipped fresh, not frozen, and typically range from 300 to 650 calories each. All are microwaveable.


The company offers 4 to 12 meals per week starting at $9.58 per meal. (Most meals are a single serving suitable for an average adult.) The bigger the box, the less expensive the per serving cost:

— Four meals: $50 ($12.50 per meal).

— Eight meals: $83 ($10.37 per meal).

— 12 meals: $115 ($9.58 per meal).

Shipping and tax are extra. Breakfast items are individually priced from $7.99 to $8.99 regardless of the meal plan.

Sample meal: Savory-sweet chicken teriyaki bowl with basmati rice and veggies.

— Calories: 460.

— Fat: 7 grams.

— Saturated Fat: 1.5 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 69 grams (including 4 grams of fiber and 17 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 30 grams.

— Cholesterol: 110 milligrams.

— Sodium: 790 milligrams.

Fresh n’ Lean

Fast facts:

— Choose from more than 100 ready-made meals, just heat and eat.

— Whole foods and organic options.

— Meals tailored to specialty diets.

Fresh n’ Lean offers fresh, organic, ready to heat-and-eat meals that fit a range of specialty diets, including:

— Protein+.



— Standard vegan.


Mediterranean diet.

— Low-carb vegan.

— Bulk.

Recipes include organic and GMO- and gluten-free seasonally available ingredients. Sustainably raised meat products are antibiotic-free, and meals are packed in BPA-free recyclable packaging. Fresh n’ Lean also offers an a la carte menu with loads of snacks and other add-ons to satisfy any craving.


Pricing varies by plan and menu. For example:

— Standard vegan package (three meals, five days a week): $134.85, or $8.99 per meal.

— Standard vegan package (three meals, seven days a week): $178.29, or $8.49 per meal.

— Mediterranean diet package (three meals, five days a week): $162.35, or $10.82 per meal.

— Mediterranean diet package (three meals, seven days a week): $216.79, or $10.32 per meal.

Sample meal: Apple cider BBQ turkey meatballs with garlic thyme cauliflower mash.

— Calories: 340.

— Fat: 9 grams.

— Saturated fat: 2 grams.

— Carbohydrate: 41 grams (include 9 grams of dietary fiber and 12 grams of sugar).

— Protein: 23 grams.

— Cholesterol: 55 milligrams.

— Sodium: 870 milligrams.

Best cheap meal delivery services

— Home Chef.

— EveryPlate.

— Dinnerly.

— HelloFresh.

— Mosaic Foods.

— Freshly.

— Fresh n’ Lean.

More from U.S. News

Healthy Meals You Can Make in 10 Minutes

Easy and Healthy One-Pan Meals

Meal Prep Strategies to Get Dinner on the Table in 10 Minutes or Less

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