How Meal Kits Helped Me Kick My Lunch-Buying Habit

How Meal Kits Helped Me Kick My Lunch-Buying Habit

(Image credit: Stephanie Barlow)

Welcome to a column from The Financial Diet, one of our very favorite sites, dedicated to money and everything it touches. One of the best ways to take charge of your financial life is through food and cooking.

After I graduated college and moved to New York City, buying most of my food out became my norm. I wasn't getting myself into astronomical debt, but I certainly wasn't budgeting. After paying off my credit card bill each month, I essentially had nothing left over. Yet it took me forever to realize the biggest reason I had nothing left over was because I was hyper-dependent on one specific habit: buying my lunch out, every single weekday.

A Harsh Wake-Up Call

I was perfectly capable of cooking, and spent many nights doing so. But for a long time, I never considered how much money I was spending by buying all of my lunches out. Eventually, though, I started reading about personal finance, and I did a little math — I was spending close to $300 a month on weekday lunches alone. Considering I was making $15 an hour at a temp job (close to $31,000 annually) and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, I now cringe to think that I was spending $300 on less than a third of my monthly food consumption.

I vowed to get my act together. I bought supplies to make sandwiches and started making huge meals so I could have a week's worth of leftovers. I resorted to the same recipes time and again, because I knew they were easy and I'd get a lot of mileage from them.

And you know what happened? I got tired. I learned that while I enjoy cooking on a fairly regular basis, I don't love meal planning. I grew sick of eating the same things over and over again, but I also didn't feel like putting the effort into planning out all of my meals for every day of the week. I wanted variety, but I didn't want to put in the effort to make it happen on a budget. I soon resorted back to buying my lunch out at least a few days of the week, and I wasn't saving nearly as much money as I wanted to be.

The Meal Kit Miracle

Then I started dating my boyfriend, a longtime user of Blue Apron. He is someone who dislikes meal planning even more than I do and only tolerates grocery shopping, and having a meal kit delivery service helped him reduce the number of times he was ordering off of Seamless (from what I understand, that habit used to be ... extreme). The delivery cost him $60 a week, but considering it provided him six meals (three meals with two servings each) per week, it was a much healthier and more cost-effective alternative to his takeout habit.

As happens when you date someone for a while, our weekly and daily habits began to merge — I was regularly eating his second helpings of Blue Apron, and he would gladly eat the enchiladas I'd make him and take some of the leftovers for his lunch the next day. By the time we moved in together, our eating patterns were already in sync. We had the Blue Apron subscription, and beyond that started planning two to three bigger dinners each week that would also help provide the majority of our lunch leftovers. And without thinking about it, my lunch-buying habit all but disappeared.

Don't get me wrong — this isn't a "my boyfriend fixed my life for me" story. It's also not a complete endorsement for Blue Apron, either. But the thing is, I never would have thought to try Blue Apron if it hadn't organically shown up in my life. Spending $60 for six servings a week would have seemed like far too much for me to commit to spending back when I was single, when I knew I could technically cook meals that were cheaper per serving. Yet I was often more than okay justifying spending $12 to 15 daily on one serving of pad Thai or a bougie market plate. Before I started figuring out how a meal delivery service would fit into my life and budget, I'd never bothered doing the math.

A Happy Medium

Simply put, having three pre-planned meals per week now makes me look forward to all the other cooking I do. Since I don't have to worry about planning every single meal, I put more care into the ones I do plan. I make new-to-me dishes more often rather than relying on the same few recipes out of sheer exhaustion. And while every meal certainly isn't perfect, I have been consistently struck by the variety — since I started regularly eating Blue Apron almost two years ago, I haven't had the same exact meal twice. And, even if I'm feeling unimpressed by a meal (which is admittedly rare), the ingredients are almost always top-quality — the meat in particular. There are also certain recurring ingredients we make sure to get every single time, excitedly texting each other when we see there's a week with rice cakes coming up.

Paying for something fun, varied, and a little indulgent has helped simplify the rest of my kitchen life. It may not be ideal for everyone, but if you're busy, lazy, or simply want to try new things every week without having to hit up a bunch of restaurants, a meal kit delivery service is definitely worth considering.

How do you budget for weekday lunches?

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