In a TikTok video from January, the fashion influencer Madi Webb unboxes an enormous catering delivery from a nearby Brazilian restaurant. “I feel like I just cracked the code,” she says, explaining that the order of chicken and veggies costs only $100 for a week of lunches.
Since then, all over social media, people like Webb are claiming they’re ordering catering from local restaurants and big chains to hack their weekly meal prep. They take the food home, portion it up, and fridge or freeze it to eat all week. The argument? It’s theoretically cheaper than buying groceries and easier than cooking a whole bunch of food at once.
Reactions to the hack fall in either the eye-roll or the this-is-genius camps. “Consider me influenced,” one TikTok user replied to Webb’s video. Others were outraged: “I’m sorry but anybody who tells you it’s a better deal to order Chipotle catering as meal prep instead of buying the ingredients at a grocery store is probably a trust fund idiot who has literally never shopped anywhere except Whole Foods,” wrote one Twitter user.
But are bulk food orders really cheaper than cooking for yourself? We compared the catering and family meal packages offered by various large, national chains—like Chipotle, Boston Market, and Panda Express—against their à la carte menus and homemade approximations duped by various content creators. The store locations for catering and regular menus were chosen at random, so they may differ slightly based on where you live. For food cost comparisons, we used $101 per week and $4.80 for a meal, based on the Bureau of Labor’s 2021 data on yearly cost of groceries for American households.
The scoop: 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. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some solid timesaving options out there—pending your diets, preferences, and health needs—a few of which aren’t that much more expensive than buying groceries. Scroll on for the best deals.
Catering hackers frequently name the fast casual burrito joint as a popular destination.
Bean, rice, and steak-filled burritos
Catering price: For 10 rice-bean-and-steak-filled burritos, with a bulk order of chips and salsa, catering customers will pay about $12.10 per serving ($121 total).
Regular menu price: To cobble together the same meal from the à la carte menu, you’d fork up about $13 per order—meaning, buying 10 catered burritos is about $9 cheaper than ordering them individually. (That being said, all of Chipotle’s noncustom burritos come in under $11, if you don’t care about the chips and salsa.)
Grocery dupe: Even if you adjusted for inflation, it’s going to cost you less to make your own burritos in bulk and freeze them: According to a year-old video from food YouTuber Joshua Weissman, who frequently recreates takeout favorites in his “But Cheaper” series, a homemade riff with chicken could cost as little as $2.15 per burrito (or $21.50 for 10).