This is an extremely fast and frugal way to meal prep freezer lunches for the week without spending a lot of money. Best of all, these Homemade Lean Cuisines are customizable to help you maintain your healthy diet.
Making your own frozen meal prep “lean cuisine” style lunches is so easy to do and a frugal lunch idea to take to the office instead of spending $4-5 on a real frozen lunch or upwards to $9-12 for a lunch out. These are also great for kids to take to lunch if they have access to a microwave or for a quick meal after school and before sports begin to give them a quick boost of energy.
🍽️ Why This Recipe Works
Frugal – I love sharing meals that only cost a few pennies to help families save money. This is one of my favorites and has gotten our family through many “No Spend Challenge” months as we try to cut back and eat what we have. It costs just a little bit more than the 24 Cent Frozen Pasta Meals but this one is packing in those veggies.
Quick and Easy – You know I love sharing recipes that are quick and easy. None of us have loads of time to make elaborate meals when are are working, shuttling kids and balancing life in between. Why not spend a few minutes (about 15 is all) to make these to give yourself and your family some healthy meal options?
Versatile – Go crazy with this recipe. This is the basic outline of what to do, but you should take it and run with it to give your own spin. If you have some different frozen veggies, try that. Use up all the excess pasta in your pantry and make these. Add in cheese or spinach. This can definitely be a “clean out the pantry/refrigerator” type meal.
Here’s what you need. These are measurements for the whole recipe, which makes three servings.
Pasta Sauce – I like to make my own to minimize the sodium. Although, when I am in a pinch, I buy a low sodium sauce from the store. It makes life a lot easier for those busy days.
Frozen Mixed Vegetables – This is from my freezer dump. I always end up with partial bags of leftover frozen veggies, and I hate to waste, so it’s best to use them and add them to these lunches.
Cooked Pasta of your choice (I used penne) – This is another ingredient that I scrounge from my pantry. It’s a great way to finish using the partial boxes of leftover pasta.
Cherry Tomatoes, halved (optional, or replace with veggie of your choice) – The frozen veggies are already in the lunch, but it is always fun to add some fresh ones as well. These were from our farmer’s market.
This is a simple recipe and I am sure you have these items in your kitchen already.
Meal Prep Containers – It is worth investing in a nice set of meal prep containers if you don’t already have them. You may also use the reusable to-go boxes from restaurants.
Aluminum Foil – Make several batches of these lunches and cover them securely with aluminum foil to minimize freezer burn. Nothing is more irritating than spending time (and money) to freeze food only to have it ruined with freezer burn.
Freezer Bags – The freezer Ziploc bags are key here. They are a bit heavier and more sturdy than the normal Ziplocs. I reuse these, and that definitely helps to minimize the costs.
This recipe will make three lunches. It is easy to scale to make more or less.
Step One: Bring the pasta to a boil in salted water. Drain. Let cool completely. Then portion ⅓ of the pasta into each container.
Step Two: Push the pasta to the side in the container if you only have a one-compartment container. Pour in ⅓ of your pasta sauce beside the pasta. The sides of the pasta and sauce can touch a little, but it’s best that they remain separate for freezing.
Step Three: Add ⅓ of your veggie mixture on top of the pasta. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them to the side of the pasta.
Step Four: Cover each container with two layers of aluminum foil and stick them in a freezer bag for good measure to avoid freezer burn. My containers all fit into one freezer bag.
Instructions for The Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi
Step One: Add your pasta, ½ cup water, and the pasta sauce to the Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi. Make sure all the pasta is fully covered.
Step 2: Place lid on the pressure cooker and make sure the valve is set to sealing. Pressure cook on high/manual for four minutes.
Step 3: One the time is up do a quick release of pressure. Stir in your frozen vegetables and let it stir and sit with the lid gently on to thaw the veggies.
Step 4: Once warmed through, serve and enjoy.
When reheating, remove foil and place the container in the microwave for three minutes. Stir everything together, then microwave for another 60 to 90 seconds or until thoroughly cooked.
💡 Recipe Tips
Initially, when I made the batch I pictured above, I made my own veggie mix and sautéed them in a pan. I decided to just include frozen veggies into this recipe for you guys because the extra work really just wasn’t worth it.
Don’t overcook the pasta where it’s mushy. Make sure you just get it to the al dente phase or when it freezes, defrosts and heats up, it will get too soft.
Use leftover pasta sauce whenever you can to make one or two of these whenever there are stray leftovers. The same idea goes when you are going through a Pantry Inventory. Pull out all of those partial boxes, boil them and make a couple of these. If you don’t have everything for it, no worries. Pick up the tomatoes or frozen veggies when you hit the store next time. Then pull the partial lean cuisines out and finish them up.
When I do a cost breakdown for you, I always source Walmart.com as most of us have access to Walmart vs me choosing prices at a grocery store you have never heard of. It puts us all on even playing field when trying to compare prices and plan our meals.
Pasta – Great Value Rotini $0.82 for 16 oz box.
There are 8 servings per box of pasta.
I need 3 servings of pasta for this recipe so $0.82/8 servings = $0.10/serving or $0.30 per batch of 3 meals.
Pasta Sauce – Hunts Pasata Sauce $1.00 for 24 oz. 24 oz/8oz= 3 cups
I need 1 cup of Pasta Sauce for this recipe so $1.00/3 cups =33 cents/ per batch of 3 meals
Frozen Veggies – Great Value Mixed Veggies $2.22 for 32 oz.
32 oz/8 oz =4 cups
I need 1 cup of Frozen Mixed Veggies for this recipe so $2.22/4 cups = $0.56 per batch of 3 meals
Cherry Tomatoes – $3.98 for 9 oz of cherry tomatoes. The packaging says it is 2.55 grams and 1 cup of cherry tomatoes is 149 grams whole or 180 grams chopped.
Try to use about ⅔ of the container.
$3.98/3 (thinking of ⅓ is why I said 3 to use here) = $1.33 is ⅓ of the container but you will need ⅔ of the container.
$1.33 x 2 = $2.66.
Total for 3 Meals:
Pasta Sauce: $.33
For a grand total of $3.85 for 3 meals or $1.28 each meal.
**If anyone ever has confusion or concerns on figuring out how much portions are costing you, please reach out to me at email@example.com so I can help you budget your meals. I’m happy to help.
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Homemade Lean Cuisine Meal Prep Freezer Meal $1.28/Meal
- 1 cup Pasta Sauce
- 1 cup Mixed Vegetables frozen
- 3 servings Pasta cooked, your choice
- 1 cup Cherry Tomatoes equals about a handful
- Bring the pasta to a boil in salted water. Drain. Let cool completely. Then portion 1/3 of the pasta into each container.
- Push the pasta to the side in the container if you only have a one-compartment container. Pour in ⅓ of your pasta sauce beside the pasta. The sides of the pasta and sauce can touch a little, but it’s best that they remain separate for freezing.
- Add ⅓ of your veggie mixture on top of the pasta. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them to the side of the pasta.
- Cover each container with two layers of aluminum foil and stick them in a freezer bag for good measure to avoid freezer burn. My containers all fit into one freezer bag.
Instant Pot/Ninja Foodie Option
- Add your pasta, and ½ cup water, and the pasta sauce in the Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi. Make sure all the pasta is fully covered.
- Place lid on the pressure cooker and make sure the valve is set to sealing. Pressure cook on high/manual for four minutes.
- One the time is up do a quick release of pressure. Stir in your frozen vegetables and let it stir and sit with the lid gently on to thaw the veggies.
- Once warmed through, serve and enjoy.
- When reheating, remove foil and place the container in the microwave for three minutes. Stir everything together, then microwave for another 60 to 90 seconds or until thoroughly cooked.
Ginny Collins is a passionate foodie and recipe creator of Savor and Savvy and Kitchenlaughter. Indoors she focuses on easy, quick recipes for busy families and kitchen basics. Outdoors, she focuses on backyard grilling and smoking to bring family and friends together. She is a lifelong learner who is always taking cooking classes on her travels overseas and stateside. Her work has been featured on MSN, Parade, Fox News, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and many local news outlets. She lives in Florida where you will find her outside on the water in her kayak, riding her bike on trails, and planning her next overseas adventure.