INSIDE: Looking for a cooking side hustle? Making frozen meals is the perfect solution! Find out how it works, how much you can make, and how to scale it.
[Got another one for our Side Hustle Series today! This one comes to you from Dan and his wife of PenniesAndDollars.com who stumbled across a great opportunity by putting themselves out there and really just being *nice*. Two magical ingredients that can take you pretty far in life :) Hope this inspires other food lovers and cooks out there!]
My wife and I make 5 frozen meals a week for $100.
We never set out to turn this into a cooking side hustle. A friend of ours recently had a baby, so we made her a (free) frozen meal to help her out in the first couple days, and it turned out she really liked our cooking!
My wife was originally looking to do some baking on the side for money, but when she reached out to friends and family it didn’t seem like any of them were really that interested. However, the friend that had previously liked our frozen meal said right away that she’d be willing to buy more meals from us! Both her and her husband work full time and have 3 kids, and they just don’t have the time or energy to make dinners themselves.
My wife and I are such cheapskates that it just blows our minds that someone would be willing to pay to have meals made for us!
But after asking our friend several times if she was serious about the service, and receiving an absolute affirmative each time, we settled on $20 a meal.
How This Cooking Side Hustle Works
Each week, we offer 5 meal options. Almost every week, she’s chosen all 5 options. A few times one won’t sound good, so she’ll ask us to make a double batch of a different one instead.
We have all the meals ready by Sunday, and then she swings by and picks them up, or we drop them off at her place depending on what’s more convenient at the time.
This cooking side hustle really works out well for everyone. Our friend gets a home cooked meal every day of the (work) week, and we make some side money in the process. We also make the meals big enough for her family so that there’s always leftovers for lunch the next day, although apparently her husband likes to do a second supper at midnight :)
Our schedules are all over the place, but since we give ourselves a whole week to make the meals, we can whip one up whenever our schedule allows. And whenever we make her a meal, we usually just make a double batch so we that we have one for ourselves too with little additional effort!
The Types of Meals We Offer
We try and keep a good variety of meal options coming for her, which has actually been a good exercise in broadening our own cooking and eating horizons too! We’ve gotten out of the pasta and casserole rut now, and are currently trying out Chinese cooking (or Chinese ‘inspired’ cooking) for the first time with some sweet and sour chicken balls and orange chicken. I’m looking forward to giving chimichangas a shot next! The recipe looks easy, but we’ll see.
We’ve also asked her to give us a 1-5 rating each week so we know what to offer again. Maybe she’s being a little too kind with her reviews, but 26 of the meals so far have come back as a ‘5’, four came back as a ‘4’, two as a ‘3’, and two as a ‘1.’ Since so many of the meals come back as 5, we don’t re-offer anything less than a 5 now.
Keeping Everything Easy Prep
Before our friend started buying meals from us, she had gone through a company that offered a similar service. Her biggest complaint with them was that they still had her doing some of the prep at home.
From a culinary standpoint, I definitely understand why they had her do this. Some parts of meal prep almost have to be done right before it’s time to eat. But I also understand why she didn’t like this. If she’s paying $20 for a meal, it’s completely reasonable for her to expect 100% pre-prep, and no dishes!
With this in mind, we have turned every meal into a casserole or something that can be reheated in a casserole dish. This way we can package it in a disposable aluminum 9×13, and all she needs to do is throw it in the oven and thaw it out. Once she’s done, the 9×13 can go into the trash. The only exception is the soups, where we’ve frozen them in the bag and she does need to get one of her pots dirty.
How Much We Make
While we bring home $100 a week for these meals (5 x $20), of course it’s not pure profit as we have the expenses of the food. Our goal is to at least make $10/hr of profit though, so we try to stick with meals that cost less than $10 to make in under one hour or less.
We’re paying Midwest food prices and not New York food prices though, so sticking to the $10 food cost is fairly easy. We did make some chicken spinach artichoke lasagne the other day that did cost $15 with all cheese and special ingredients (and took over an hour), but that was averaged out by the Mexican soup that cost $6 (beans are a cheap filler) and barely any time at all. Each meal also costs an additional 50 cents for the disposable casserole pan. Leave a comment if you know where to get them cheaper – .50 a shot adds up!
(Editor’s note: I wonder if you could just invest in some nice solid containers that you can just have her return each week to not only save $$$ in the long run, but also the environment? I feel like that wouldn’t be too much trouble for anyone? Maybe give her a box to throw them all into too that’s completely sealable so she doesn’t have to smell or clean anything, haha…)
Also, some of the prep time doesn’t require our full attention. While we’re boiling pasta, for example, we can take 5 minutes to do a few dishes or start work on another meal. Furthermore, since we usually end up with a meal for ourselves as well, it is often time we’d spend on meal prep anyway. And if our hourly pay is low some weeks, the flexibility of the gig still makes it well worth it in the end.
All told, we typically spend $40-$50 of the $100 on buying her share of the groceries. We started this gig at the beginning of this year, and so far have just put all the profit back towards our own groceries allowing us to not have to tap our own grocery budget at all. We have been drawing down our pantry a little though, so we’ll see what happens there.
Is a Cooking Side Hustle Scalable?
We’ve discussed growing this side hustle by advertising for more customers, but for now we’ve decided to just stick with our one friendly customer. Scaling it into a ‘proper’ business requires pursuing licensing and needing a separate kitchen along with all other kinds of costs and requirements, and that’s not something we’re interested in at the moment.
Can Anyone Do This?
If you have some spare time anywhere in the week and know how to cook, you can probably do this gig too. You do need enough freezer space to store 5 casseroles though, and as an FYI you can’t stack them (or anything else on top of them) as you’ll then tear the aluminum cover.
When you’re just starting out, you’ll probably want to find customers among people you already know who won’t care that your kitchen isn’t licensed and inspected, though obviously you still need to use common sense and keep everything clean and all the food safe. Your friends might also be more open and tolerant as you figure out what works and what doesn’t when starting out. On the other hand, a stranger might be more honest in rating your meals. And if your meals don’t actually taste that good, you’ll avoid pissing off a friend by selling them subpar meals at $20 a piece!
For us, finding a customer just took a single Facebook post. It may be that easy for you, or you may need to turn to Craigslist or classifieds. Just keep your ears open, and next time you hear someone complaining about meal prep, jump in and make them an offer!
Dan Palmer aims to take a wholistic approach to personal finance by blogging about everything from the underlying ‘why’ of personal finance, the every-day nitty-gritty hacks of frugal living, and the ‘how’ of investing and growing your wealth. You can find him at penniesanddollars.com.
Editor’s Note: For all those who do like cooking for themselves, a friend of mine recently launched a meal plan service that helps with planning cheap meals if anyone’s interested… It’s called “$5.00 Meal Plan” and they’ll email you a weekly meal plan that contains ten recipes to make each week. The plans are easy to prepare, don’t use exotic ingredients, and will cost you less than $5 a meal if you plan and use coupons. More info can be found here: 5DollarMealPlan.com. (affiliate link)
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