meal ticket

noun
1.
a ticket that entitles the bearer to meals in a specified restaurant, especially when meals purchased in this manner are offered at reduced rates.
2.
Informal. someone upon whom one is dependent for one's income or livelihood: selfish children who look upon their father only as a meal ticket.
3.
Informal. something, as an object or ability possessed by a person, that is necessary to that person's livelihood: The radio announcer's voice was his meal ticket.

Origin:
1865–70, Americanism

Dictionary.com Unabridged

Hubbell

[huhb-uhl]
noun
Carl Owen ("King Carl"; "The Meal Ticket") 1903–88, U.S. baseball pitcher.
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
meal ticket
 
n
slang a person, situation, etc, providing a source of livelihood or income
 
[from original US sense of ticket entitling holder to a meal]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

meal ticket

A person or thing depended on as a source of income, as in Magic Johnson was a real meal ticket for his team, or Her interpersonal skills will be her meal ticket when she goes into sales. This metaphoric expression alludes to the earlier practice of handing out tickets that entitle their holder to a meal. [Early 1900s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
The so-called pro-democracy and human rights movement is a growth industry and
  a meal ticket for opportunists.
The way the dining experience works is you're given a meal ticket that serves
  as both menu and bill before you're even seated.
It's a selfish game depending on constant churning and always hunting for the
  next meal ticket.
Students staying on campus must purchase a meal ticket.
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