When you live in the city, it’s hard to resist the temptation of so many wonderful and viable options for lunchtime eats. Noon rolls around and your work wife is craving sushi and the struggle becomes all too real. If you’re finding yourself in need of a spending detox, a quick and (relatively) painless route is to skip lunchtime outings and opt instead for energy- and money-efficient meal-prepping and lunch-packing.
Don’t get me wrong, meal prepping takes energy. But it’s energy spent all at once rather than spread out over the course of the week. A huge reason why so many of us (myself included) end up going out for lunch as many as three (four?) times a week is by the sheer fact that we just do not have the energy to pack a lunch every night/morning. So step one of this detox: set aside time for meal prep.
For myself, I chose Monday nights. Sundays aren’t realistic — I’m either relaxing or recovering or otherwise busy (busy being lazy?) and I usually will have some sort of leftovers from the weekend to take for lunch on Monday. But what’s really popping on Monday nights? Nothing. So #MealPrepMondays are a thing now.
I decided to do this after realizing I was spending upwards of $50 a week on eating out during the day, including my morning coffee and occasional-but-slowly-becoming-more-frequent ritual of the Friday long lunch. At a sit down resto. With a license. Five bucks for a glass of wine is a great deal, you’d be a fool to pass it up. So let’s call it $200/month.
I found this meal prep video on Buzzfeed for a Chicken Teriyaki Stirfry that looked relatively simple, healthy and yummy thereby meeting my requirements for this meal prep business. And luckily, since I cook a lot, I already had a lot of basic ingredients in my cupboard. The only things I really needed to buy on Monday night were the fresh meat and produce items.
Here’s the breakdown of my No Frills bill:
Chicken = $14.51
Bell peppers = $3.99
Broccoli = $2.49
Green onion = $0.79
Apples = $3.48
Granola bars = $2.77
Coffee = $4.24
Total = $32.27
Note that this bill also left me with two extra chicken breasts to be frozen and put toward my next round of meal prep, as well as enough coffee to last me through the month. Since I also plan on doing one week of vegetarian meal prep, this amount of chicken would just about suffice for a month’s worth of lunches. Assuming I just need to buy the produce again, as well as a restock on granola bars, my next grocery bill for this meal prep recipe would be only $13.52.
For a meat-free meal prep option, I found this Pasta Bake recipe that allows you to make four different kinds of pasta all at once. Since I’m not a full-fledged vegetarian, I find that veggie meals often leave me hungrier and with less energy during the day, so I opted to go for something a little heavier and carbier in anticipation of my usually light dinners.
Note that this recipe actually makes eight servings but I’m only one person so I cut it in half for my week. Again, since I already had many of the ingredients (including fresh basil thanks to my windowsill herb garden) my grocery bill for this meal prep option broke down as follows:
Whole wheat penne = $2.99
Marinara sauce = $2.00 (on sale!)
Carrots = $1.99
Broccoli = $2.49
Alfredo sauce = $2.00 (on sale!)
Cherry tomatoes = $2.00
Pesto = $2.99
Asparagus = $2.16
Hummus = $2.79
Carrots and hummus would be my snack this week in place of an apple and granola bar to give me that added bit of protein I need. Also, there would be enough of the sauces left to use for the second round of this meal prep so they would not need to be bought again this month, which means my next bill for this recipe would be only $15.41.
And again, it helps that my cooking habits mean I already have so many of the staples like oils and spices and such. These are considered kitchen cupboard investments and will not have to be bought as often, but will come in handy as you continue your #MealPrepMondays for lunchtime savings.
Also, between grocery shopping and actual cooking time, this whole meal prep business really only took an hour or two at most out of my Monday night. All I had to do each night was throw a Tupperware and an apple and granola bar, or a Ziploc of carrots with a side of hummus, into my lunch bag and set the coffee pot timer. Bing bang boom.
So if I were to alternate between these two meal prep options for the entire month, my total expenditures (assuming I do not need to restock on any staples, but even if I did it’s relatively cheap anyway), would be just over $80. That gives me a total savings of $120 a month. Let’s call it $100 just to be generous, in case you run out of olive oil or cave and treat yourself once or twice (because let’s be real, it’s gonna happen and it’s totally okay).
$100 extra per month. That’s $1200 a year! Think of the possibilities…
As hard as it was to break the habit of escaping midday to indulge in some gastronomic delight that requires little to no effort on my part (save for swiping my card of course), it’s easy to enjoy my little packed lunch when I think about the week-long escape I’m going to be able to take this year to an all-inclusive beach paradise. Thank you, #MealPrepMondays!