I used to spend around $150 a month going out to lunch during the workweek. Then I learned to spend an hour or two every Sunday preparing go-to lunches and snacks for the week ahead. That way, I don’t end up at a drive-thru ordering a super-sized meal at lunchtime.
Even if you’re not much of a cook, there are lots of foods you can put together ahead of time, so you don’t have to dine out as often. Here are my favorites.
Quick, inexpensive entrée
Start by throwing together a simple dish like spaghetti or another pasta. Easy dishes like tacos, burritos, stir-fry, beans, and cornbread, chili and casseroles are also good. Here’s my favorite extra spicy noodle dish that’s simple to make. Hate to cook? Search online for easy-to-prepare meals.
Cost: $5 to $20 for several servings.
You can eat boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch or a snack and add them to salads. For a change of pace, whip up some deviled eggs.
Cost: $1 to $3.
Store in the refrigerator to top with butter, sour cream or veggies.
Cost: $1 to $4.
Cut up celery, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower. You can store in containers in the fridge and snack on them all week long with a tasty dip. You can also stuff celery with peanut butter or cream cheese.
Cost: Celery and carrots run anywhere from $1 to $3, while broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower cost a little more. You can usually pick up a decent dip for under $3. Or, find a recipe for homemade dip.
Cost: $3 to $10.
Grocery stores frequently put rotisserie chickens on sale. You can eat chicken for lunch, make a sandwich, barbecue, add the meat to a salad, put it in tacos or even make chicken salad.
Cost: $5 to $7.
Fruit can be expensive, so consult grocery circulars for the best deals. Discount grocers like Aldi sometimes have watermelons for $3 to $5 and cantaloupe for $1. Bananas are cheap, and a bag of apples goes a long way. Wash and cut up melon, berries or other fruit that stores well in the refrigerator.
Cost: $1 to $15.
Make your own salad with lettuce, pasta and other items you want to add. You can even buy salads in a bag that already have salad dressing and other ingredients in separate packets, which is sometimes less expensive than buying individual ingredients. Don’t forget tuna, macaroni and chicken salads, which are also easy to prepare.
Cost: $2 to $10.
You won’t find many foods cheaper than rice. You can add chicken, eggs, or fresh or frozen veggies. For an upgrade, add frozen peas or another vegetable and a little butter to Seeds of Change rice, a yummy luxury you can find at Costco, Walmart, and Target that takes only 90 seconds to microwave.
Cost: Around $1 a week. Seeds of Change costs more: $10 to $17 for a box of six packets, each of which makes enough for two large servings. Comparison shop for the lowest price.
Cook a big pot of soup and freeze portions for future weeks. If you’re not a cook, watch grocery sale ads for deals on canned soup.
Cost: $10 to $20 for homemade soup (with plenty to freeze for later). Canned soup can be as little as $1 a can on sale. Snag a coupon from the manufacturer’s website to save even more.
Mix raisins or other dried fruit, M & Ms, pretzels, nuts and whatever else you’d like to toss in. Then bag up individual portions for mid-day snacks.
Cost: $10 to $20 buys enough to last for weeks.
Add milk, and you’ve got a fast, healthy breakfast. You can eat cereal for other meals too. Supplement with fruit in the bowl or on the side.
Cost: $2 to $5 for multiple portions.
Many of these foods work together. You can add a boiled egg to a salad or eat a chicken sandwich with a bowl of soup. Just be sure you don’t get so carried away trying to save money that you end up spending more on groceries than you’d have blown through going out.
Mix and match and come up with your own favorites. Then take the money you saved on work lunches and pay off your credit card, or maybe even your car or house.
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