The Meal-Prep Trick That’s Saved Me Tons of Money

The trick to meal-prepping lunches for the week — without being forced to eat the same thing every single day.

I nearly start sobbing when I think about the year 2014, when I would go to HipCityVeg every single day and order the drool-worthy Curry Tofu Wrap for lunch. Every. Single. Day. I was young and stupid and had not yet experienced the big unexpected bills caused by broken cars or broken pets or a broken body that everyone talks about having a savings account for. So away went hundreds (and hundreds) of dollars on Curry Tofu Wraps over the course of a year. More if you factor in the occasional green lemonade I’d get to wash the wrap down with. Insert puddle of tears here.

Now, a few years later and after dealing with a number of my dog’s weird health problems (she somehow managed to get a paint chip in her eye, and who knew ear infections could be so draining on your wallet?), I think about what I eat for lunch a bit more and go out for lunch a whole lot less. Because I get it: Savings accounts are helpful.

But this shift from a lady who lunches at HipCityVeg and Sweetgreen all the freakin’ time to a lady who lunches out of a trusty Tupperware container did not come easy.

The main problem I had with making this switch was this: I have always loathed leftovers. I can’t really explain it — it’s a disdain I developed as a (spoiled) kid that just stuck. Plus, who wants to eat the same meal on Sunday and Monday and Tuesday AND Wednesday? Unless it’s avocado toast — which, sadly, you can’t make ahead — not me. But the easiest way to meal-prep and save money on lunches is by preparing yourself a big batch of food on Sunday, maybe eating some of it for dinner that night, and then essentially packaging leftovers for the week. Honestly, few things make make me cringe more than those #mealprep photos of Tupperware container after Tupperware container neatly packed with uniform portions of salmon, roasted sweet potatoes and spinach.

That is basically my lunch nightmare.

But I’ve figured out a loophole to my leftovers-hating that has made embracing  meal-prepping much easier and has, in turn, saved me a whole lot of money that I’d otherwise spend on lunches out. So I figured I’d throw it out there into the world and maybe help some of my fellow leftovers-hating, easily bored humans who are looking to cut down on their lunchtime spending. Here goes: I do meal-prep every Sunday, but instead of making and packaging myself the same meal five times over, I — or my boyfriend, who’s honestly the real chef in the house — make one base dish that can be twisted into a bazillion different meals over the course of the week. This way, I never dread having to eat the same thing again and again and AGAIN and I save money. Plus, the riffs on the dish usually end up working in food in my fridge that would otherwise go bad — salad greens that I purchased with no actual purpose in mind, a perfectly-ripe-but-almost-too-ripe avocado, and so on. #Winning

So, what kind of base dishes am I talking? Well, one of my favorite things to make so far this year has been a big batch of salmon salad — made with roasted wild salmon, a bit of mayo, sesame oil, lemon zest and scallions — prepared on Sunday night. My boyfriend and I usually make some sort of rice-bowl situation on Sunday, with bok choy, kimchi, and whatever else we have lying around. And then, throughout the week, I turn it into a number of meals for lunch: salmon salad avocado toast, salmon salad and sauerkraut over cauliflower rice (this combo is strangely delicious, and if I slacked in the prep department, I will grab a $2.49 container of pre-made ginger cauliflower rice from Snap Kitchen on my way to work), a salmon salad stuffed avocado sprinkled with hemp seeds. My point: It’s super versatile.

Other favorites for base lunch dishes include a super veggie-packed cauliflower fried “rice,” which can be eaten as is for lunch; mixed with greens and hemp seeds to make an Asian-salad-type situation; mixed with kimchi for a serving of fermented goodness and topped with sliced avocado. And what makes it so awesome is that I only have to make one thing on Sunday, then throughout the week throw it together with stuff that’s already in my fridge, like salad greens or pickled whatever, for example. Easy. Then there’s a brothy kale and bean dish, which is great on its own, served with a side of your favorite protein, a crusty piece of toast or over quinoa (saved from the dinner the night before, if you’re smart). I repeat: EASY. And cheap.

This idea of making a base dish that I eat all week may not sound revolutionary, but twisting my thinking from imagining pre-prepped lunches as one meal made over and over again to riffs on one base dish over the course of the week has totally changed the way I look at meal-prepping lunches while saving me money in the process. Case in point: I brought my lunch to work every single day this week, and every single day  — while always involving salmon salad — it was different. And I was never once bored. In fact, as I type this, I’m excited to run to the kitchen and grab my Tupperware container.

Who says that? The new financially responsible me, apparently.

If you, too, long to be a proud Tupperware-toting human, below, three recipe ideas for base lunch dishes to make this Sunday. Pretty soon, you just might find yourself to be a compromising, leftovers-loving, savings-account-having adult.

Greens and Beans. Eat it over quinoa, with bread, or all on its own.
10-Minute Cauliflower Fried “Rice.” Eat it own its own, throw some greens under and call it a salad, mix in some leftover grains from your dinner the night before. Options are pretty endless.
Chickpea “Tuna” Salad. Wrap this salad in collards for a greens-filled lunch, scoop with Trader Joe’s beet chips or make a plain ol’ sandwich.

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