I'm blowing my budget on sandwiches
November 8, 2012 10:08 AM   Subscribe

I am currently employed full time and am a full time student. I would like to get better about bringing lunch to work, but I really only have time on Sundays to make anything. What can I make that will last all week? Bonus if it's lower fat and/or vegetarian.
posted by Nimmie Amee to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
If you have access to a microwave, mostly-cooked stews or vegetable curries do well in the freezer for a week, and won't fall apart when you heat them up. The key is to not cook the veggies through all the way, or they will become too mushy on reheat.
posted by shownomercy at 10:13 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Been there and done that.

Chili-you can make a batch and freeze in containers.

Pasta salad-don't have to worry about how it will heat up. Add beans, veggies, whatever you like.

Burritos. Again, make a bunch, wrap and freeze.

Lasagna-You can make a pan of it, cut, wrap and freeze.

French Bread Pizzas. I do this for husbunny. Get chiabatta bread or sour dough or French bread. Slice into size you like. Sauce, cheese toppings. Bake in oven. Take out. Wrap and freeze.

You can alternate weeks that you make a particular thing, just make enough for 5-6 servings. That way you'll always have a few options in the freezer to rotate through.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:14 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've actually switched almost entirely to bringing lots of cut up vegetables (I bring only the ones I like a lot), a banana with some peanut butter to spread on it and some other source of protein. I am as vegan as possible, so it's often tofu-pup-esque, but those little tiny waxed cheeses or a couple of hard boiled eggs would work. I sometimes top all this off by buying potato chips or a sweet if I really yearn for something unhealthy. (The above are both breakfast and lunch for me.)

These things are filling enough that I am rarely hungry until dinner, and I find that if I eat a lot of protein (~29 grams with the tofu sausages) I feel pretty good and don't generally want to snack.

I always used to think I wanted a hot lunch and would spend a lot of time cooking, make a big pot of something and be sick of it by Wednesday, etc etc, but my current arrangement is much easier.
posted by Frowner at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding burritos.

Also, if you have access to a Trader Joes, they sell packages of pre-cooked lentils. One of these, stirred in with a whole boatload of sautéed veggies can make 6 lunches when paired with a piece of rotisserie chicken (from Costco is surprisingly good and cheap). Mrs. BlueJayWay and I do this at least twice a month.
posted by bluejayway at 10:19 AM on November 8, 2012

I make a thing of grain + beans + squash on Sundays and eat it through the week. This week's version is:

1 cup of wheat berries, cooked
1 can of black beans, drained
1 acorn squash, cut into 3/4" cubes and roasted for 45 minutes

I threw those together with two tablespoons of olive oil, a tablespoon of vinegar, and about a tablespoon of a pre-made curry powder. You can sub out any of these ingredients for a similar one. The mix from last week was barley, navy beans, butternut squash, and roasted tomatoes with harissa instead of the curry powder. You can cut the oil down a bit if you want to, but this makes four generous servings, so you're only getting a teaspoon and a half of olive oil in each serving.

It's good hot or cold or room temperature; it doesn't go bad; and there's a decent amount of fiber and protein in there. And it's delicious!
posted by punchtothehead at 10:21 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I really love this chickpea salad; it lasts all week and is really filling if you fill a tupperware with 1/3 chickpea salad and 2/3 arugula or spinach. You could probably make it lower-fat by increasing the mustard+vinegar/olive oil ratio a bit.

You might also try browsing some of Heidi Swanson's recipes--try the salads and main courses. She does all vegetarian and a lot of those have worked for me to bring to work, especially the salads based on farro or quinoa.
posted by stellaluna at 10:25 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

It takes 90 seconds to make a sandwich and toss it in a lunch bag with a piece of fruit. You may not want to do it every day (although I do), but you have time to make lunch.
posted by COD at 10:28 AM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wish it were true that these things really took 90 seconds, but they often don't. One of the things that can stand in your way is the condition of the kitchen. If you find yourself often having to work around other people's mess, that can delay you quite a lot. If you find yourself often having to work around your own mess, you have control over that; have a look at the "Unfuck Your Habitat" tumblr.

When I manage to make lunch I always include 5 different fruits and vegetables in it. Only 1 of your daily fruit allowance is allowed to be dried fruit; I might put in two prunes, which counts as 1 serving. Only 1 of your daily fruit allowance is allowed to be juice; I put a juice box in the freezer overnight and put it in the lunch bag to keep the food cold. Bananas are awkward because, whereas the rest of the lunch has to be refrigerated, you can't refrigerate bananas, so I exclude them from bag lunches. If you make sure, on a Sunday, that you have enough different fruits/veg to last you the week, that's at least 50% of your lunch right there. Carrots are great if you have the fortitude to peel them. Maybe get the non-peely carrots at the store or something.

BTW, the nutrients in veggies are fat-soluble so try to bring some dip that contains some fat, even though I know you said you wanted lower fat.
posted by tel3path at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2012

Nthing burritos - make it fun and invite a bunch of friends over - someone makes a big pot of beans, someone else makes some grilled veggies, someone else brings grated cheese (if you're not vegan or lactose intolerant), someone else brings tortillas - assembly line, wrap and freeze - healthier and cheaper than buying them out.

I also live by 101 Cookbooks as a recipe source. I just made this pumpkin/squash soup - it was quick to make, delicious, and made a week's worth of soup.

Smitten Kitchen is also another good source. My house just made this eggplant orzo dish - easy to make, delicious, healthy and we made an amount big enough for 6 meals.
posted by anya32 at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meant to add: the benefits of raw fruits and vegetables is that they just never really get boring like other foods do.
posted by tel3path at 10:37 AM on November 8, 2012

Quiche is what I make my girlfriend ... lasts all week in the fridge, can be eaten hot or cold, high in protein, low in carbs, easy to vary the filling. Add a salad or crudites and it is the perfect meal.

I make my own shortcrust in large batches and freeze excess, but if you buy premade or puff it is to easy to even be called cooking ... more like assembling.
posted by jannw at 10:38 AM on November 8, 2012

Vitacost has tons of great ready-to-eat food options that tend to be veggie and/or lower fat. It's not as good as a home-cooked meal, but they've been a lifesaver for me since I've been working full-time and going to school at night. The Snapdragon soups are great, as are the boxed Pacific Organic soups.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2012

I made this black bean soup in my crock pot on Sunday and have been snacking on it all week. I froze half the batch for later; no need to feel pressured to eat it all before it spoils. It is DELICIOUS, especially with a squeeze of lime and a dollop of sour cream. Cheap, reasonably healthy, filling and yummy.
posted by workerant at 10:58 AM on November 8, 2012


Lentil stew - I can't find the recipe online I make, which is also a Rose Elliott recipe but with mushrooms, but MeMail me if you're interested and I'll send it to you.

posted by paduasoy at 11:00 AM on November 8, 2012

In general, I wouldn't recommend eating food that stays for a week; bacteria and microbes gather on to this like crazy.

I realise you might not have time, but even opting for some quickly cooked rice and scrambled eggs in the morning as you shower, provides to be a healthier alternative.

You should also check out Quinoa, which might just turn out to be a magical ingredient for you; it's a grain-like rice substitute, filled with proteins and healthy amino acids.
posted by ahtlast93 at 11:46 AM on November 8, 2012

I can share what has worked for me in a similar situation:

Sundays: Prep romaine lettuce (cut, chop, rinse) and vacuum pack into mason jars
Then prep all my fixings for the salad (currently using chopped fresh red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado, goat cheese) for grab-and-go fridge storage. Each night before work, I throw together the fixings along with a jar of romaine, pre-measure a serving of salad dressing into small container and store in fridge next to salad.

Breakfasts consist of chobani greek yogurt + granola which is easy to grab, mix and eat in the morning.

Toss in either an apple, Kind Bar, or Raw Revolution bar for afternoon snack and you're all set.

Each morning I can just grab my prepacked salad, dressing, yogurt & granola and head out the door knowing I have a healthy menu ahead of me that is an affordable no-brainer!
posted by poolsidemuse at 12:18 PM on November 8, 2012

I second punchtothehead's wheat berry / black bean / squash combo (I love the same combo!), and there are so many combinations like this that are filling and last for 5 days in the fridge if needed. I like them better than soup because they will never leak on your stuff, plus if you feel like lunch in another building or outside in the fresh air, they don't necessarily need to be heated and aren't messy to eat.

For ideas, check out this flexible recipe (more like a formula) from Pam Anderson (no, not that one) via Martha Stewart.

Some examples I've made:
Wheat berry - dried cranberry - zucchini
Quinoa - cucumber - cherry tomato - olive
White bean - herbs or pesto - finely chopped carrot
Chick pea - tomato - onion - cilantro
Wild rice - squash - pecan
Barley - roasted beets - apples - pecans
posted by beyond_pink at 12:46 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like to go to Trader Joe's on the weekend and stock up on veggie-burgers and veggie-sausage patties. A patty/burger paired with any fibrous bread (I like Sandwich Thins - low carb, high fiber) along with any veggies you like, is super healthy and super filling. Plus, it all takes me less than 3 minutes to put together every night.

On the weekends, I'll cut up fresh fruits and veggies and put them into individual serving-size boxes. When I'm heading out in the morning, I'll grab my sandwich and a box from the fridge, and I'm good to go.
posted by krakus at 5:30 PM on November 8, 2012

Nthing burritos and grain salads - my husband used to eat store bought frozen burritos until we did the math and realized it's cheaper to make them ourselves and freeze, and you can't beat the convenience. Grain salads are great and flexible as all get out. I also like cut up veggies and hummus as lunch, or cheese and crackers as lunch, or hard boiled eggs or avocado on crackers or what have you. I call it meal of snacks but I am not very creative. I find that as long as there's enough protein I can make it till dinner, even if I'm eating something that is more snacklike in nature. Also if you don't have time to make a sandwich in the morning, do you have access to a fridge at work where you could leave sandwich fixings? Some cheese and/or turkey in the fridge and a loaf of bread and a small jar of mustard in a desk drawer means you can make your sandwich at work instead of home. I keep one of these little paring knives in a desk drawer, too and I find that even one kitchen implement opens up the possibilities for what I can do at work (didn't have time to cut up the celery to go with my peanut butter? No excuse!).
posted by hungrybruno at 7:12 AM on November 9, 2012

Thanks to this amazing comment from 2 years ago, "April Chow" has become my go-to, week-long, throw-it-in-a-container-and-go recipe. (Low fat and veggie!)

My version looks like this (measurements are how much of the mixing bowl I fill):
1/4 Quinoa or couscous
1/4 (rinsed) Black beans
1/2 Chopped veggies: broccoli, carrots, onions, green peppers, kale (like the comment says, whatever you like best)
A good drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper
(I never have fresh herbs on hand, but I bet it would really round out the flavor)

Last time I also added marinated tofu. I chop the veggies while the grain is cooking. Takes like, 20 minutes total? Voila! Lunch all week! I usually bring along some string cheese and a banana or apple to go with it.
posted by a.steele at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

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