Healthy frugal meals for work

by Karen on March 4, 2009

Since I’m still working on losing a few pounds I’ve gained since I started by desk job, work lunches are an obstacle for me. Most of the people in my office go out for lunch every day. Since I’m frugal, I obviously bring my lunch.

I often bring leftovers from the night before. Many of our recipes make enough for 4 to 6 people, so there are plenty of leftovers for both of us to eat some for lunch the next day.

Sometimes, though, we don’t have any leftovers. Last night, for instance, we roasted a chicken for dinner. There was plenty of leftover chicken, but it will be used for chicken and dumplings on Wednesday.

I’ve struggled to find healthy frugal meals to take to work on these days. I want something tasty so I’m not tempted to join my co-workers at a restaurant.

For a while, we bought Romaine every week, and I threw together a salad in the morning. Romaine, tomato, a little cheese, and some turkey or chicken with low-fat salad dressing. I brought that every single time we didn’t have leftovers (usually 2-3 times per week) for weeks. Finally, I was so bored with salads that I couldn’t look at them anymore let alone eat them.

I found a solution in last month’s Real Simple that works for me, so I want to share it.

The magazine suggested buying a pound of whole wheat pasta, cooking it up on Sunday night, and then using the plain pasta to make a different pasta dish every day for lunch.

The magazine offers some great pasta salad recipes that I won’t copy here, but I’ve found some other good ones that I’ll share.

It takes no time to cook the pasta, and because each recipe is a little different I don’t feel like I’m eating the same thing every day. If you buy whole wheat pasta and keep your portions to about a cup, it’s a healthy, satisfying lunch option.

Here are some of the recipes I’ve tried. I just use the recipe as a guide and cut down ingredients based on how much pasta I’m actually using for that day (anywhere from 1 to 2 cups depending on whether Tony wants some):

Artichoke pasta salad
Pasta with meatless marinara
Pasta with spinach and tomato
Spinach pesto pasta (Spinach pesto is a much cheaper alternative to traditional basil pesto. Use regular parmesan cheese instead of Romano to cut costs.)
Antipasto salad

Some of these recipes seem expensive and difficult, but the most expensive ingredients can often by omitted. With some creativity you can usually find a frugal substitute for pricey ingredients without changing the flavor of the dish too much.

If you’re worried about adapting full recipes to one serving size and you don’t mind eating the same thing several times in one week, you could always make the whole recipe and try a new dish each week.

I haven’t experimented too much with it yet, but I’d imagine it would also be easy to make a full batch of pasta dishes or sauces like pesto and marinara and freeze or refrigerate them to use the following week. I hope this works for you, too!

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{ 5 comments }

1 Auntie E March 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm

I am trying to stay on track on loosing the weight. Saving $ is high on my list. Loved the Recipes link. I will try some. Sometimes I saute some ham add peas and a little alfredo sauce. add this to tortellini. it is good hot and cold.

Auntie E’s last blog post..2 Be Young Again.

2 J. Cochran March 4, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I have had the exact same dilemma. Thanks for sharing the pasta idea. Ya gotta love Real Simple magazine!

J. Cochran’s last blog post..A Word from the Big O

3 Money Funk March 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

That is a great idea. I just attended a convention for my job and one of the question for a future seminar was, ‘can you tell us how to loose weight while doing our job?’. All humor, but true that a desk job will put on the pounds if you eat out everyday. Happens here, too.

What I do, make a pot of rice on Sunday night. Freeze them in individual sizes with saran wrap. Then, during the week I saute a wide assortment of veggies, plop in tupperware, throw a rice pack in there . At lunch, unwrap rice pack, plop tupperware in microwave for 1 minute and wha la, Instant lunch that is healthy.

Great post!

4 Jason from Money Theory March 8, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Pesto pasta..yum! Yes, finding variety while still being frugal with bagged lunches can definitely be a challenge! I tend to eat a lot of tuna, canned chicken, and frozen entrees. Over time I’ve actually started to enjoy just eating the same things for lunch. I guess I know what I like, what’s cheap, and that works for me!

Thanks so much for the recipes..I”ll definitely give them a try!

5 Danielle January 11, 2010 at 3:53 pm

I like the idea of precooking whole wheat spaghetti or brown rice. It’s especially good for the rice, which takes a long time to cook every time and is way more satisfying and filling than white rice.

Every day for work I bring a piece of fruit, a vegetable (celery or carrots), a small cup of leftovers with protein and whole grains in it, and a small bag of nuts for when I need the biggest energy boost throughout the day. Snacking on these little things all day is very satisfying, inexpensive, and is the easiest way to force yourself to eat well because you always have something healthy to eat when you’re hungry (and don’t have to buy that bagel). For this reason, I always bring healthy snacks with me when I travel to visit friends and family, in order to reduce the frequency of gas station or coffee shop pit stops for high-calorie muffins or trail mix.

My favorite “stir-fry” involves melting butter and olive oil together, adding chopped onion and celery for 5 min, then adding pecan pieces, chopped zucchini, canned chickpeas, minced garlic, cooked brown rice, and cayenne pepper and heating through. :-)

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