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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