As a tight-arse from way back, I hate spending money on work lunches.

And as a weightlifter, meal prep and Tupperware containers are 80% of my life. So I can teach you a thing or two about high-protein, low-cost meals.

First of all, let me just recap the numbers on work lunches. Say you buy lunch twice a week and it costs you $12 each time. You work 48 weeks a year, so that’s $1152 a year on burritos and sushi. If you cut that down to once a week, not only does buying lunch become a fun treat, it will save you nearly SIX HUNDRED BUCKS! You could spend that on shoes or investments or savings – whatever.

But I know, you don’t have time to prep lunches because you have kids/drinking sessions/work events/Netflix commitments.

So here are my foolproof ways not to end up in the food court, being fleeced for a bento box … especially if you have too much month at the end of your money.

The Ultimate Pantry-Freezer Lunch: Tuna Special

I thought everyone knew about this, but apparently not. And not everyone knows about the special secret ingredient either. It’s pretty simple:

  • A tin of tuna (I use the 180g ones, because gainz)
  • Mixed frozen vegetables (Aldi – $1.79)
  • Rice (you can use the microwave packets but I think they are wasteful and exy, so I cook a couple of cups of brown, black and red rice on the weekend – lasts a week in the fridge)
  • Secret ingredients: sesame oil and soy sauce

You chuck a handful of the veg in a container (to defrost during the morning) then add your rice, a tiny splash of sesame oil (seriously, go easy on this stuff, it’s really strong – no more than 1/2 teaspoon), and a small slurp of soy sauce.

At lunch, heat in the microwave for a couple of minutes, add the tuna, heat another minute or so. This will cost you about $2 AND make you feel super healthy and virtuous!

Looks way special, huh?

The Ultimate Make-ahead Freezer Lunch: Mince & Veg Extravaganza

I eat this for breakfast every day, but some people think that’s weird. (Those people haven’t been doing squats before work, obvs.) But it’s a great lunchtime option especially if you want a hot meal. It’s based on:

  • Beef mince (I use 1kg but you could use 500g if you’re a pussy)
  • 1 Onion

Chop the onion and cook it on medium heat. Turn heat up to full and brown the mince. Now add a bunch of spices. I don’t measure anything, but if I did I guess I’d use about 1/2 teaspoon of each:

  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • Sweet paprika
  • Smoked paprika

And whatever else I feel like. Cook them up with the mince for about 1 minute. Then throw in (for 1kg mince):

  • 1 tin whole tomatoes
  • 1 tin crushed/diced tomatoes
  • Quarter or half a jar of passata

Again, you can play with these quantities. Just depends on how thick or saucy you like it. You can also skip the passata and just add more tomatoes. It’s all very fluid.

Then you add in all the vegetables (especially old, dying ones) in your fridge.You can throw them in a food processor or chop them by hand. I like some combo of:

  • eggplant (diced)
  • carrots
  • zucchini
  • broccoli (srsly – just chop it into small pieces)
  • kale or spinach (I often use frozen portions – $1 a pack!)
  • brussel sprouts (sliced or pulsed in the food processor)
  • mushroom
  • capsicum
  • choko (if you have an aunty or nanna who grows it)

Throw in a good pinch of salt and pepper then simmer for at least half an hour – til everything is soft (the eggplant seems to take the longest). Cool it down a bit (don’t leave it out too long if you don’t like salmonella), put it in little containers and pop in the freezer.

I use the dedicated Tupperware freezer range, but the cheap stuff or even snap lock bags do the trick. Then when you tell yourself you have no food for lunch, grab these little lifesavers and let them defrost all morning. Simples!

Also good for late-night, I’ve-been-at-the-pub dinners.

The Ultimate Lazy Girl’s Low-Carb Frittata

I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about this one, it’s so easy and cheap. It’s our old friend the Frozen Mixed Vegetables and a packet of frozen spinach.

  • Defrost the veg (in the microwave if you have one, on the bench for an hour if you have allocated the microwave nook to protein powder, like me)
  • Whisk up some eggs. It depends how big your oven dish is. I have a loaf tin that takes 8 eggs to fill. Just play with what you have. If it’s not non-stick, try lining it with baking paper to avoid egg mess.
  • Now I add some egg whites from a carton. You buy them from the fridge at the supermarket but they are always in hard-to-find places, and I end up asking.
  • Add a sprinkle of chilli flakes if you like them, into the eggs.
  • Lay the veggies out nicely in the dish and pour over the eggs.
  • Baking time depends on how deep the dish is and how many eggs. My loaf tin takes an hour. A flan or pie dish would be about half that.

 

cheap meals Before…netflix … And after

 

This version gives me enough for a 4 days of eating. Just depends how hungry you are. Have a side salad with it and it feels more satisfying (I’m talking some baby spinach and cherry tomatoes – nothing fancy or hard).

And that’s it my friends! No more excuses for not taking your lunch to work. Also, you will be healthy and feel virtuous – and who can put a price on feeling smug?

photo credit: gborin Hang on little tomato via photopin (license)