Seven bucks seems to be the going rate for an entry level lunch at most of the Mount Airy eateries. There are a couple or three where lunch will set you back a good bit more, but it’s extremely difficult to get away with less.
Some of the combo meals at a fast food establishment might price out a little less, but by the time you get the tax on there, you’re back at seven dollars, or very close to it. And let’s face it, for a lot of us, $35 a week is a lot of money to lay down just to hold body and soul together during the work week.
But if you’re willing to put in some work to save some cash, you can always brown bag it. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there are plenty of two dollar lunches if you’re willing to make them yourself.
As per usual, there are a few caveats. It’s a lot harder for one person to make a $2 lunch than it is for a family of four to make four lunches for $8. A single person may have to eat the same thing several days in a row to reap the benefits, or get creative with freezing and reducing quantities of recipes. Soup, for instance, usually freezes well, so make a batch and freeze in single-serve portions. Salads, on the other hand, depend on freshness for their appeal, so they’re going to require more creativity.
Cost estimates for the following recipes come from the internet, and mostly from food bloggers focused on cheap eats. So perhaps those folks are more willing to scavenge the earth in pursuit of twenty cent scallions than the average person would be, and therefore, they probably achieve better cost results. It’s also hard to say how long ago the costs were calculated, what part of the country they were done in, and the general methodology used. After all, when someone costs out a recipe that serves eight to twelve at 85 cents a serving and doesn’t tell you if that’s for eight servings or twelve, it’s safe to assume that the most rigorous accounting principles were not necessarily followed.
Also, you may only use a quarter’s worth of olive oil in your lunch recipe, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t have to shell out twenty bucks for the two liter jug you’re pouring it from. That is to say, there are some start-up costs to this enterprise. As the old saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. You also have to spend money to save money it would seem. Just don’t save more money than you can afford.
Don’t forget to consider perishable items. If you pay $2.80 for a pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes and use half that pint in one of your two buck lunches and then don’t find a use for that other half pint before they take a turn for the worse, your cost doubles on the first lunch.
But summer’s about to begin, and if you had the presence of mind to plant a vegetable garden, you’re going to have armloads of free ingredients coming in soon. And no, never mind the hundreds of dollars you spent on seeds, plants, raised beds and soil amendments. That money is budgeted under recreation, not food. The purpose of the garden is to lower your blood pressure by communing with nature. The food is free. So make use of it and don’t waste it.
Even with all the moving parts of costs, all the work involved, and the planning so as to avoid waste, eating a two buck lunch five days a week instead of a seven dollar lunch will save you a hundred dollars a month ($5 a day savings times five days a week times four weeks in a month), and that’s not chump change.
In less than a week, you’ll have recouped your investment on that ginormous jug of olive oil.
Chicken and Spinach Quesadillas
4 servings cost $4.83 = $1.21 per serving
1 grilled chicken breast
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
2 handfuls baby spinach
2 cups shredded Mexican-blend cheese
8 whole wheat tortillas
Sour cream for dipping
Dice the grilled chicken breast and quarter the cherry or grape tomatoes. In a large mixing bowl, toss the diced chicken, quartered tomatoes, baby spinach and Mexican blend cheese. Lay out a tortilla on a clean, flat surface and arrange the chicken, spinach and cheese mixture onto the tortilla. Add another tortilla to the top of the quesadilla and heat it on a lightly greased griddle or skillet over medium high heat for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until cheese has melted through. Remove quesadilla from the griddle or skillet and cut with a pizza cutter. Let cool slightly before serving. Serve warm. Serve with sour cream for dipping.
Curried Chickpea Salad
Makes 4 sandwiches at $1.89 each
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
2 tsp. finely chopped fresh leaf parsley
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup greens (such as iceberg, romaine, or watercress), optional
1 large ripe tomato, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice, optional
4 whole wheat pitas, tops cut off, optional
Coarsely mash the chickpeas, celery, shallots and parsley together with a potato masher or large fork in a medium bowl. Be careful not to overdo it or the chickpeas will become mushy. Add the mayonnaise, vinegar, curry powder, and turmeric and mix well. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. (The salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.) Divide the salad, greens and tomato equally among the pitas and serve.
Tuna and White Bean Salad
Recipe costs $2.21 recipe and it serves 3 so that’s $0.74 per serving. Add some grape tomatoes and baby carrots on the side and you’re up to $1.65 per serving.
1 15 oz. can white beans
1 5 oz. can chunk light tuna in water
2 whole green onions
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Pour the can of beans into a colander and rinse with cool water. Allow the excess water to drain off. Drain the can of tuna. Combine the drained beans and tuna in a bowl. Thinly slice the green onions and add to the bowl as well. Add the olive oil and lemon juice to the bowl, along with a light sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to combine. Taste the mixture and add salt, pepper, or lemon juice to your liking.
Orchard Chicken Salad
Recipe makes 8 to 12 servings at $.85 per serving, which is rather vague. Is it 8 or is it 12? Still, it’s well within the parameters of a $2 lunch.
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1/2 cup red grapes, cut in half
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup diced apple
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. black pepper
In large mixing bowl, combine chicken, grapes, onions, cranberries, and apple. In smaller bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, thyme, and black pepper. Pour over chicken mixture. Toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For a salad, divide two cups of salad greens onto two plates. Divide chicken salad mixture. Top each plate with 1 tablespoon sliced almonds. Also good as a sandwich filling.
Lentil Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Broccoli & Raspberries
Recipe makes 4-6 servings and costs $9.75. If you can squeeze out 6 servings, they’re $1.63 each.
1 cup dry brown or green French lentils
firm winter squash, (about 1 lb) butternut, kabocha, acorn, etc. (just not spaghetti squash), cut to 1-2” chunks
1 crown broccoli, cut to similar-sized florets and thick stem (if available) reserved
4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup cider or white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
about ½ pint fresh raspberries
Place the lentils and 1 ½ cups water in a small pot (or follow directions on your package of lentils for measurements). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook about 15 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender and water is evaporated. Remove immediately and let cool several minutes. If you have a broccoli stem, trim the tough end and trim off the skins with a knife, revealing a crisp, light-green cylinder. Slice it into thin discs and place in a bowl. Heat the vinegar and ½ cup water along with a pinch of salt until boiling, and pour over the broccoli stems. Let sit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Toss the squash chunks with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet spread out so that each have direct contact with the pan. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden-brown. Meanwhile, toss the broccoli with 1 tablespoon olive oil, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Arrange them in the baking sheet spread out so that they have enough contact and aren’t piled (use an additional pan if needed). Roast for another 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove the vegetables from heat and let cool several minutes. Once everything has cooled, toss the lentils with the remaining olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the roasted vegetables and drained pickled broccoli stems. Top with the fresh raspberries and serve.
Tomato and Lentil Soup:
Total cost of recipe: $2.53. At 4 servings, that”s a cost of $.63 each. That should leave enough for a hunk of bread or some crackers.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 cups water
3/4 cup lentils
1 large or 2 small chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes
14 oz. canned chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste, tomato sauce, or ketchup, in a pinch
Paprika and garlic powder, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a large saucepan, saute onions and carrots in olive oil until they begin to soften. Add water and lentils. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until lentils begin to soften. Add bouillon cube and stir to dissolve. Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and desired seasonings. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes or so, until lentils are completely soft and flavors are blended together. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, let the soup cool and transfer to a blender to puree. Reheat soup before serving.
Greek Chilled Quinoa Salad
Recipe yields 4 servings. No exact cost analysis, but it looks as cheap as some of the others.
1 -1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 cucumber, seeded and diced
1/2 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup black, green or kalamata olives
2 oz. feta cheese
1/4 cup store-bought vinaigrette
Rinse the quinoa with cold water in colander. Cook the quinoa on the stovetop as directed. Once cooked, transfer to a serving dish and chill for about an hour. Once the quinoa is chilled, toss with the diced cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and feta. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and toss gently. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.