Meal prepping: Lunch edition
Meal prepping is one of my favorite activities, even before /r/mealprepsunday was a thing. I wanted something I could make every week that:
- Was easy for a beginner to learn
- Had room for variation
- Was cheap
- Packed easily
- Reheated easily
- Stayed fresh in the fridge for at least 5 days
I ended up going, not surprisingly, with “chicken lunches.” The recipe for one person is simple.
- 2.5lb boneless chicken breast
Optional (but pretty much mandatory): marinade or spices to flavor the chicken. Google ‘spices for chicken’ if you’re not sure.
- 40oz of frozen vegetables
Wegmans sells various kinds of bags of frozen vegetables. I went with this because they also have a bulk version where you can get most vegetables for $0.89-$1.50/oz.
I get my variation in different marinades, spices and vegetable combinations, while the cooking steps remain the same.
- If you’re using marinade, marinade the chicken the day before. Bonus if you use a Jaccard.
- Set the oven to broil and wait for it to get there.
- Put the marinaded/seasoned chicken in a broiling pan. If you have extra marinade drippings, I’d suggest to pour it over the chicken as it broils.
- Broil for 12 mins
- Flip chickens
- Broil for another 12 mins
- While it’s on the second round of broiling, boil a big pot of salted water (add salt to the water)
- Boil the vegetables for 5 minutes.
- When the chicken and vegetables are done, let the chickens rest for 5 minutes.
- Cut up the chickens if you want to make bite sized pieces.
- If you used marinade, toss the cut up chicken in the marinade from the broiling pan one more time.
- Divide chicken and vegetables between 5 containers
- Drip leftover marinade from pan into containers.
Once you get this down, it’s a total working time of about 10 minutes and the entire process takes about 40 minutes. That’s pretty good for five lunches! Only 8 minutes per lunch! That’s less than the amount of time it would take for you to wait in line at a cafe to buy your lunch.
Not only are you saving time, but you’re saving money…and tons of it. How much? Well, let’s take a look at the ingredients for a lavish 5-day supply of “chicken lunches” complete with marinade.
Total per lunch: $2.20
Pretty good! I could get cheaper with lentils/rice/beans, but I’ve been following a bit of a Paleo diet and decided this was a pretty cheap route to satisfy those guidelines.
Now, what is the average cost of lunch at a cafe?
We have five items…let’s say the average is:
$33.96 / 5 = $6.80
The cafe is 3x more expensive on average. Every time you buy a lunch, you could have paid for three lunches, you could have saved more time and could have ate healthier.
You’re paying through the nose to get fat and waste time.
What other bonuses do you get for brown-bagging cheap lunches? Let’s see how much the Eff You Fund raises.
($6.80 – $2.20) * 20 work days = $92 / month saved.
92 * 173 (magic number for investment returns over 10 years ) = $15,196.
What an easy, no-brainer way to gain $15k for the fund!
Along with the health, time and financial reasons to make your own lunches…it’s a very valuable skill to learn how to cook. Chicken lunches are so easy that even a novice can (and did) learn how to make them and master the process. It’s just “what I do” on Sundays now, and it barely makes a dent in my free time. It’s so satisfying to see a big stack of prepared foods in containers in the fridge, knowing that your entire week is set. You just grab and go in the morning.
If you don’t learn how to cook before you retire, you can expect to continue to pay $204/mo (including weekend lunches, here) just for lunches! When a cheaper meal plan could cost you $66/mo. What does this mean for early retirees? Let’s look at what you’d have to accumulate to sustain that lunch habit.
Eating out: $204/mo * 300 (12 months / 0.04 withdrawal rate) = $61,200 in your fund
Home cheffing: $66 * 300 = $19,800 in your fund
It’s curious that the amount of money you would need to save to have lunch forever, is about how much you would save by eating that lunch for 10-15 years.
Do you really want to have to save 3x the amount of money to eat in unhealthy cafes for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t it be preferable to control exactly what gets put in your food and eat healthier, for cheaper?
Chicken lunches for life! 🙂
Here is the tenderizer that I use…it makes the chicken very juicy by letting the marinade seep into the insides. Small price to pay for enhancing the lunches that are saving you a great deal of money. If you can make these lunches better, and you’re going to eat them for 10-15 years, why not?