Making Better, Cheaper Lunches

With classes starting back up on this upcoming Monday for me, I made my usual run to the grocery store to pick up what I’ll need to make lunches that are healthy, affordable, and relatively quick to prep in the morning.

Today, one thing stuck out to me: a lot of pre-packaged deli meats are not only kind of disappointing flavor-wise, but cost several times more per pound than nice cuts of the same kind of animal. I’m willing to pay more for quality, and I’m willing to sacrifice some excellence for a great deal. But paying more for things that aren’t that good? No, thank you. Let’s do this better.

The Sandwich

Meat is at the heart of a good sandwich. For this week, let’s do roast beef. There are lot’s of good recipes online, and I’ve even done one here, so the short version is: get a roast of an appropriate size, and sear each side in a blazing hot pan after having rubbed it with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like. Stick it in a 350-degree oven on a roasting pan with a rack with a meat thermometer until the internal temperature is 115. Then, remove it, cover it with foil, and let the temperature rise. Eat it hot for an awesome dinner.

In this case, once the roast gets to 130 degrees internally, I’ll be putting it in the fridge overnight to cool before slicing it as thin as I can.

Roast beef sandwiches for two weeks at a cost of $5 per pound thanks to a chuck roast sale sounds good to me.

Two notes here. First is that store-bought mayo has no flavor. You can make your own by blending separated egg whites with a light oil like canola. Start slowly and add oil until the mixture is the consistency you like. I then add salt, pepper, and a little lemon.

From there, I recommend getting some tiny containers to keep your condiments in, only putting them on the bread when you’re ready to eat as to avoid soggy bread. The same goes for things like pickles, tomatoes, and lettuce: keep the wet stuff off the bread until it’s time to eat.

Veggies and Other Sides

The same general principle applies to things like vegetables, and even cheese. For example, I noticed today that baby carrots, which are just cut-down full-size carrots, cost double per pound what normal, adult-sized carrots cost. If you’re willing to put in a little bit of time chopping carrots and cutting cheese into blocks, you can end up with a lunch that’s not only better (even if it’s not, numerous studies show that people think things they made themselves taste better), but costs about half of what it would to buy the same thing.

This isn’t simply about money, either. I don’t know about you, but I have noticed, in the last year or so, an exceptionally sharp decline at fast-service places, which are the exact kinds of places you’re likely to end up for lunch. So, for me, it’s about saving both the frustration of awful customer service, and about $50 a week in eating out.

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