Tag: Budget

Cheap Lunch Recipes – Ideas for Budget Lunches Under $5

I went through a phase earlier this year during which I ate a toasted English muffin for lunch every single day, for three weeks. I started out with a bang. Think, flashy towers of toasted muffin halves, swathed in mayo and sambal, cradling fried eggs. Grilled cheeses with a whole gang of melty constituents and caramelized alliums. And then, as time went on, things took a turn. One Wednesday, the toaster wasn’t working, and all I could rustle up was a handful of wilted arugula and olive oil. A few days later, I found myself tucking into a muffin-half swirled with a single teaspoon of peanut butter, from a jar a colleague had intended to discard.

By about day 19, even my polite seatmates could no longer avert their gazes.

“I have some leftover rice pilaf!” blurted Eric. “It’s in the fridge. You should really, um, switch it up.”

In an effort to prove I could take a hint—and, honestly, because I started to find cornmeal crumbs in all of my pants pockets—I decided then and there it was time to make a change. With the help of my colleagues, I compiled the following list of $5 or less lunches to get me through a full work week (plus, one bonus).

A quick note about how our math works: We base prices on local markets or online delivery services, like FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh. When it comes to pantry staples (think: salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar…), we assume you already have those on hand.


Not all desk salads are created equal. This one calls in deeply roasted squash, toasted almonds, and cheddar for a punchy, savory-sweet lunch that tastes even better the next day.

The math:

  • About $1.00 of squash ($3.99 for a whole one)
  • $2.36 of kale ($2.36 for one bunch)
  • 44 cents’ worth of almonds ($6.99 for 16 ounces)
  • 81 cents’ worth of cheddar ($5.64 for 7 ounces)
  • 55 cents’ worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)

The total: $5.16 for two servings: $2.58 for one serving

This Spanish Tortilla is one of my all-time favorite recipes on Food52—it’s perfect hot or cold, on its own or with a healthy dollop of garlic aioli. (Or, you know, a side salad.)

The math:

  • $2.58 worth of potatoes (2 pounds at $1.29 per pound)
  • $1.19 worth of onion ($1.19 for one)
  • $2.33 worth of eggs ($3.49 for a dozen)
  • About $1.50 of Parmesan ($4.75 for a quarter-pound)
  • 40 cents’ worth of butter ($3.79 for 8 ounces)

The total: $8 for six servings; $1.33 for one serving

Meet the sandwich that’ll make you want to cancel your lunch plans for the rest of the week, so you can keep bringing in more iterations of this one.

The math:

  • $2.58 worth of canned chickpeas (2 cans at $1.29 each)
  • 20 cents’ worth of celery (from 1 bunch, at $2.99)
  • 20 cents’ worth of shallot (for one small shallot)
  • $1 worth of mayo ($4.99 for a 15 ounce jar)
  • 30 cents’ worth of curry powder ($3.99 per jar)
  • 30 cents’ worth of turmeric ($3.99 per jar)
  • 50 cents’ worth of parsley (99 cents for a small bunch)
  • $2.32 worth of sliced bread ($6.99 per loaf at the sandwich creator’s neighborhood market)

Total cost: $7.40 for four servings; $1.85 for one serving

Broccoli salad is a dream of a make-ahead lunch, considering broccoli holds up well in the fridge—this version has sliced apple and chopped walnuts, but feel free to swap whatever you’ve got on hand.

The math:

  • $3.99 worth of basil ($3.99 for a bunch)
  • 23 cents’ worth of garlic ($4.99 for a pound)
  • 55 cents’ worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)
  • $4 worth of walnuts ($7.99 for 8 ounces)
  • About $1.75 of broccoli ($3.49 for roughly two heads)
  • $1.78 worth of apple ($1.78 for one)

The total: $12.30 for three servings; $4.10 for one serving

After “cheesy fritters,” what more do you need to hear? (Run, don’t walk.)

The math:

  • $1.09 worth of quinoa ($5.99 for 16 ounces)
  • $2.38 worth of goat cheese ($2.99 for 4 ounces)
  • $3.49 worth of arugula ($3.49 for large container)
  • 55 cents’ worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)

The total: $7.51 for two servings; $3.76 for one serving

If you’ve made it this far in the under-$5 lunch lineup, congratulations: It’s Saturday! Celebrate with cheesy, garlicky sausage pasta.

The math:

  • $1.09 worth of spaghetti ($1.09 per pound)
  • $5.62 worth of sausage ($5.62 per pound)
  • About 30 cents’ worth of garlic ($0.51 for a head)
  • 49 cents’ worth of red chili flakes ($2.94 for a bottle)
  • $3.92 worth of Parmesan ($7.84 for about 5 ounces)
  • 75 cents’ worth of parsley ($1.49 for a bunch)

The total: $12.17 for four servings; $3.04 for one serving

What’s your go-to, wallet-friendly lunch? Let us know in the comments!

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The Woman Teaching People How to Eat Well on a Food Stamp Budget

Rachel Bolden-Kramer knows what it means to struggle. Despite being the first in her family to go to college (she graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Social Studies and Spanish), she scrambled to find employment in the midst of the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession. A physical injury inspired her to learn yoga and other natural healing practices, which led her to open a yoga center in New York. But she still relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to put food on the table.

Even on a fixed, limited budget, Bolden-Kramer stretched every dollar to eat the most nutritious foods possible. She learned to navigate the challenges of the social welfare system, and used her organizational and advocating skills to teach workshops on radical healing—living in a way to minimize inflammation and disease—commissioned by the New York City Housing Authority. The birth of her daughter brought her home to San Francisco, but it didn’t stop her teaching. In 2017, Bolden-Kramer raised more than $27,000 on Kickstarter to publish her first cookbook, My Food Stamps Cookbook.

Kickstart the Food Book Fair, Help Build Food Communities

Kickstart the Food Book Fair, Help Build Food Communities
by Caroline Lange

How to Eat Well on a Budget

How to Eat Well on a Budget
by Lindsay-Jean Hard

But Bolden-Kramer is determined to use her struggles to help others. In addition to her recently published cookbook, she works as a doula and parenting coach, and runs a preschool dedicated to teaching healthful habits to the next generation. Eager to learn more about her experiences, I reached out to hear her story and see what she plans to explore next. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

KATIE MACDONALD: How did you decide to start posting on Instagram and blogging? What were you looking to share?

RACHEL BOLDEN-KRAMER: I wanted to introduce the world to my daughter and my lifestyle and the obstacles we overcame to get here. I used to think my daughter and I had such a horrible story—I mean, I was in court for years fighting to keep my newborn baby. I lost the business I built and my apartment before I had my daughter. We were homeless for quite some time, living with friends and sometimes in motels. It was truly the worst circumstances I could imagine as a new mother. I felt ashamed that maybe I had somehow caused all this to happen. But with lots of care and compassion, I began to unwind the spiral of doom. As soon as I felt my power coming back, I knew I had to share our story for others like us who think it is impossible to overcome the darkest of nights. And I knew I needed to keep my promise to all the folks who supported me as a young business owner and publish this guide to eating powerfully.

KM: Who helped you along the way?

RBK: I had a wonderful free therapist at the Homeless Prenatal Program. You don’t have to be homeless, but it’s available if you’re low-income. It lifted a whole weight off of me. It also got a lot easier after I had a stable place to stay in San Francisco, where I grew up.

KM: What were some challenges you faced while living on SNAP?

RBK: My biggest challenge with eating on a budget has always been time. When your budget is low, it means you’re probably dealing with a lot of responsibilities—a reason why I detest the rhetoric about poor people who are eligible for food stamps. You hear, “People just need to get a job” or “work harder.” Or that they’re lazy. There is such a thing as welfare fraud, but the majority of people are people like me. It’s usually people who are healing or providing care to others, like children and elders. I cared for my mom with Alzheimer’s as well as an infant, and managing the needs of all three of us was a full time job. We actually always had a surplus of food from programs when my daughter was really young. But it’s challenging to prep your food when you’re exhausted from breastfeeding and cleaning, and barely getting anything done for yourself. The impulse is to grab a quick fix.

KM: What type of food do you turn to?

RBK: I fess up to my doughnut-and-coffee diet in the book. We got free vegan doughnuts from a food pantry and that was always easier to eat than tossing together a nice organic salad (also free from pantry). But I’ve learned to prepare more nutritious foods in advance so that it’s easily available when I need comfort, like chopped vegetables and fruit.

KM: How do you manage stress and self-care?

RBK: I practice meditation and focus on forgiveness and compassion. And while that is helpful, I know I need a lot of physical comfort to heal my stress—regular gym time and spa visits. I do yoga daily since I am a trained teacher, but I also need to attend classes to get a little encouragement. I work on creating a life-work balance by determining boundaries and trading childcare time with my friends so that we all get a break.

KM: What does that support system look like?

RBK: The funny thing is that a lot of my community comes from the cookbook. Before the book was finished, I organized a lot of projects to engage my community and get their input. I hosted dinners with other single moms and other doulas. We’d talk about breakthroughs, breakdowns, goals, and I would pitch ideas to them over kale salad. It strengthened my tribe.

KM: What are challenges you’ve witnessed others face on SNAP?

RBK: It really is a belittling experience for a lot of people, and it takes a lot of time. I remember getting up early with my friends to get to the food stamps office before the line got bad. Otherwise you would be there all day. People get discouraged by the long waits, the sometimes not-so-helpful attitude of the workers, and the many requirements to keep their assistance cases open.

Photo by Rachel Bolden-Kramer

KM: What are some things you wished fellow parents knew?

RBK: One thing most stressed-out parents should know is that there are agencies that can handle the entire assistance case without you needing to leave your home. I used the food bank to do this for myself and my daughter when we first applied as a family.

KM: How does your work currently help others?

RBK: In addition to running a preschool and nursery, I am a birth doula. I was at a beautiful birth the day when I found out I reached my Kickstarter goal. The client was someone who couldn’t afford a doula, but I’m part of a small collective that raises funds so we can provide these services to people pro bono. At the postpartum visit for this family, they asked what to eat to make good breast milk and heal from birth. I immediately connected them with a local CSA delivery that accepts food stamps. Now they get produce to their home weekly.

Today, Bolden-Kramer lives in San Francisco with her daughter and mother. She owns and operates a preschool dedicated to teaching healthful habits to the next generation, and also teaches current and future parents how to incorporate nutritious foods into their everyday lives. My Food Stamps Cookbook is her first cookbook.


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