Tag: Lunches

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.

Ready?

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 West African Dish That Formed the Heart of Our Sunday Lunches

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that’s meaningful to them and their loved ones.


In the islands, Sunday lunch is an institution. The typical spread consisted of Kingfish steaks, steamed with burst tomatoes and herbs; stewed chicken, which produced a tangy-sweet, lacquered gravy; colorful potato salad served warm; cheesy macaroni pie; fried rice; and callaloo, a leafy green stew. For reasons that warrant pardon, while I outwardly devalued the significance of the week’s big meal, inwardly, I loved the tradition and took great pleasure in eating, well, most of it. When our family sat down to lunch at around 1 p.m. on Sundays, every dish made it onto my plate—every dish except one, the callaloo.

Callaloo, a native West African dish, came to the Caribbean during the triangular slave trade along along the Middle Passage. Its key ingredient—the heart-shaped leaves of the taro plant, known as Xanthosoma on the continent—continues to exert unparalleled influence on the Caribbean diet. It forever connects the region to the reach and realities of slavery, centuries later. Sometimes a stew, sometimes a soup, callaloo is an ode to the masterful and resourceful way that enslaved Africans repurposed indigenous plant life and accessible aromatics into a deeply nourishing staple. The process of making it seethes with a simplicity that defined slave cooking: quick and straightforward with little margin for indulgence. Even today, in callaloo’s postcolonial adaptation—where ingredients like fresh crab and chopped pumpkin sometimes bulk up the dish’s vegetal base—its minimalist preparation persists.

That preparation was something I avoided as a kid. That is, up until an arthritis flare-up in my mother’s left knee determined otherwise one Sunday morning. “I’m going to need you to be my legs in the kitchen today,” she said to me, with a pain in her voice that dismantled my teenage ambivalence to cooking.

Sunday after Sunday, for as long as I could remember, my mother would gently cajole me to help her with Sunday lunch. I always found a way to skirt the issue, never truly acknowledging that it was my own fear of causing a catastrophic kitchen hap that kept me out. This meal was central to our functioning as a family. When we sat down at our large, well-worn dining table, everyone’s emotional clock got reset and readjusted. We never talked about the coming week’s plans or deadlines; rather, we ate together in that moment, thankful for God’s providence that made that meal and our lives possible. I wanted no part in disturbing the delicate, yet powerful, balance of our Sunday lunch. So I took myself out of the cooking game, at least until my mother’s arthritic knee benched her, as well.

“Brigid, I’m going to sit here and walk you through the entire process, step-by-step. If you can listen to me, you can make Sunday lunch,” my mother said with scant confidence, trying to assuage her obvious reservations. Try as I did to convince her that her otherwise sound judgment was compromised by her joint pain, Mum would have none of my protests. She dismissed my objections as quickly as they came. I recall turning around to find her sitting at the entrance of our galley kitchen, rubbing her knee with an ointment, ready to relinquish her role as head chef to a pimple-faced newbie who could barely hold a knife.

“We’ll start with the starches and carbs first,” Mum ordered, “Then we’ll do the proteins and finish with callaloo.”

“There’s no way we’re going to pull this off,” I quipped. And then, under my breath: “There’s no way I’m making that vegetarian green glop.”

As the morning progressed, potatoes got scrubbed and cooked. Macaroni was boiled. Rice was simmered. I chopped more carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and red bell pepper than I thought was possible. My knife cuts were abysmal. Heaping amounts of rosemary, thyme, parsley, and scallions were minced, and fresh coconut was grated. All of the requisites of Sunday lunch meal-prep went without a hitch—albeit at snail’s pace. I suspect this irritated my mother, who was accustomed to moving at the speed of light as she managed a household of four every day without skipping a beat.

Before I knew it, the fish was steaming and the chicken was stewing. Mum looked at me with a knowing smile, proud of the eleventh-hour cook she created out of thin air. I was exhausted, but my fatigue was no match for the task that was entrusted to me.

It was a little after twelve when my big brother, Reynold, popped his head in to see if this Freaky Friday of an endeavor was a disappointment. “All I recognize are the smells,” he said. Mum and I both knew what he meant.

“The callaloo is all that’s left,” Mum said excitedly.

Frustrated, I pleaded that this Sunday we should skip that side. She shot me the type of glance that could scare anyone into immediate compliance. And then she spoke. With a reverence that I had never witnessed from Mum regarding any type of food, she expounded on the history of callaloo; particularly, how it remains inextricably linked to the carefree realities of my all-girl Catholic high school existence. She challenged me to see beyond the ingredients and to imagine a time back when our ancestors crossed the Middle Passage, bound, beaten, and branded; a time when choice wasn’t an option. She reminded me of callaloo’s civic prestige—as Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish—duly designated by emancipated slaves-turned-citizens-turned-statesmen, acquainted with its place in the nation’s history.

“There’s a reason we eat callaloo on Sunday,” she said. “It’s the only day that slaves didn’t have to work on the sugar plantations.” And with that, the side I once shunned became a significant part of my identity. I felt small under the weight of a history I blithely knew and never acknowledged. But for the first time, I felt destined to be in the kitchen. My trepidation and fatigue gave way to resolve. My mother, for the first time that day, stood up on both legs and walked shakily towards me. Those were the sure steps of resilience and love.

We started by stripping the stems of the taro leaves. This was followed by finely chopping the stems along with the heart-shaped leaves. Mum shifted a part of her weight to the kitchen counter. She then added water to a bowl of grated coconut and squeezed the pulp until pure coconut milk flowed through her fingers. I chopped okra and crushed allspice berries. I’d caught glimpses of Mum engaged in this process every Sunday, but on this Sunday, I saw clearly the symbolism behind this unassuming vegetable dish.

She reminded me of callaloo’s civic prestige—as Trinidad and Tobago’s national dish—duly designated by emancipated slaves-turned-citizens-turned-statesmen, acquainted with its place in the nation’s history.

When we sat down to eat that day, my family lauded my efforts and remarked that they couldn’t differentiate between Mum’s cooking and mine. Even though I was showered with praise and initiated into a new tradition, I was noticeably quiet at the table. Alone with my thoughts, I reflected on what cooking these foods meant for my mother, my family, and now me.

I should mention that on that Sunday, and on every Sunday lunch after, callaloo was the first thing on my plate.

When I zoom out, looking at my now thirty-something life in the United States—married to a Jamaican man and raising two small children of my own—I cherish this edible dimension of the past embodied in callaloo. It continues to facilitate a connection to a long, complex history that I otherwise would not have felt an heir to.


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