How to Succeed in Breakfast Without Really Trying

In American, Beans, Bread, Lentils, Millet, Quick Meal, Saving Money, Vegetables on December 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Back in my corporate ladder days, I don’t think I ever made lunch, let alone breakfast.  I usually bought a coffee for the train ride, and then stopped by either the company caf or the deli down the block for an egg/cheese sandwich or oatmeal w/ dried cranberries.  Then I proceeded to sneak over to my desk and eat my late breakfast with the hope of nobody noticing my tardiness.  Lunch was usually cafeteria buffet or salad, or soup from Hale and Hearty.  By the time 3:00 PM rolled around, and I was on my second cup of coffee (and maybe a cookie or 2), I had probably spent a good 20 smackaroos on overpriced, over salted, fattening and underwhelming provisions.  Even with an impending Caribbean vacation-inspired diet, I only managed to bring leftovers for lunch maybe 1-2 times a week.  I was also usually exhausted after traveling 45 minutes each way to midtown, working 9-10 hours, having conference calls when I got home, and attempting to work out and/or cook dinner.

Life is about balance; all work and no play makes Lauren a sad lady.  Now with my more modest job, I not only have more free time to prepare meals, but I also find that saving money via home-made meals and snacks helps compensate for my lower salary.  One of the keys to a happy, healthy lifestyle is nutrition.  The age-old saying “you are what you eat” is so true in so many ways.  Being food-prepared is essential to maintaining that lifestyle, especially during the work week.  However, most Americans are so busy that they don’t really have time to commit to a weekly preparation schedule.

In my short time on this Earth, I have learned a few tricks (some of which I’ve already shared on this blog) to easily, conveniently, and economically nourish my body and soul.   A few of these include:

  • Having lots of containers for individual and large size portions (you can buy a 6 pack of gladware for about 3 dollars)
  • Cooking in bulk, freezing for later
  • Making double-dinner, so I have a yummy lunch the next day
  • Washing and packaging veggies right away
  • Buying pantry items (broth, canned tomatoes/beans, bulk dry items) on sale
  • Using what I have on hand instead of making multiple trips to the store (usually a bunch of cilantro turns into 30 dollars worth of junk food or gourmet sauces)

Although I ideally like to sit at the table for all my meals and snacks, sometimes I am strapped for time.  This is usually most applicable to breakfast.  I could resort back to my old habits of bringing breakfast to work, but by the time I’d actually eat it I will have been awake for about 2 or so hours.  It’s always best to eat breakfast as soon after waking up as possible.  It’s called breakfast for a reason – your body hasn’t eaten in (hopefully) 10-12 hours, and it is key to start the day off on the right foot.  My personal experiences of eating a later breakfast are usually days when I ate a late dinner the night before, making me less hungry in the morning, making me eat less earlier in the day, and then being starving at night and overeating.  It’s a vicious cycle, and I’ve found a good way to break it is the art of eating breakfast while preparing lunch.

In a prior post,  I mentioned one of my favorite quick breakfast options is toast with smashed beans, avocado, tomato, and lettuce.  It has the feel of a BLT, only no meat or cholesterol.  It takes about 2 minutes to make, and I can eat it while I make lunch.  You can use canned beans, or leftover frozen beans (another time-saving trick – make a big patch of beans or soup and freeze into individual containers for later use).  If canned, just spread on the toast; if frozen, nuke for a minute while the bread toasts in the oven.

Then I top with avocado.  The trick to getting the most out of avocado is to squeeze some lemon or lime on the exposed flesh that is leftover after taking the desired portion.  I also leave the pit in, and the leftover lemon half, and put in a ziplock.  I can usually use an avocado 3-4 times.

Then I slice some tomato, which should be kept on the counter until it is used.  I used half of a plum tomato for this meal, so the other half was refrigerated after (and used the next day for the same breakfast).

To top the sandwich off, I layered some crisp leafy lettuce.  This lettuce was from my CSA share from 10 days prior!  It goes to show you how washing and prepping veggies can really lengthen their lifespan, as well as spare you from throwing out half a head of lettuce every week.  I also like using lettuce because it helps to really make it a sandwich without a second slice of bread.

This particular morning, I ate this sandwich while preparing my lunch.  Another trick I’ve learned is making smoothies.  It’s easy to sip and use both your hands for other things.  I almost always make one after a run to ingest in the shower, which is not only a time saver, but makes sure that I refuel ASAP and mitigate any excruciating hunger/body pains later.

Curious what I had for lunch?  Well, it took me 2 minutes to prepare, and by the time I got my coat on and out the door I still had half my sandwich left.

I started with pea shoots from the last CSA share.  They were still green and crisp.  This is also one of my lunch tricks – greens.  They are so easy and require very little preparation for a whole lot of flavor and nutrition.  When I go to a deli that has hot food and get that much cooked spinach or greens, it may cost me 3-5 bux, whereas I’ll use a $3.49 bunch of kale for 5-6 meals (about 50ish cents/serving).

Then I added some millet pilaf from Sunday.  This was not only quick and cheap, but it helped me chip away at the leftovers to reduce the amount of it being wasted in the trash.

To make things a lil more fun, I’ll add some salsa or leftover sauce/gravy from a prior meal.  Just 2 tbsps does the trick, and there are practically 10 calories and no fat.

If I were a good girl, I would have maybe added some extra beans and called it a day.  However, this pilaf had some lentils in it, and I felt it would be overkill.  Instead I sliced up some low-fat/reduced sodium cheese.  I’d used this before when making nachos, and combined with the salsa (nuked for a minute) this meal has a nacho-feel, but without the deep fried tortilla after-effects.  I always buy blocks of cheese, never shredded.  The latter nearly doubles the price, and reduces the shelf life due to greater surface area for bacteria.  Buy yourself a 10 dollar grater and be done with it.  This also applies to salad crumbles.  An 8 oz block of feta costs the same as a 4 oz container of feta crumbles.  You do the math.

Now, you may ask exactly how much all this hullabaloo cost me.  I could whip out Excel and do the math, but that would take me longer than the whole meal-making process.  My quick mental estimation is $1.25 for breakfast and $2.25 for lunch, totaling $3.50 for the day.  Even adding on one cafe-made coffee, that’s about $5.50 for the whole day.  Further, every ingredient used is organic.  Try going to any NYC deli and eating that much conventionally-grown food for such a bargain, let alone a Whole Paychex buffet.  All it took  was forward-thinking to prepare extra, clean my veggies, and be creative with leftovers.  When all was said and done, I spent less than 5 minutes assembling both, which is probably less than half the time you’d spend walking to an eatery and picking up your dishes.

Next time you think you are strapped for time and can’t manage to have a healthy, quick, and cheap meal, just read this blog.  It will make you and me smile 🙂

What are some of your money-saving tricks?

  1. […] mentioned in an earlier post that buying pre-shredded or crumbled cheese is exorbitantly marked up.  What I do for feta is cut […]

  2. […] make some pretty tasty, relatively healthy soups with clean ingredients.  My go-to lunch in my corporate ladder days was either Tuscan white bean soup with spinach, or 3 lentil chili.  The latter was by far the best […]

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