When I first heard about the assignment to write this article, I was excited. Have REPORTER pay for my lunches for a week? Sweet. I, like any college student, can benefit from a free meal now and again. And this sounded like fun.
I had twenty bucks to spend on food for five healthy, packable, easy to make lunches. Being the fantastic chef I am (barely able to survive if not for a microwave and “homebody” roommates) and having superb planning skills (I forget to pack my lunch on a daily basis), one would think that I, of all people, would have an easy time with this. Well, it was a bit more challenging than I thought.
Last Saturday, I went shopping for groceries, armed with only a Wegman’s shopper’s club card and a few vague ideas that can hardly be considered a plan. I knew I wanted to try my hand at my mother’s homemade chicken noodle soup (only without the chicken because I’m terrible at cooking meat) and that I would be making a sandwich. Beyond that, I just grabbed stuff that looked healthy and was made painfully aware at my lack of grocery shopping skills. As my roommate and her boyfriend made bets on whether or not I could stay under budget, I realized that I probably should have looked up recipes online and checked grocery prices. Poor planning aside, I ended up only slightly over budget at $21.91; took home more than enough healthy staples; and had a tentative menu for the week.
The original idea was that I could make a few meals Sunday and Wednesday nights, stick them in the fridge, and take them for lunches throughout the week. That didn’t happen. Monday morning around 6:30, my roommates awoke to the sound of cutting vegetables. There I was hacking away at the vegetables that would become my lunch when I became conscious of the fact that I was even more out of my league than I had originally thought. Back home, my dad did most of the cooking, unless my mum decided to make her soup or her “tuna, noodle, and pea casserole.” As the girl who has very few intuitive cooking skills and almost managed to cause a fire with Easy Mac, I was in for an interesting and challenging week.
The first day, I decided to make a banana and peanut butter sandwich on a whole wheat bagel; avocado and corn salad; and for an added snack, a bag of carrots and celery pieces. The sandwich was simple. I toasted my bagel (though I’m not sure why, since it wasn’t going to be warm by the time I ate it at noon), slapped some peanut butter on both sides and added a few banana slices. The original version includes an open faced variant on toast with honey, so if you need a filling breakfast, that’s an option as well. For the avocado and corn salad, I adapted a friend’s recipe. I took half of an avocado, half of a can of corn, diced onions, salt and pepper to taste, and threw it all together in a Tupperware container. If you want to get creative, you can add beans, nuts, or a variety of different ingredients to create your own avocado, corn, and whatever else salad.
That afternoon — after a fantastic lunch, I must say — I decided I would cook soup for the next day. Then I got distracted by physics class, homework, and drumming. By the time I remembered that I had cooking to do, it was eleven at night and I had class at eight the next morning. Not to be deterred by the fact that my roommates were already asleep and that I was pretty tired myself, I grabbed a pot and started boiling some water.
My plan for making the soup was to call my mum and have her tell me how to do it, but since she was already asleep, that was out of the question. Half an hour later, I had chopped and cooked some carrots, made half a box of noodles, and was in the process of cooking the celery on the stove. Half an hour after that, I had caught up with some friends back home, studied organic chemistry, looked over my physics notes, and the celery was still not done. Take note: It is much faster (and easier!), to cook carrots, celery, and other vegetables in the microwave than it is to cook them on the stove.
When the celery was finally done, I added some chicken bouillon for the broth, salt and pepper to taste (because “salt and pepper to taste” is in pretty much every recipe, everywhere), the carrots and noodles that had been ready for an hour, and the half can of leftover corn that I used previously in the avocado and corn salad. As far as soups go, this one is pretty simple. If you make it at home, feel free to add chicken, peas, or any other soup-like ingredients or spices you can think of. In addition to being really easy to make, you can whip up a bunch of soup at one time and stick it in your freezer for later. I did this and I still have a freezer full of soup.
On Tuesday, I brought my lunch of soup, the rest of my avocado and corn salad, and celery pieces topped with peanut butter. For the celery, I would suggest using a Tupperware container if you can find one. I didn’t have any and ended up with a Ziploc bag full of peanut butter coated celery. While it still tasted good, I had a hard time eating while keeping my fingers peanut butter free. Because of my sub-par soup packaging skills, I spent the day spilling broth everywhere as the container failed in its basic mission of containment. By the time I was done for the morning, I only had a few minutes to eat lunch before my next class so I didn’t get a chance to try that soup that had taken up so much of my time. Despite going home hungry and covered in soup, I did not feel that my late night soup making was in vain. My roommate had some that evening and proclaimed satisfaction.
Wednesday brought organic chemistry, analytical instrumental chemical analysis, project based calculus three, university physics, and a sore throat. I was halfway through the second week of school and I was sick. The good news was that I had chicken noodle soup waiting for me in the freezer. However, after Tuesday’s Tupperware fiasco, I decided against bringing anything liquid for lunch. That morning, I packed a turkey and avocado sandwich on a whole-wheat bagel, carrots, and a banana. I was in a hurry that morning, so instead of actually making the sandwich, I threw the components into a Ziploc bag, grabbed a knife, and ran out the door to catch the bus. Because of my late start, I forgot to get breakfast so I ended up eating the carrots and banana in the ten minutes between my morning classes. By the time calculus ended at noon, I was hungry again and hurried to meet some friends at the Brick City Café for lunch. They gave me some skeptical looks when I pulled out half of an avocado, a bagel, and a bag of sliced turkey but after the sandwich was assembled, they understood.
On Thursday I had pasta with cauliflower and melted cheese with a side of turkey rolls. To deal with pasta transportation, I grabbed a Tupperware container and threw in some cooked pasta, veggies and cheese. When I went to lunch, all I had to do was microwave it and I was done. The turkey rolls were made with the leftover turkey from the previous day’s sandwich. I spread a very thin layer of cream cheese on one side of the turkey slice and rolled it up. Pretty simple, right? After having to make my lunch at 6:30 in the morning, encountering difficulty with peanut butter and celery, and spilling soup everywhere, I was glad to have a meal that was easy to make, pack, and eat.
On Friday, I was still sick and had six hours of class, which I was less than enthused about. Even though I packed a lunch, I didn’t bring it with me because I decided to go home to take a nap during my mid-day break. When I got back to my apartment, I had a baked potato. Though I had packed carrots and celery, I was so full after the entree that I just left the side dishes in the fridge. For my lunch, I nuked the potato for a few minutes then added broccoli, chopped onions, and shredded cheddar cheese. After a few more minutes in the microwave, I had way more food than I needed. The only downside was that during the time it took to bake, I got a text from a friend asking for help on the calculus homework so I had to miss my nap. Oh well, at least I had a healthy lunch.
My week of healthy lunches gave me a new found respect for my dad when he would pack lunches for my sister and me when we were little (or not so little, as was often the case). Thinking of and creating a menu of different, nutritional meals every day was not as easy as I thought it would be. In the end I saved a lot of money and never had to go hungry due to a forgotten meal. Even though I was over my budget for the week, I now have at least three meals worth of frozen soup and leftover bagels, cream cheese, carrots, celery, and shredded cheese. If you plan accordingly and make the effort, eating healthy is a simple task.
Banana and Peanut Butter Sandwich
1 whole wheat bagel
2/3 of a banana
4 - 5 tablespoons peanut butter
Toast bagel, cover with peanut butter, add banana slices.
1/2 can of corn
1/4 cup chopped onions
Salt and pepper to taste
Mash avocado then add corn, onions, salt, and pepper and mix.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Chicken bouillon to taste
1/2 cup of pasta of your choosing
1/2 can of corn
1/3 cup cut carrots
1/3 cup cut celery
Boil the water while cooking the vegetables in the microwave and the
pasta on the stove. Add all ingredients to the water and keep boiling
for a few more minutes.
Turkey and Avocado Sandwich
1 whole-wheat bagel
2 - 3 slices turkey
Mash the avocado and spread it on the bagel. Add turkey.
1/2 cup pasta
1/3 cup cauliflower
1/4 cup shredded cheese
Add all ingredients and microwave until cheese is melted and pasta
1 - 2 slices of turkey
1 - 2 table spoons cream cheese
Spread cream cheese on turkey. Roll up slices of turkey and cut into
1 - 1 1/2 inch pieces.
1/2 cup broccoli
1/8 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup shredded cheese
Puncture potato with a fork and microwave for about 4 minutes.
Cut into pieces and add all other ingredients. Microwave until cheese is melted.