How To Eat Lunch For Under $5 Every Day Without Sacrificing Taste Or Time

by Talia Koren

Buying lunch at work every day is probably the reason you feel like you're poor. Not real poor, Millennial poor.

Picking up a pre-prepared lunch is tempting and easy. I've heard it all. You didn't have time to wait in line at Trader Joe's. You bought groceries, but just weren't in the mood to cook. You looked at recipes online and got overwhelmed. You want to try that new Mexican lunch spot nearby. There are endless amounts of excuses reasons not to cook at home.

I was addicted to this vegan place called Blossom, not realizing how much I was dropping there until I looked at my spending history. Looking at spending history is a lot like staring at yourself in the mirror with no makeup on: it's alarming. Per month, I spent as much on vegan sandwiches as I did on regular groceries. Something had to change, so I started brown-bagging it to work.

Of course, I started by recreating my favorite Blossom salad. It was just greens, cucumber, chickpeas, carrots and sunflower seeds -- easily made for less than $10.  

The key is mastering the art of meal prep. Not only will you have more confidence in the kitchen, but you'll also have more money to save and/or spend. You may even drop a few pounds.

Think about it: You probably spend $10 for every gigantic salad you buy at least three times a week. That's $120 a month on salad alone. Before you know it, you've spent over a thousand dollars a year on lettuce. Look back at your spending history before it's too late.

Do you pay close attention to the price of what you're buying at the grocery store? Where you buy groceries makes a huge difference. I suggest seeking out cheaper grocery stores, because Whole Foods is overrated. Lower prices doesn't mean lower quality.

Other things to keep in mind when grocery shopping are buying what's in season and keeping to the produce aisle. I never buy frozen meals and try to avoid processed food in general. Making food yourself is a much healthier choice because you know what you're putting into it.

You have to make cooking work with your schedule. For me, it's easiest to bang it all out on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. On Sunday, I make a bigger meal that lasts me three days. Wednesday, I just make something that will last two.

After boiling down the science, I spend $20 a week on lunch, which lets me save an extra $500 a year. Here are three of my easiest, healthiest go-to lunches that cost around $10 at the grocery store.

These meals require you to have basic ingredients in your pantry, such as olive oil, garlic, soy sauce, honey and basic spices.

Baked Salmon And Veggies

½ lb Salmon: $6 1 Sweet potato: $1 String beans/broccoli/asparagus/kale: $2 Total: $9 for two days = $4.50 a day

This meal is so easy to make. You just throw everything in the oven while you catch up on reality TV.

First, glaze the salmon with something simple, like a drizzle of honey, lime and a pinch of salt; mustard, lemon and olive oil; or soy sauce. There are a million ways to do veggies, but I just roast them with a little bit of olive oil and salt.

Salmon bakes at 450 degrees fahrenheit for around 12 minutes and vegetables bake for around 15-20. You can do this all in the time it takes to watch "Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills."

Tex-Mex Sweet Potato Skillet

1 Sweet potato: $1 Tomato (on the vine): $1 Kale: $2 Can of black beans: $1 Can of corn: $1 Shredded cheese: $3 Total: $9 for three days = $3 a day

This lunch is my favorite to eat. It's healthy comfort food at its best. My desk neighbors at work compliment how it smells, which is like southwestern cheesy goodness. I put a spin on this recipe from iFOODReal. Any combination of vegetables could work for this simple skillet dish, like swapping out the avocado for kale.

If you found a lunch place that sells something better than this, let me know.

Chicken Over Black Bean Spaghetti, Kale And Tomato

Chicken cutlets: $4 Black bean spaghetti: $4 Tomato: $1 Total: $9 for three days = $3 a day.

You don't have to be gluten-free to enjoy this guilt-free black bean spaghetti. Here's how to cook chicken to perfection. To add more veggies to this meal, sauté kale and tomatoes, then mix it with the pasta. Kale is better to buy than other greens because it doesn't go bad or wilt as quickly.

Tip: Dump a bunch of parmesan cheese on this dish and let the microwave in the office work its magic.