Buying Lunch is Killing Our Wallets.

How I went from every day food court guru to weekend batch cooker.


Mm… Food. There’s nothing that makes me happier than eating a delicious meal that makes my taste buds happy, my stomach feel satisfied, and my energy levels feel replenished.

My favourite meal of the day: Lunch. Trust me, I got nothing against breakfast, brunch, dinner, or dessert. It’s just the timing of lunch is so perfect. It’s really the only meal you can look forward to consistently every single day of the week. Breakfast you’re probably super groggy when you make it, dinner you just want to get over with at the end of the long day, and dessert is fun, but just an indulgence.

But lunch. It’s the one that signals: “BREAK!” It’s the perfect excuse to go for a walk, sit in the sunshine, and recharge the brain and body. Plus, it’s also one of the few meals you might be able to cheat in your favourite fast food meal without anyone else really knowing.

The Real Cost of Buying Lunch Every Day

Perhaps that’s why lunch is such a money maker. According to this article, Americans spent $20 a week eating out at lunch in 2015. With inflation, that’s probably look like $25 in today’s dollars x52 weeks is $1,300 a year. And that’s on average – frankly, most of the people in my office buy lunch every day.

I used to be one of those people. Once it hit around noon-ish, I’d get up from my desk and drop $12 on lunch every day, 5 days a week for roughly $240 a month. At the end of 2017 upon reviewing my annual expenses, I realized that was enough. After all, if I was to advocate for frugality, how could I reasonably do so when I was spending an unreasonable amount of money on one meal?

Step #1: Starting Simple.

I have always been a terrible cook. Whenever I used to look at recipes, I’d be overwhelmed by the amount of measurements, ingredients, time watching, and general effort. I frankly enjoyed the pleasures of walking to work carrying nothing but my coffee and wallet and splurging on a new meal every day.

I realized if I wanted to start cooking anything beyond pre-made frozen meals or via traditional boiling or frying, I’d have to start simple. That meant finding recipes that were fast, simple, and had low-cost ingredients while also giving me the option of what I call: “Dump it in the pot and walk away” method.

Step #2: Embracing Automation

instant pot

Probably the best invention for lazy cooks like me, I nabbed the Instant Pot for $50 on Black Friday last year. It’s essentially an all-in one rice cooker, pressure cooker, Crockpot, steamer, warming pan, you name it. All fully programmable based on the mode you select on the front.

What made the pressure cooker so attractive was not only was it fast (a stew can be done in 35 minutes versus 7+ hours in a slow cooker), but it genuinely was a “dump it in the pot and walk away device”.

Suddenly, I could cook batches of meals within minutes and with zero supervision and I was developing a sense of pride in my meals. No longer was cooking a time consuming venture – it was something I started to enjoy doing. There’s nothing better than seeing people devour your meal and compliment you on it!

Step #3: Scaling up Complexity.

But let’s be real: an instant pot is really good at making saucy meals. After a while, we all want some new textures in our meals.

Luckily, making foods on a wok, frying pan, BBQ, regular pot are follow the same fundamentals. They just require a little more attention. After the initial phase of spice and baseline ingredients acquisitions, I have been able to translate many of the instant pot recipes to other modes and explore new recipes as well. I’m no longer afraid of cooking. In fact, it can be therapeutic just to stand in the sunshine in front of the BBQ, knowing a delicious grilled chicken breast is soon to be ready.

Costing It Out: Cooking Versus Buying

It looks better in person…

My grocery bill last week for this Chicken Shawarma Recipe I ate for lunch pretty much all week looked something like this. Note I already purchased a number of the spices already:

Chicken Breast x5 $10.00
Vegetables $9.00
Pita Bread $2.50
Tztazitki Sauce $3.00

That’s right, for 5 servings of chicken shawarma, I spent roughly $24.50, or (rounding up to include cost of spices) $5 for each delicious and healthy meal. That means $7 in savings per day or roughly $140 a month in saved lunch money!

Luckily, I have a high tolerance for eating the same food all week, but I’m eating healthier, smaller, and less expensive portions. The proof is in the math!

Some of My Favourite Simple Recipes

  • Instant Pot Beef Stew: This delicious stew is so simple and awesome and takes just 35 minutes.
  • Instant Pot Mongolian Chicken: Done in about 3 minutes once you place it in the pot. It’s got a great mix of sweet and spiciness. Goes great with carrots.
  • Chicken Shawarma: This one you can do in an instant pot, oven, or BBQ. I love the crispiness it gets when BBQ’d.
  • Instant Pot Mushroom Risotto: Not very healthy, but tastes great. I chuck in some spinach too.
  • Chipotle Chicken: SUPER easy and probably the cheapest recipe of all time. Not quite like Chipotle, but close enough.

Author: stretchingeverydollar

Starving artist to Debt Free MBA. Attempting to retire early.

One thought on “Buying Lunch is Killing Our Wallets.”

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