Lunch Prepping

Hello, friends! Despite my 2018 pledge to blog weekly, I’ve gone a few weeks here in total silence. Not for a lack of blogging topics, for certain–what with the near-daily White House scandals that each, individually, would have badly wounded prior administrations, the defense of abuse against women in all forms (sexual, physical, emotional) coming from most corners, and yet another op-ed telling Hillary Clinton, who has gone away, to go away,–my goodness, there’s been a wealth of possible posts. I wish it were boring, truly I do, but damn near everything has the volatility of our current stock market. What fun! (it’s not fun). I find it so exhausting that posting about any of it right now just isn’t in the cards for me.  So let’s talk about lunch prepping instead.

My dear husband has been intently watching what he eats lately and I’ve being doing a half-assed job, myself. In the interest of both our macronutrient numbers (proteins, carbs, fats) and our wallets, we agreed that we’d start prepping lunches rather than buying lunch meat, half of which often gets tossed. On Sunday, I’d get six servings of something together, and we’d eat them during the week.

Lunch prepping: steak cobb salads
These were glorious.

Once we decided to commit to this approach, I bought some meal boxes, small food containers, and condiment boxes.* Everything had to be dishwasher and microwave safe, and I wanted at least a half a dozen of everything, and same-sized containers made fitting everything into our undersized fridge easier.

Most of my ideas I’ve pulled from Pinterest after lots of browsing. Week 1, I made us some chicken burrito bowls with a tomato/guac side. These were good, but had too much rice–which I’d overcooked–for me. Week 2, I made a curry chickpea stir fry with brown rice. Week 3, as I posted to Twitter, was steak cobb salads. They had feta on the side and a balsamic vinaigrette and were loosely based on this Damned Delicious recipe.

Here’s what is involved in lunch prepping, in the event you want to give it a whirl:
  • Planning: you need to pick a recipe you’ll willingly eat for several days. Three days is our limit.
  • Shopping: you need to then go get whatever you’ll need to make that recipe. I can testify to how irritating it is to find you’re missing something mid-prep.
  • Time: Lunch prepping on Sunday is far more time-consuming than I anticipated. Set aside a least a couple of hours.
  • Measuring: once everything is made, you need to divide more or less evenly. I’m garbage at doing that by eye, so my kitchen scale is my friend.
  • Passing out on the couch afterward. The more you do it, the more organized you’ll be, but it’s still an endeavor.

Last week, I made chicken avocado wraps based roughly on this recipe. These weren’t so labor intensive, but not unexpectedly, they were soggy by the time we finished eating them.  I filled the mid-sized boxes with carrot sticks to go with.

One problem we’ve had is that after eating our three servings of our prepped lunches, we’re left lunchless. This has had an opposite effect on our spending than anticipated, particularly because we’ve been eating dinner leftovers for later dinners rather than keeping them for lunches: we’ve ended up eating lunch out, sometimes more than once a week. Dammit.

This week I sought to remedy that problem by prepping two different lunches for five total servings each of us, for a whopping 10 servings altogether. I was in the kitchen for 2.5 hours.

Meal one is a repeat of the burrito bowls.

Here is my process:

I started by figuring out how much chicken I’d need for each recipe, measuring what I’d bought this morning at the store, and then putting five chicken breasts in brining water. I used this recipe for baked chicken as it has never failed me, and brining is the first step. While those soaked, I started knock-off Chipotle lime and cilantro rice (this recipe, but with jasmine rice and less water). As it simmered, I seasoned three chicken breasts with the leftover taco seasoning from last week, two with salt and pepper, and popped them all in the oven. Then I made knock-off Chipotle black beans, added my cilantro and lime to the rice, and got the chicken out of the oven. I portioned the rice then beans, and then chopped my taco-seasoned chicken. That I distributed next. Boxes closed, labeled (I get less rice this time–stupid carbs stupid counting) and put in the fridge.

Then I cleaned up, mixed up a healthier buffalo sauce, shredded the two chicken breasts, and mixed them together. I then put four servings into our mid-sized containers and popped them into the fridge. Next, I finished filling the dishwasher, started it, washed up a bit, and began making my lazy guac by chopping two avocados and mixing them with leftover lime juice and cilantro from rice prep. I chopped two tomatoes and then distributed all of it into the condiment containers. Lastly, I pulled apart and washed a romaine heart, chopped it, dried it in my spinner, divvied it up between four containers; I washed a bunch of grape tomatoes and added them. When we want a sandwich for lunch, all we need to do is grab one of each containers and dump them in a tortilla. Fingers crossed we get through a whole week without takeout lunches.

 

By this point I am exhausted and ready for take-out dinner.

In terms of costs, here’s about what this week runs:

Chicken, about $15. About 2.5 pounds of organic, free-range bird from Trader Joe’s.

Beans we already had. Goya, probably 80 cents or $1 if it wasn’t on sale.

Tomatoes I bought last week. Vine ripened, from a nearby state, $3/lb. About 2/3 or so of a pound, so $2.

Rice: already in the pantry. Maybe a dime’s worth or so–it’s $2/bag for a couple of pounds.

Cilantro: $1.79–barely used it, but I probably won’t use it much later and it’ll get tossed.

Lime: 39 cents

Yogurt (for buffalo sauce): already on hand–maybe 50 cents?

Red hot sauce: $1.89, but we only used about half. 90 cents.

Tortillas: probably $2, since I had an Ibotta rebate

Romaine: prorated, probably $1

Grape tomatoes: huge, organic boxes were on sale for $3. I probably used 2/3 of it, so $2.

Avocados: $2 for two small.

Total: about $28 for ten meals. This should keep a few bucks in our pockets and our waists that much trimmer (she says, thinking about donuts).

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2017: A Financial Reckoning

As 2017 mercifully ends and 2018 dawns, I’ve busted out the TF budget spreadsheet I’ve used all year for a final reckoning. In short, here’s what I learned from tracking nearly every purchase all year.

  • As I anticipated, we eat out a lot. We get takeout, eat in restaurants, and I occasionally grab cocktails with friends. I’d allocated $400/mo for eating out but we ended the year nearly $300 in the red in that category. This isn’t the end of the world, but it’s worth noting. It’s also worth noting that this category’s use is mostly my doing: the other night, for example, I texted the Mister to please get Chinese food on the way home. I have a cold and didn’t want to cook. I’m the one who usually petitions to get out of the house, and I’m the one who rarely says no to a request for pizza. So, uh, yeah. This would be the easiest category to cut back in, if we choose to.
  • However, we don’t spend that much on other stuff, like entertainment. Our “stuff” category–budgeted at $5k–came in enough under budget that it covers the overrun in dining out and some of other categories. “Stuff” includes movie tickets, hair cuts, parking in town, Sephora visits, and things like tissues and laundry detergent.
  • The gym is one of our great expenses but usually it’s worth the investment. We’re both gym rats when the stars align; problem for me was that this last term, the stars barely got together. Considering how much we spend there (we have more than a basic membership), we need to use it regularly. I have no qualms about spending our money on the gym, so long as it’s used well.
  • We don’t spend much on clothes. I budgeted $2000 for both of us for the year (I had no idea what we spent in general, so it seemed a figure with which to start) and we well under half of that, including a dreaded bra replacement purchase. Those things are godawfully expensive.
  • We budgeted $5200 for groceries and came in under budget. This might be a mixed blessing, though, since it’s likely hinging on high dining spending.
  • We over-budgeted for heating oil and house expenses, though the latter included an unanticipated purchase of new dressers (ours were from my husband’s childhood and busted). Money left in those categories went to the next one…

    Good thing she’s cute.
  • The great budget breaker, as most of you know, was the cat category. Good god. I didn’t budget in January anticipating a lot of things that happened: we tried to adopt a cat, and that was a bust–the adoption fee was never refunded (it was about $200, unheard of for an adult cat!) and the vet fees were a couple of hundred for the results of that cat’s attack on our resident cat. Then, the cat that had been injured unexpectedly died a few months later–cremation fees were over $200. Then, because I am an idiot, I convinced my husband we should adopt kittens. Two. Which are expensive–their adoption fees are high, their initial costs (think baby vaccinations) are high. And, as it turned out, both of our kittens were quite sick at adoption, and then diagnosed with chronic illness. So! We adopted special-needs kittens who are damn lucky to have us and super cute when not hellions but which have also led to a $3000 overage in that budget category, and that’s not including adoption fees–those count as charitable donations and can be written off on our taxes (which meant we exceeded our giving budget as well). I’ve moved all the under-budget amounts over to cover a bunch, but we end up $1900 in the hole there. Talk about a reckoning. I’m hoping that that category will be much quieter next year.

We are remarkably blessed that we could cover those overages and still have money to save in our emergency fund, replenishing a dent made over the summer. Further, we were able to pay off the end of my husband’s student loans, making us student-loan-free for the first time since my grad school deferments. We only have the mortgage and my car we’re paying off now. Assuming things continue as they are, we’ll likely be able to add more to my retirement account this coming year as well as take care of things like replacing our worn-out mattress and my beat-up, sometimes malfunctioning phone, and consider replacing my husband’s car–it’ll be 10 next year–in the nearer future.

Tracking spending for a year was eye-opening, if a pain in the ass, and because I’m one of those people who likes to do things religiously I’ll probably stick with it this year, too. If you, like me, have no idea where your money is going, it’s a great exercise that allows you to truly see where your expenses are, and what you’re spending in addition.

Happy new year, dear readers.

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Finance Friday (Monday): Kitten Adoption

As many of you know, Friday–my usual money post day–was a busy day. I sewed  most of the day while I had time and easy access to my stuff, because Friday afternoon was kitten adoption time! We’ve been planning on adopting new felines to be companions to our resident cat, Jane, since June. She’s been lonely since our other cat, Charlie, unexpectedly passed. When we got back from vacation we went to a local shelter and picked two out. They were on vet hold a bit, but are now quarantined in my sewing room/office.

Adopting from a shelter is a wonderful thing. You support pets that would otherwise be homeless and free up shelter cages for more animals. Sadly, those cages are never emptied. The litter our kittens came from was shipped from South Carolina to our New England state. I’m not sure what the story is there–perhaps it’s the best way to get them into no-kill shelters?

While adopting adult cats is usually fairly inexpensive–they’re much harder for shelters to place–we’d tried that with Jane before and it was a no-go. Kittens, on the other hand, are expensive.

Here’s the breakdown across the last few days
Here’s kitten Sol, who wants to know what’s in the closet.

Adoption fee/each: $175. They’ve had some basic vet provision but need a second distemper shot. I could bring them back to the shelter a half-hour away for free, but one of them pooped in the crate while traveling, which meant both needed to be cleaned when I got home. I don’t think we’ll be doing that trip with them again–they’ll go to our vet.

Food: $95.75. I ordered five flats, 24 cans each, of kitten food from petco. We buy the fancier stuff, I admit–stuff by Blue pet foods. I became turned off of major US brands after they had multiple fatal recalls a few years ago. This food should be more pricey than it already is but I ordered it as a repeat delivery–my first–so I got 20% off. That’s why I ordered so much of it. It’ll keep us in kitten food nearly the rest of the year. I also splurged and got them a fancy climbing tree: https://s7d1.scene7.com/is/image/PETCO/  so that was $45.

So, in purchases made so far (the bulk of which were necessities), we’re looking at $500. Good lord.

Now let’s look ahead to the next week.
Kitten Trixie sees the patriarchy for what it is.

Upcoming vet appointment: Both kittens have colds, which could be feline herpes (it’s a respiratory illness, common in shelters, and viral–goes away on its own) or a bacterial infection. The shelter’s visiting vet wanted both of them on an antibiotic, but didn’t leave any for them. The shelter figured they’d be better at our house than there and that I should call them Saturday about the anti-b. Saturday came and went, they had no word from their vet. Sunday came and went. This morning I figured the heck with this, we’re going to our vet. We have an appointment for both, which they’d need anyway as new pets. This is likely to run around $300 if they need prescriptions, and if they get their vaccine (they may not if they’re too ill, which means we’ll need another appointment). Then they’ll need to be spayed/neutered (one of each)–I can’t remember what that ran a few years ago, but somewhere around $300 is likely as well.

Kitten adoption
Sol wants to know when I’ll actually read these books.

I’ll be honest–we go to a vet we love and trust (they only do cats!) but it’s likely more expensive than others. But our cats are our babies. We’ve lost two under pretty tragic circumstances so I do my damndest to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.

But clearly, adopting kittens is not for those without the means to do so. In our experience, kittens always have some complications that cost $$. Charlie had feline herpes and went to the vet several times before the herpes went away–it gave him conjunctivitis needed an Rx for his little eyes. They have all kinds of needs, and toys are the least of them. Before you adopt a pet, do some real math and determine what your plan is. They’re too sweet to deal with you having to change your mind later.

Kitten adoption
Trixie thinks I’m delicious.
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