Planning Packed Meals… on the cheap.

(Please accept my apology ahead of time for the wonky alignment of photos and text. I have spent way too much time trying to get them to line up, and so I’m giving up. Hopefully everything makes sense anyway.)


I’m one of those people who doesn’t function well when I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. Ask my friends. They all have funny stories about me asking what the plan is for the next meal or two, and what we’re going to take with us.

I’m also a planner. If I don’t have a plan, a strategy for a day or a span of time, I feel a bit lost. If I don’t know that I’m going to need money for something and find myself without any, that’s a problem. Or, if I don’t prepare myself to be spontaneous during a certain period of time, and I’m expecting something non-spontaneous, it takes me a while to adjust my outlook.water bottle

Needless to say, I like to be prepared for meals, whenever possible. At home, that means I keep my favourite ingredients stocked at all times. But when I’m going to be out for a day, it gets a bit more complicated. Most people buy food, but eating out, especially on my university campus, is a great way to spend rather than save.

Now that I’m in my third year of university, I have got lunch-planning pretty much down to a science.That’s a really good thing, because I also have to save my money more than ever.

So. My strategies.

1. I always carry a bottle of water. Most public places have water fountains, and it’s much more environmentally-friendly and wallet-friendly to use a re-usable water bottle than to buy bottles of water. Mine is a well-used flexible plastic Vapur bottle that I purchased at The Warwick Lodge Shoppe in Bayfield, but they’re available at many stores now. It’s lightweight and compact.


2. I always carry healthy snacks. This term, it’s mostly just a small container of my trusty raw almonds, but I have also carried containers of dried fruit such as bananas and apricots. I usually have a granola bar or two on me as well, and perhaps a bit of candy for when I get a craving for something sweet.

Insider’s tip: The best raw almonds that I have found for the best price are the Kirkland brand from Costco. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend with a membership. 🙂

granola bars3. Buying in bulk is great for saving money and time and mental energy. I got this gigantor box of granola bars at Costco. –>

tuna4. There are a couple of different approaches for packing meals. I use a combination of leftovers and things that I can eat on my favourite crackers. Cheese, slices of tomato, and individual cans of flavoured tuna are a few of them.

5. This is a no-brainer, but I like to make big batches of foods that will freeze and re-heat well, such as this huge batch of broccoli soup I made yesterday. I’ll put it into smaller, microwaveable containers to take with me for lunches this week.

container of soup

egg container6. Another great quick, easy, and healthy snack-ish meal component is boiled eggs. They are good for one week in the fridge. Here are some instructions for how to get perfectly boiled eggs. I put my boiled eggs in this handy-dandy container that I got at a Mountain Equipment Co-op store –>

7. For those times when I am just too busy to get all domestic and make things ahead of time, I keep a few packages of a perhaps not-so-healthy but filling meal that I can prepare the night before, such as these pasta dinners by Knorr.

knorr sidekicks

8. For dessert, a batch of cupcakes baked-ahead is a great idea. Or some pudding or yogurt in a container. Don’t forget the spoon!

I often have muffins in the freezer, or other breakfast-y concoctions that I can merely thaw and eat, or sometimes reheat and eat.

container of cupcakes

9. Sometimes I get on a salad kick where I will only take salads to school for lunch. For those times, having a container like this one relieves a lot of the annoyance of taking salad. If you add the dressing ahead of time, the lettuce wilts. So you have to take an extra container of dressing, which takes up extra space. Then you have to fit some unwieldy container of salad into your lunch bag to keep the veggies fresh… etc. etc.

salad container 1

This container was about $10 from Winner’s, but is made by a company called Fit & Fresh.

It’s great because it has all of the parts you need for a great salad container!

It comes with an ice pack that fits either into the lid or into the inside lower level, in the same space as the salad itself.salad container 4

salad container 3

There is a special container for dressing, where it will stay (most of the time) until you turn the container around in its spot (open it) and release it directly into the salad. Genius!

And there you have it!

It’s worth spending money on containers and gadgets that are going to make your planning and saving easier!

10. Finally, for those that are like me and love their coffee (or tea), and want to save pennies and trees, get a travel mug. Make your hot morning beverage at home. Splurge on a coffee maker with a timer. Or set everything up beforehand so all you have to do is turn the machine on in the morning.

I sometimes take a travel mug with coffee in the morning, and a thermos with loose tea for later in the day, that I just have to add hot water to.

travel mugAgain, spending $10-$15 on decent-quality gadgets and containers will save you money and time, and you will be able to commit to better-quality coffees and teas as well.

My personal favourite place to buy travel mugs is Starbuck’s. Their mugs are as close as I have ever found to being leak-proof, and I have no qualms about dropping a full one in my schoolbag (upright, of course) to take out to the car or across campus. Plus, they’re usually cool-looking. Bonus!

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