How To Eat Like A Queen For $12 A Day

Photographed by Alice Gao.
Broke again? Eating on a budget doesn’t have to mean beans, rice, and packaged ramen. With a bit of careful planning and shopping, it’s possible to eat delicious homemade meals for about $12 a day. When you're between paychecks and don't want to suffer, you can eat for just $4 per meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The idea here is to do a bit of prep work each night while making dinner. That way, your lunches are already in the fridge, waiting to get thrown in your bag on the way out the door. This meal plan assumes that you work a five-day week and need to take your lunch with you. Hopefully there’s a refrigerator and microwave!

First, you’ll need to gather that container your wonton soup came in last week. Those pint containers are perfect for salads. Don’t go gourmet for your grocery shopping (I’m looking at you Whole Foods) or you’ll go way over budget. I found all of these ingredients at my friendly neighborhood slightly-below-average chain grocery store in Brooklyn, so your prices may vary slightly. Plan to roast all your vegetables Sunday night so they are at your beck and call for the rest of the week’s recipes.

These meals are light and elegant, with simple flavors like lemon, sage, and balsamic vinegar. And want a seriously budget-friendly trick? Shop for your grains (only your grains!) at a fancy health food store that sells in bulk. Stick a one-cup measure in your purse and only buy the amount you need. One cup of jasmine rice will cost you about 45 cents instead of buying a whole bag you won't use for a few dollars.

Now, on to the feast!
1 of 14
This meal plan takes away the guess work. You won’t have to pore over food blogs looking for recipes, text your mom for help, or just give up and order takeout. The recipes are easy and varied. This is not a detox (sorry, Gwyneth!), but there are a ton of vegetables and plenty of protein, too.
2 of 14
Now, the shopping list. Here is a comprehensive rundown of everything you’ll need.
3 of 14
These are the pantry staples that you (hopefully) already have.
4 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
The Recipe Plan

Sunday

Roast the beets and sweet potatoes and make Sweet Potato, Beet and Arugula Salad for Monday lunch. Save one roasted beet and half a roasted sweet potato for Thursday dinner.

Monday

Morning

It's Sage and Egg Scramble time.

Lunch
Eat that Sweet Potato, Beet and Arugula Salad you lovingly prepared last night.

Dinner

This is the start of the week, and a night when you’ll be making the building blocks of later meals. (You can also make these Sunday night.) Make Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sage Brown Butter and Roasted Acorn Squash. Save two thirds of the squash for Wednesday lunch and Friday lunch. Make Chicken Stir Fry with Snow Peas and Jasmine Rice, which you’ll eat for Tuesday lunch and Wednesday dinner.

Tuesday

Morning
Make Avocado Toast.

Lunch
Eat Chicken Stir Fry with Snow Peas and Jasmine Rice.

Dinner
This is your big cooking night. Clear your evening! Make Creamy Lemon Fettuccine with Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Make Roasted Acorn Squash Tacos with Quinoa for Wednesday lunch and Friday lunch.

Wednesday

Morning
Make Avocado Toast.

Lunch
Eat Roasted Acorn Squash Tacos with Quinoa.

Dinner
Eat Chicken Stir Fry with Snow Peas and Jasmine Rice.

Thursday

Morning
Make Sage and Egg Scramble.

Lunch
Eat Creamy Lemon Fettuccine with Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

Dinner
Make Broiled Salmon with Potatoes (two kinds!) and Beet Salad, and prep Friday’s dinner of Broiled Salmon Salad.

Friday

Morning
Make French Toast To-Go.

Lunch
Eat Roasted Acorn Squash Tacos with Quinoa.

Dinner
Make Broiled Salmon Salad.
5 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Sweet Potato, Beet and Arugula Salad
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 whole roasted beets, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 roasted sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 ½ cups baby arugula
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp mustard
1 pinch sugar
1 pinch salt

Instructions
1. Place beets and potatoes in a tupperware container and add arugula on top. Make the dressing in a separate small jar or plastic container.

2. Add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt and sugar and shake vigorously. Pack away and shake once again before serving.

3. To serve, mix the arugula, beets, and sweet potatoes together with the dressing.


Roasted Beets and Sweet Potatoes

Time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients
2 sweet potatoes
3 medium beets
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash and dry beets and sweet potatoes.

2. Keep unpeeled and whole, then coat in olive and salt with your hands and place on a baking sheet. Prick each vegetable with a fork a few times and roast for one hour. Cool completely in the fridge for at least an hour.

3. Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to peel and chop the vegetables into ½ inch cubes.

4. Save one-third of the beets and half the sweet potatoes for Thursday’s dinner.
Advertisement
6 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Sage and Egg Scramble
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 eggs
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 pinch salt
1 pinch black pepper

Directions
1. Whisk the eggs with the sage and add a dash of salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

2. Add the butter first, then after 30 seconds, the egg mixture.

3. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to scramble the eggs and cook until just set, about 2 minutes. Serve with more pepper.
7 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sage Brown Butter
Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients
2 ½ lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
15 sage leaves
Salt
Pepper

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Start with an oven-safe cast iron skillet or a non-stick pan and a foil-lined baking sheet. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts like crazy (about a 1/2 teaspoon of each).

2. Heat the pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of butter and sage leaves in a single layer. Fry them until crispy (about 3 minutes) then add another tablespoon of butter.

3. As soon as the butter melts, pour the leaves and liquid into a bowl. Then immediately add the chicken breasts to the pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side undisturbed to brown.

4. Transfer pan to oven and cook for 8 minutes, then let it rest out of the oven for 4 minutes before cutting. Ensure the chicken is cooked all the way through!

Roasted Acorn Squash
Time: 1 hour

Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs acorn squash
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp paprika, cumin, or chili powder (or all three)

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice off the stem of the squash. You’ll need a very sharp sturdy knife for this job. If you still can’t cut through the squash, bake it whole for 15 minutes, then let it cool, it should soften up a bit.

2. Slice the squash into thin slivers, about ⅛-inch thick. Toss in a bowl with olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the spice of your choice (I love a mix of paprika and cumin).

3. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast for 35 minutes.
8 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Chicken Stir Fry with Snow Peas and Jasmine Rice
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup jasmine rice
1 small nub ginger (about 1 inch)
2 cups snow peas
1 pan-roasted chicken breast, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp soy sauce

Instructions
1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add rice and boil for one minute. Cover and turn heat down to a simmer, cook for 15 minutes.

2. First peel ginger with a vegetable peeler, then grate on the large holes of a box grater. If the fibers get in the way, slice off with a sharp knife. Heat a skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the snow peas.

3. Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly, then add the grated ginger and minced garlic. Cook for another three minutes. Add sliced chicken and soy sauce, toss to combine.

3. Divide with rice into two portions for Tuesday Lunch and Wednesday Dinner.
9 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Avocado Toast
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 slice of bread
1/2 an avocado
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 pinch black pepper
1 pinch salt

Instructions
1. Toast the slice of bread.

2. While still hot, use a fork to mash the avocado onto the toast.

3. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, add a pinch of black pepper.
10 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Creamy Lemon Fettuccine
Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
2 generous servings of linguini (let’s call it half the box)
Zest of 2 lemons
3 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt
Pepper
Arugula garnish (optional)

Instructions
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, until just cooked. Drain pasta and set aside.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the lemon zest and cook for 1 minute. Add the heavy cream and Parmesan.

3. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid thickens slightly. Add the pasta, toss to combine and cook for another 2 minutes. Serve with salt and pepper and a bit of arugula mixed in.

4. Save half for Thursday Lunch.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients
½ lb Brussels sprouts
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse sea salt (regular salt will do, but it’s not the same!)

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Slice Brussels sprouts in half vertically. Toss in a bowl with sea salt and olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast for 25 minutes.

3. Save half for Thursday Lunch.
Advertisement
11 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Roasted Acorn Squash Tacos
Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
Zest of one lemon with 3 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
6 tortillas
12 slices of roasted acorn squash
1 tsp olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Instructions
1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water to a boil. Cover, turn heat down to a low simmer and cook for 12 minutes.

2. Let it stand for 5 minutes, then remove lid, fluff with a fork and add salt, lemon zest and juice, and parsley. In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion slices and cook for 4 minutes.

3. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes so onions caramelize. Divide the quinoa mixture, squash slices, and onions into two portions and pack all together in a plastic container. Pack tortillas separately.

4. To assemble meals for Wednesday Lunch and Friday lunch, heat the quinoa, squash, and onions in the microwave and assemble tacos in that order.
12 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Broiled Salmon with Potatoes (2 kinds!) and Beet Salad
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients
1 3/4 lb piece of fresh salmon, skin-on (about ¾-inch thick)
1 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 potato, cut into ½ inch cubes (skin-on)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1/2 of a roasted sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 roasted beet, peeled and cubed
1 slice of lemon

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss potato cubes with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cook for 25 minutes total.

2. Use a wooden spoon to shuffle them around after 10 minutes. Remove potatoes from oven to cool and toss half of the potato cubes with sweet potatoes and beets.

3. Preheat your broiler. Liberally salt and pepper the salmon and place on a foil-lined baking sheet with a tiny splash of olive oil. Broil for 8 minutes (it may smoke and you will start to see char marks). Turn off broiler and let the salmon cook in the heat for another 2 minutes. Broil times may vary, so watch carefully. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

4. Save half the potatoes and half the salmon for Friday’s lunch.
13 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
French Toast To-Go
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 slice of bread
2 eggs
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp butter

Instructions
1. Whisk the eggs, cinnamon, and sugar together in a shallow dish. Place the bread in the egg mixture and flip a few times until completely saturated. Let it absorb for 2 minutes.

2. Heat the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook the soaked toast for 3 minutes on each side.

3. Eat immediately or let it cool and wrap in tinfoil to-go.
14 of 14
Photos: Courtesy of Ally-Jane Grossman.
Broiled Salmon Salad
Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
1/2 portion broiled salmon (served cold)
1/2 portion roasted potatoes (about 1/2 cup)
4 tbsp olive oil
1 pinch coarse salt
1 pinch fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pinch sugar

Instructions
1. Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, and sugar together in a large bowl.

2. Add the potatoes and arugula, and toss to combine with salt and pepper. Remove the salmon from the skin with a fork and cut into bite-sized pieces.

3. Place the salmon pieces on top and serve.