This Meal-Swapping Trick Saved Me Major Time & $$$

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
We're always looking to save money. We read up on finance tips and search for new, modern ways to pinch our pennies. At this point in our lives, many of us have heard that there are major bucks to be saved by cooking at home. We know that instead of dining out during the week or Seamlessing every day, we really should be taking matters into our own kitchens (i.e. planning our own menus, creating grocery lists, shopping at TJ's, and using our last bits of energy to cook). Before you write off this tiresome money-conservation formula, I'd like to present you with a fresh approach. Meet the meal swap.

Most of us simply cannot justify the effort it takes to "whip up" homemade meals on a daily basis, even with the promise of budgetary bliss. But when a solo act becomes a group effort, you can do this (easily, too) without burning out and giving up. And I did do it — for an entire month.

My roommate (hey, Arianna!) and I crafted weekly schedules and proceeded to swap our meals (i.e. weekday dinners and lunches, made by us) for all of September. I not only saved major cash, but serious time and energy, too.

And on top of all of that, I never got bored and ended up ordering out instead (gasp). Don't believe me? Try it yourself! Click through for an easy-to-follow calendar, along with meal tips and tricks, and most importantly, a budget breakdown. If I can do it, you can, too.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The Big Payoff
My roommate and I kept track of our receipts for the month and created a breakdown of our budget. (Note: I rounded and used the closest approximations for the chart.)

Throughout the swap, we were able to cut our usual weekly and monthly grocery bills in half.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Meal-Swap Calendar
To make things as manageable as possible, my roommate and I crafted a meal-swap calendar — we assigned ourselves different cooking days in advance that worked around our schedules each week. The weekends were always a free-for-all — because after that weekday kitchen work, it was time to "treat ourselves" and finally eat out.

Weekly, we each cooked approximately two meals. We would then use the leftovers for lunches on the following days. This breakdown accomplished a few things:

1. Time spent pre-planning, grocery-shopping, and finally prepping meals in the kitchen was cut in half. There were nights when both of us were able to just binge-watch Netflix (while still enjoying homemade food).

2. When you're cooking for someone else, planning the menu becomes fun instead of a chore. My roommate and I would google recipes and flip through cookbooks together for meals we both couldn't wait to make (and eat). We would even pack each other's lunches on our given days and text each other positive feedback (so many feels).

3. We developed several go-to tricks for cooking easy and affordable eats. All our tips are ahead, so you can try meal-swapping, too.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Tip: Make Toast A Meal
Toast is trendy — so why not capitalize on this fantastic fad and make your morning toast into a full-fledged midday meal? Smother it with your favorite savory or sweet spreads and toppings; then, accompany it with a simple side salad. Pack the accoutrements separate from the slices and assemble at work to keep things fresh and toasty.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Tip: Try Spaghetti Squash
Perhaps you've heard about spaghetti squash, but have yet to try it out of sheer skepticism, and/or because real spaghetti is life? Well, I'm here to report that you should give this squash a fighting chance in your kitchen. It's super quick to slice, roast, and scoop into a bowl — not to mention surprisingly delicious and spaghetti-like. And, you can flavor it with all of your usual sauce favorites.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Trick: Make A Cauliflower-Rice Stir-Fry
Don't have the time or patience to wait around for rice to absorb water and properly fluff? Try sautéing cauliflower rice in a hot second for your next easy stir-fry (TJ's sells pre-riced bags for super speedy assemblage).
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Trick: Find Your Ultimate Grain Bowl
Just follow this simple food formula for bowl bliss: your favorite roasted veggies plus grains and whatever seasoning your tastebuds desire. It's a great way to use up leftover veggies from the week and is easily packable for portable lunches.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Tip: Make A Meatless/Bunless Burger
Try a deconstructed burger — sans the meat. There are a ton of black-bean, pumpkin-puree, and even zucchini-fritter patty recipes out there that are incredibly customizable to your particular tastes. And for some reason, they feel easier to deal with on a weeknight than actual meat does. Crisp them up in a pan (or reheat in the microwave), and serve over a bed of your favorite dressed greens.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Tip: When In Doubt, Make Gourmet Pizza
It's easier than you might think; just pick up some pre-made dough from your local grocery (we used TJ's garlic-and-herb dough), roll it out on a sheet pan (use an empty wine bottle in a pinch), and top with whatever leftovers you happen to have in your fridge. We used up a leftover meat-and-cheese spread here (i.e. blue cheese crumbles, prosciutto, and a sliced pear). Pizza is also a great leftover for lunch the next day (even cold).
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
Trick: Make Your Own Hash
It's an affordable (and delicious) way to pack your meat, veggies, and herbs into a one-pot meal. A basic hash consists of sautéed onions, peppers, potatoes (we used sweet potatoes here), and herbs for seasoning. To make mine more of a meal, I added some diced chicken sausage and served with a side salad. Bonus points for topping with a fried egg!

Takeaway
Even if you loathe cooking, give this a try — you never know what culinary passions saving major $$$ might awaken in you.

Not only did we spend half of what would usually be spent on Seamless orders during the week, we actually enjoyed ourselves and got some much-needed downtime. In fact, even though the experiment is technically over, we're on month two of meal-swapping and don't plan on stopping anytime soon.
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