Q&A | $20 Takeout Date Ideas + Lunches Without Waste

Every other Monday, I answer reader questions.  If you’ve got a question for me, leave it in the comments, or email me, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post.

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First up this week, a question from an Alaskan reader about takeout date nights.

I stumbled on your blog a week or so ago because recently I became a stay at home mom again. This is the best option for my family.  I’ve read about you doing a takeout date night for around $20, and if you don’t mind me asking what usually do you eat for takeout? We live in Alaska so I know there will be a large pricing difference, but i would like to try to keep it close to what you do. Any input would be great!

-Kita

First, welcome!  Always glad to have some new faces around here.

Since I wrote that post, two of our kids have become teenagers, which means that we sometimes actually go out for a date night.

(Having teenagers is seriously awesome.)

But, we do still opt for a takeout night sometimes because a certain small girl here doesn’t like us to be gone too much.  ;)

Anyway, here in the lower 48 at least, it’s pretty easy for us to stick with a $20 budget without resorting to super cheap fast food.

A few of our staple meals:

  • burgers and a medium fry to share from Five Guys
  • sandwiches from somewhere like Panera Bread or Atlanta Bread Company
  • two meals from Chipotle
  • sushi
  • seafood sandwiches from a local seafood shop

Hmm.  It would seem that sandwiches are the theme for our cheap takeout nights, except when we do  Chipotle.

So.  Eat sandwiches, and save money.  ;)

(If you are gluten-free or eat low-carb, you could opt for things like a lettuce-wrapped burger, or order a salad instead of a sandwich.)

Also, ordering only the main dish and providing drinks/desserts at home really helps us to stay within our budget.

Hi Kristen,
I’ve been following your blog for several years now, and love reading it every few days!

My question is, do you have any good lunch solutions for two working adults who have somewhat unpredictable lunch schedules?

I do the grocery shopping for my husband and myself, and it seems like we often have issues with not having the right amount of food at home for lunches. A lot of it has to do with the fact that our lunch schedules vary a lot because of work lunches that come up at the last minute, but I hate that it seems like the weeks that I plan for us to make sandwiches with lunch meat, we end up having several lunches at work and never end up making the sandwiches and throw away the meat (and often the bread, too) because it’s gone bad. Then, inevitably when I do not buy lunch meat, we end up eating lots of meals at home and don’t have much (if anything, it seems like) to choose from. We both also like to have leftovers for lunch, which normally ends up being easier for us to grab, so they get eaten first.

Is there a way to preserve bread and lunch meat/cheese so that we can use them as needed, rather than buy them and have to throw them out? Or do you have any suggestions for good lunch items that are easy to store in case we don’t need them immediately? Thanks so much!

When I read your question, my first thought was that the freezer could really be your friend here. Bread/sandwich buns can easily be frozen and thawed only when needed.  That way your bread at least wouldn’t go to waste.

(If you buy your buns or bread straight from the grocery store bakery, place them in a sturdier bag for freezing.  The clear thin bags from in-store supermarket bakeries tend to fall apart in the freezer for some reason.)

My other freezer thought: On weeks when you have a lot of leftovers and need to use up lunch meat, try freezing some portions of your leftovers.  That way you can eat the lunch meat you have while storing up some frozen lunches for future weeks.

Another idea: If you buy lunch meat and notice that you haven’t used it toward the end of the week, maybe scratch your meal plan for a night and make panini sandwiches (lunch meat is great in those and you’d use your cheese as well!).

Or have a big green dinner salad with the lunch meat, adding hard-boiled eggs, cubed cheese, and croutons to make it a meal.

Lastly, could you keep some easy-to-prepare lunch items on hand for weeks when you don’t have lunch meat in the house?  It sounds like you are maybe actually at your house at lunchtime at least part-time, so could you cook up some simple spaghetti for lunch?  Or put together a tuna salad?  (which mostly relies on pantry ingredients plus a few fridge staples.)

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Readers, the question-askers always love to have more input, so share your advice in the comments! 

Any good $20 takeout date ideas?  And how would you handle the lunch meat issue?

 

 

Blue Apron (and their ilk) | Bread Freezing | Other Frugal Blogs (it’s a Q&A post!)

Every Monday, I answer a few of the questions that my readers send me. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in a future Q&A post, just leave me a comment here or email me (thefrugalgirl [at] gmail [dot] com) and put Q&A in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

Hey Kristen! I’ve never done Julep, but I did try a nearly free trial of Hello Fresh, the produce meal box. Have you ever considered trying one of those? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of them.

-Danielle

I’ve come across some similar things on the web (like Blue Apron), and at first, I thought it seemed like a reasonable idea…you get to cook a meal, but you don’t have to plan anything or even shop for ingredients.

And I thought $10 for a meal sounded like a good price.

Then I realized the charge was per person.

For my family, each meal would run us $60.

<thud>

We can practically eat at a sit-down restaurant for $60.  And I could make many, many dinners for $60, even if I buy local meats.

blue apron ingredients

On average, I spend about $21-$25/day, and that feeds the six of us for three meals.

That means each meal is really costing us around $7-$10, and each serving runs about $1 to $1.50.

I’m sure breakfast is less expensive than dinner, but even if dinner used up $15 of my daily spending, that’s still only a little over $2 per person.

At that rate, a meal delivery service would cost me 5 times what I currently spend.

Maybe this would work out well for small families who mainly subsist on restaurant meals and who really want to spend a little time cooking a few nights a week.

But me?  If I’m going to spend $60 on dinner, I would really like to not be cooking.  ;)

Kristen,

How do you make fresh bread ahead of time / what do you do when the recipe makes more than you need?  My favorite recipe makes two loaves, but at the current time, my family can only eat one before it dries out.  I don’t want to half my recipe – what can I do to preserve my dough so I can bake it when we run out?  How can I make my recipe the night (or several nights) before (when my kids are in bed), and keep it fresh to bake for dinner during the week?

Michelle

The freezer is your friend!  Finished homemade bread freezes very well, so make a big batch and freeze whatever you don’t need right away.  That’s what I do all the time.

3 loaves of bread

You can freeze unbaked dough, but it takes a fairly long time to thaw and then once it thaws, it needs time to rise, so I don’t find that to be a super efficient way to bake.

If you want to keep fresh dough around for baking during the week, you could try the popular no-knead artisan bread, which you can store in the fridge and bake throughout the week.

I was hoping you could share other blogs that are somewhat like yours? I follow the minimalist mom as well and both of you are such an amazing inspiration! I would like to find other inspiring people to learn and grow. Thank you! :)

Martina

Hmm.  There are a LOT of money-saving blogs out there, but a great proportion of them are deal/couponing blogs (I’m assuming that’s not what you’re looking for!)

Give these ones a try:

The Non-Consumer Advocate

Katy buys almost nothing new, and her blog obviously focuses on not consuming stuff.

MoneySavingMom (the no deals version)

I like the Money Saving Mom blog except for the deals (which feel like a lot of clutter to me).  I recently discovered the link above which gives you her blog minus all the deals.  Perfect.

Living Well, Spending Less

Ruth does blog about coupons to a degree, but mostly her blog is about saving money in a variety of other ways (DIY, cooking, etc.)

I bet my readers will have some good suggestions for you too!

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You know the drill: the floor is now yours.

Got thoughts about meal delivery services?  Or some good blog reads to suggest?  Share in the comments!