Free Food For A Week!

crockpot chili ingredients
crockpot chili ready to go

During the work week, I typically eat healthy breakfasts and lunches. Most of my dinners are leftovers from whatever I’ve prepared for lunches. Usually that includes crock pot chili made of whatever canned/fresh ingredients I can find. I also make different cold salads, soup (miso is my go-to), and rice dishes.

I used to do everything in my power to avoid the dangerously unhealthy free office lunches. At my last job, those lunches often consisted of cheesy/meaty potlucks, leftover pizza from a student program, or straight-up donuts.

I loved the opportunity to socialize with kind people who went out of their way to cook for others in the office, but I usually brought my own lunch and skipped out on the free stuff. It worked out well for my waistline and it gave my co-workers something they could make fun of (win-win?).

leftover food
a typical spread: leftover quinoa, salad, and ravioli

In my new office, we don’t necessarily get free lunches, but we do get leftover food from events in other parts of our building. Some weeks that will include leftover breakfast and lunch each day of the week. Of course, the ideal scenario is that other areas of my department don’t over purchase and their program participants enjoy every morsel of food provided for them. However, there is inevitably leftover food after each meal. Sometimes it’s random salad ingredients–bacon bits, chopped onion, red peppers, chopped egg. Sometimes it’s prepared salads like tuna fish, chicken salad, and quinoa.

Over the last five days, we have been lucky enough to get some amazing leftovers. This food blessing came at the perfect time. I’ve been lower on cash after a month and a half of “funemployment” and a cross-country move that required the purchase of some new items for my apartment/life. So, I decided I’d challenge myself to not spend $1 on food this workweek.

Luckily, I already had a couple plain Greek yogurts and some packets of oatmeal for breakfast. My office always provides coffee, so I didn’t need to go without caffeine if I needed it. I didn’t have any lunch/dinner friend-dates on my calendar and I was prepared to not socialize during the workweek. I have an upcoming weekend getaway to Salem, MA anyway, so I can look forward to dining out while I’m there!

dinner made with leftover rice, mushrooms, onion, and tomatoes
a delicious dinner made with leftover rice, mushrooms, onion, and tomatoes

This challenge also helped my guilty conscience, which cannot stand when food goes to waste. Each morning and afternoon when the leftover breakfast and lunch hit my office kitchen, I walked over with some to-go containers and took a serving or two for the next meal (or two). For example, one day I took some leftover quiche and potato pancakes, along with some fruit. I ate that for dinner later that night.

I also got some great seasoned rice, a quinoa salad, tuna salad, chickpea and veggie salad, and some fresh veggies that I cut up for various dinners throughout the week. For lunch one day, I added the rice to a miso soup that I already had ingredients for (miso, radish, celery, carrots). For dinner one night, I cooked up the fresh veggies with simple seasoning, added some rice, and made a fresh salsa with leftover tomatoes. Some meals were not so glamorous. On Thursday, I ate at particularly odd times and I wasn’t hungry for dinner until around 10pm, at which point I ate cold, cooked green beans dipped in spicy mustard (it hit the spot, actually).

green beans and mustard
not the most glamorous meal I’ve ever had

Again, I’ll say that I was in a very fortunate position to be able to grab leftovers and turn them into meals for myself. I know if I had a family or if my department wanted to do something else with those leftovers, I wouldn’t have this chance to save money on groceries and get “free” meals each day.

This week was a major lesson in resourcefulness, flexibility, and opportunism. I look forward to testing my creativity by learning new ways to get my hands on some free/nearly free food. I’ll share all my good tips with you in a new post coming soon: Thrifty Eating $1.01. Until then, what are your tips for thrifty and delicious eating?

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