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    How To Cook Breakfast, Lunch, And Dinner All Week For $40

    Spoiler alert: It was pretty easy.

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    Hey, I'm Hannah. As much as I love eating meals out, I've been challenging myself to save money on food by cooking at home more often. So I came up with a $40 meal plan to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole week.

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    Whether you want to try cooking on a budget yourself or you're just curious how my experience went, keep reading. I'll break down the whole week for you and offer some helpful tips and tricks I learned along the way.

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    My first step was creating a meal plan that outlined everything I'd be making over the next seven days.

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    You can download a printable version of my meal plan if you want to give it a try. Or you can use it as a template to create your own.

    Next, I devised a grocery list, paying close attention to my $40 budget.

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    My total cost came out to just a few cents under $40! The only items I didn't include in my budget were a few pantry staples I had on hand like olive oil, salt, pepper, and basic spices.

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    Besides a 40-cent package of ramen from CVS, I did all of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, where I spent $39.57. Together, my grand total for the week was $39.97.

    Here's exactly what was in my grocery bag.

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    If you're hoping to try cooking and eating on a budget at home, here are some helpful tips:

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    - Go in with a plan. Carefully craft your grocery list ahead of time and price it out the best you can. That way you'll buy ingredients that work for multiple meals and won't be surprised when you get to the register.

    - Try building your meal plan around a theme or a type of cuisine. For example, I went into this week with a Mexican-ish theme in mind. This made it easy to buy ingredients that go well together. Of course, you don't have to stick to a theme completely, but it will make meal planning simpler.

    - Choose your meat carefully. Meat is by far the most expensive section of the grocery store. You don't have to cut out meat completely, but try to look for inexpensive cuts of meat. On top of that, supplement with plant-based protein like beans, chickpeas, and tofu.

    - Map out a meal schedule ahead of time for the whole week and follow it. I often get home from work feeling tired and lazy, and if I don't know exactly what I'm cooking, it's straight to the takeout menus. BUT if you plan your meals ahead of time and commit to following a schedule, you'll be set.

    All of the recipes I decided to cook over the course of the week could be made from start to finish in under 25 minutes. That being said, I did some meal prep to make my week easier:

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    - I roasted a big batch of vegetables on Sunday night.

    - I made the breakfast egg muffins and froze the individual muffins for later in the week.

    - I roasted chicken for the chicken thigh bowls.

    - And I chopped vegetables (onion, pepper, scallions, mushrooms) and stored them in airtight containers.

    Rationing my produce to last me the whole week was the most difficult part of planning, so here's an easy cheat sheet for you to rely on:

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    I know it sounds like a lot of recipes for just a few vegetables. In fact, I was skeptical about my own ability to use a single beefsteak tomato in five recipes. But first of all, it was a very big tomato, and also if you use a slice at a time, dice it, and combine it with other vegetables, I swear it doesn't feel like a skimpy portion.

    Now we're officially ready to start cooking.

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    You can find all the recipes for Monday's meals here.

    Breakfast: Make-Ahead Egg Muffin

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    For some reason, I always feel rushed on Monday mornings, so having a make-ahead breakfast I can prepare on Sunday night for the rest of the week is a real help. These don't take a ton of time to make and they are an easy breakfast to prep on Sunday night or Monday morning. You can also customize them with whatever vegetables are in your fridge.

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    The muffin cups cook in the oven for about 20 minutes. To reheat them, just pop them in the microwave (about 20 seconds is all you need). For me, three jumbo eggs made enough to fill at least four muffin cups, so I had enough eggs to make even more muffins, in case you're a big breakfast eater.

    Lunch: Egg Quesadilla

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    I'm a huge fan of quesadillas, especially on Mondays, when I'm always craving comfort food to ease me into the week.

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    You could also use flour tortillas for this recipe (probably the smarter choice for quesadillas since corn tortillas are delicious, but they tend to fall apart a bit when folded). Topped with salsa, these quesadillas ended up being less of a finger food and more of a meal to eat with a fork and knife. You can easily prep the quesadillas in the morning, then just pop them in the microwave to heat them up if you have lunch in an office. If you're at home though, warm them up in a pan to get them nicely crispy.

    Dinner: Crispy Chicken Bowl With Cauliflower Rice

    Not only is this cauliflower rice bowl super satisfying, but it's so easy to double and makes for delicious leftovers. Eat one bowl tonight, and put the other away for later in the week. You can also get creative with spices when you season or marinate the chicken thighs.

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    I love cooking chicken thighs in cast iron because it gets the skin super crispy, but you can also bake them from start to finish in the oven. I let my cast iron skillet get really hot, then I sear the chicken skin-side-down for about 10 minutes until it's crispy. Then I finish it in the oven for 15 minutes.

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    You can find all the recipes for Tuesday's meals here.

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    Breakfast: Avocado Baked Egg

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    This breakfast may look small, but it's full of protein and healthy fats that keep you feeling full. It also takes very little effort to prepare. All you have to do is slice an avocado, crack an egg into it, and pop it into the oven.

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    I like topping mine with a little cheese, salsa, or hot sauce for some more flavor.

    Lunch: Tomato Soup With Gnocchi and Spinach

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    For a three-ingredient lunch that's basically all store-bought, this soup is hard to beat. Plus, it's so comforting it honestly feels homemade. I like spicing it up with whatever condiments I have on hand, like a drizzle of truffle olive oil, a shake of red pepper flakes, or a spoonful of Parmesan cheese.

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    Because you'll have plenty of leftover tomato soup at the end of the week, go ahead and increase the portion to match your hunger level. Then put the rest away for the remainder of the week. This is also a super portable lunch that you can make in the morning or night before.

    Dinner: Chicken Tacos

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    I am obsessed with tacos, but I used to avoid making chicken tacos at home. They always seem to come out sort of dry and unexciting. UNTIL I tried making tacos with chicken thighs. Because they're super moist on the inside and crispy on the outside, they make a really satisfying taco filling that tastes restaurant-quality.

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    This recipe is an awesome way to turn what would be a basic chicken recipe into something that feels different and special.

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    Breakfast: Peanut Butter, Banana, and Yogurt Smoothie

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    The yogurt and peanut butter already give the smoothie a nice, thick consistency, but you can add more peanut butter to make it even thicker. You can also use any kind of milk (dairy or nondairy) instead of water.

    Lunch: Leftover Chicken and Cauliflower Rice Bowl

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    Isn't it the best feeling to not think about making lunch? Thanks to the work I did on Monday night, all I had to do on Wednesday afternoon was grab my lunch from the fridge and pop it in the microwave to reheat it. Today, I decided to spice up the chicken with a little canned tomato sauce, salt, and red pepper flakes.

    Dinner: Ramen With Mushrooms, Scallions, and a Soft-Boiled Egg

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    On its own, packaged ramen feels reminiscent of the cheap meals that probably sustained you in college. But it's easy to upgrade ramen into a meal that actually tastes somewhat gourmet.

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    You can use whatever flavor ramen you like best. I went with the roasted chicken and mushroom kind. Thanks to some fresh vegetables and an egg, you can transform packaged ramen into a meal that feels somewhat nutritious and really satisfying.

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    You can find all the recipes for Thursday's meals here.

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    Breakfast: Breakfast Egg Tacos

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    I always thought of tacos as a lunch or dinner food until a trip to Austin, where I quickly learned that breakfast tacos are quite possibly the most delicious of all.

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    My favorite thing about tacos in general is that they're totally customizeable, so use this recipe as a guideline and feel free to load your breakfast tacos with any of your favorite veggies, condiments, and really whatever is in your fridge.

    Lunch: Leftover Upgraded Ramen

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    Yesterday's leftovers are today's treasure. Last night's ramen tasted just as good for lunch today, and it was great having my work lunch ready to grab and go. I had enough ramen leftover to fill up a second bowl, but if you think you might need more, grab another package of ramen. It only costs a few cents, after all. I could have premade a second soft-boiled egg and stored it in the fridge overnight, but I chose to make another so it tasted perfectly fresh.

    Dinner: Pasta Salad With Roasted Vegetables

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    Tonight was sort of a meal-prep night. I roasted the remaining half of sweet potato and the rest of the mushrooms in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I also made a big batch of rigatoni, knowing I would be eating it over the weekend.

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    Pasta salad is one of my favorite go-to recipes because you can really use whatever you have in the fridge to whip up something tasty. And you don't need any fancy condiments: A little olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes go a long way. This recipe makes a hefty portion, so I stored half the pasta salad in an airtight container for leftovers.

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    You can find all the recipes for Friday's meals here.

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    Breakfast: Make-Ahead Egg Muffin

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    I'd frozen my leftover egg muffins at the beginning of the week, so I put one in the refrigerator to defrost on Thursday night. When I woke up on Saturday morning, breakfast was waiting for me. I topped the egg muffin with sliced avocado and a spoonful of salsa for a kick.

    Lunch: Tuna & Veggie Wrap

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    I happen to love tuna fish, but if you're not a fan, you could make this wrap with mashed chickpeas or any kind of deli meat. One can of tuna fish could have easily filled two tortillas, but I chose to make one wrap and eat the rest of the tuna on the side. This is also very easy to make at home and pack for work or assemble right at the office in a few minutes.

    Dinner: Shakshuka

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    Ever since traveling to Israel, I've become completely obsessed with shakshuka. This Middle Eastern/North African dish is usually eaten for breakfast, but it's so savory and filling, it makes a perfectly acceptable dinner. You can spice it up with whatever you have in your pantry, like cayenne, paprika, and red pepper flakes. I topped mine with a little leftover avocado and some scallions.

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    You can find all the recipes for Saturday's meals here.

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    Breakfast: Cheater's Chilaquiles

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    This Mexican brunch dish was basically invented as a way to use up leftovers, so it's perfect for an end-of-the-week meal. Traditionally, chilaquiles are made by frying leftover tortillas and topping them with salsa and eggs until soft, but I opted for an easy version that's way less time-consuming and intensive, but still really tasty.

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    I topped a toasted tortilla with refried beans, some sautéed veggies, a fried egg, avocado, and salsa, and it couldn't have been a better way to start the weekend.

    Lunch: Leftover Pasta Salad

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    Thursday night's dinner is today's lunch. TBH, I always feel like pasta salad improves over the course of a day or two. I tossed the leftovers in a little more olive oil, red pepper flakes, and a tiny bit of lemon juice.

    Dinner: Crispy Chicken Thighs With Gnocchi

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    This was one of my absolute favorite meals of the week. I usually eat out on Saturday nights, so I wanted to cook something that felt a bit special and more like something I'd order at a restaurant. Also, store-bought gnocchi is a total gem to keep in the pantry because it instantly transforms any meal into something that feels fancy, even when it's cooked in a really simple sauce. Combined with the crispy chicken (and a glass of wine), this meal was really satisfying and tasted like a step above the ordinary.

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    You can find all the recipes for Sunday's meals here.

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    Breakfast: Peanut Butter & Banana Wrap

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    Despite it being simple, there are few better combinatios than peanut butter and banana. You can eat this breakfast open-faced, roll it up like a wrap, or slice it into sushi-like pieces. And you can get creative with any extras in your kitchen, like granola or yogurt.

    Lunch: Make-Ahead Egg Muffin & Tomato Soup

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    I transfered my last egg cup to the fridge on Saturday night so that it could defrost and be ready for breakfast on Sunday morning. Since I woke up a bit hungry, I also heated up some leftover creamy tomato soup.

    Dinner: Pasta in Tomato Sauce With Spinach & Mushrooms

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    Nothing cures the Sunday scaries like a bowl of pasta. If you have any leftover veggies from the week, you could always finish them up here, and depending on what's in your kitchen, you could spice this meal up with some garlic, Parmesan cheese, or even some caramelized onions.

    Whether you're hoping to try this meal plan at home or you're just curious how it went, here are some takeaways:

    - The hardest part of all was coming up with a meal plan that was both budget-friendly and still exciting to eat. But once I'd successfully mapped out my meals, the rest was easy.

    - Having a well-thought-out meal plan helped me stay focused. Sure, there were moments I was tempted to skip cooking and pick up dinner on my way home from work, but since everything was mapped out for me, I felt compelled to stick with my cooking.

    - While none of these recipes took longer than 30 minutes, I could have saved even more time by meal prepping more. I could have cooked all the chicken thighs on one night and chopped my vegetables at the beginning of the week. Ultimately, though, this meal plan doesn't require a ton of meal prep.

    - I saved a ton, and the week put my spending habits into perspective. It's easy to lose track of how much I spend on meals throughout the week. It wasn't until I stuck to a $40 budget that I realized how much excess cash I usually spend on food. For example, I could easily order in $30 of sushi without thinking too much of it. But now that I've cooked an entire week of meals for $40, I realize how silly those spending habits can be.