Four for $40

A Trader Joe’s takedown

As full-time students, it’s important to find ways to be frugal and stretch a budget as far as possible. Additionally, it’s important to find ways to cook and eat nutritious foods on budget and time restrictions. Enter the idea: “Four for $40.” This column features a collection of tips and ideas for how to plan, budget and shop for four recipes under $40. This grocery haul was just under budget at $37.60. 

This week’s adventure begins at Trader Joe’s. Shoppers can first pick two main ingredients: spaghetti and precooked chicken. For the first meal, use Trader Joe’s bolognese sauce. The sauce is tomato-based and full of cooked ground beef. Shoppers can add their own seasonings to the prepared marinara sauce if they prefer, but the bolognese doesn’t need it. 

After cooking the spaghetti, warm up the sauce and prepare a bag of frozen broccoli – adding Trader Joe’s umami and citrusy blend seasonings to the broccoli adds an awesome flavor profile to the meal, too. Then preheat the oven and throw in some Trader Joe’s breadsticks. Plating the food, garnish with some fresh-grated parmesan, a luxury item that is recommended for extra flavor. This meal took about 20 minutes to prepare and yields two to three servings, depending on portions.

For the second recipe the next day, shoppers can use about half of the leftover spaghetti noodles to create a cold, Thai-inspired noodle salad. To make this, chop Persian cucumbers, carrots and peanuts. Toss those into a large bowl with the noodles, and top the noodle salad with Trader Joe’s Asian-style spicy peanut dressing. A great time-saving tip is to use ingredients that come pre-made and are pantry staples. Garnish the salad with cilantro, peanuts and the juice of one lime. This meal is a perfect quick lunch recipe that can be stored in the fridge for a few days or frozen to be eaten another time. The Thai-inspired noodle salad yields two to three servings, depending on portion size.

The third main ingredient shoppers can grab at Trader Joe’s is a tray of pre-cooked, refrigerated chicken called Just Chicken. This chicken is made with the simple seasonings of olive oil, salt and pepper. Simple ingredients means the chicken is flavorful, but it would not overpower extra ingredients, if one chooses to expand the seasonings. Full-time students rarely have the time to cook full meals. Pre-cooked chicken is a great way to save time one would normally spend cooking chicken, as it can be heated up or left cold. 

For the first chicken recipe, open up a bag of Trader Joe’s caesar-style salad. Prep the salad kit and add several strips of Just Chicken to the top of the salad. Remember those breadsticks? We’re eating them again. Warm up the oven, toss them in for five minutes and they’re ready. This chicken caesar salad and breadsticks is the perfect lunch for a busy day. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare this meal and it yields two healthy servings. Generally when eating salads, it is nice to have bigger portions to keep oneself full.

Rounding out the Four for $40 is a delicious chicken bowl using frozen brown rice, which takes about three minutes to cook in the microwave. Layer the rice on the bottom of the bowl, then add the leftover broccoli from spaghetti night, loving the benefit of saving leftovers. Finally, add the Just Chicken and some hoisin sauce, which is a refrigerator staple in many households. Heat up the bowl for about two minutes and voila, shoppers have a healthy, nutritious bowl for dinner. 

It should be noted that these recipes leave extra ingredients to be consumed at other meals or for snacks. The leftover carrots and Persian cucumbers can be eaten with ranch or hummus, both which are common fridge staples. Stay tuned next week to see how to stretch $40 into a Mediterranean theme. 

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