I’m out of the house for at least ten hours a day. Jana works late shifts that give her little time to cook dinner before she needs to go to bed. Most days? We have two options: cook real food and immediately go to bed, or eat something pre-made and spend some time unwinding. The first option’s a lot easier for our budget, but the second option’s better for our stress levels. So here’s what we do to split the difference:

Food Prep For Busy People

The internet has a raging erection for mass food prep, but for a lot of people it’s a less than practical idea. For us, since we don’t own tupperware (the joys of moving!) and we’re on a tight budget, we can only prepare food a couple days in advance. We rely on a variety of grains and dried goods, and tend to bake bread a couple times a week.

Dried beans are surprisingly versatile. Refried beans, baked beans, fried bean bread, southern-style bean poutine; the options are endless. Our current go-to is a spiced refried bean mixture diluted into a versatile sandwich spread, somewhere between hummus and chutney.

Breads are, of course, our staple as well. Since Jana works at a restaurant with an active bakery, we almost always have a bevy of breads on hand. And when we run out of those, it’s easy enough for us to whip up a quick batch at home. It’s not the healthiest, since it makes our diets rather carb-heavy, but it makes it easy to hit our calorie requirements.

All together, keeping ourselves fed while we’re working and on the go is fairly easy.

Spicing Things Up

When it comes to more substantial meals, we do our best to mind our budgets. Boneless chicken and ground turkey are two lean options we turn to fairly often for affordable meals, and with the right spices they don’t grow old. Last week, we pulled off a chicken and broccoli stir-fry that cost less than $0.50 a serving. Cheap Walmart chicken, frozen broccoli florets, butter-flavored vegetable shortening, garlic powder, salt, and black pepper; cheap, affordable, and easy to make.

Keeping a cupboard full of dried peppers and a fridge full of chicken breasts cooked in advance makes dinner an easy affair. Combined with fresh-made bread, some bean spread, and whatever herbs or spices that fit the mood, we get by pretty well.

Knowing the enemy

I’m going to say this now: I’d rather go hungry than eat from a vending machine. Which is good, considering the fact that I work right next to a vending machine every day. The only problem with that sentiment is the fact that I don’t have the time to cook every morning and every evening (since, you know, we have a house to tend to). With dishes to do, rooms to clean, personal goods to treat and maintain (expect a rant about maintaining leather goods soon), often times I’m left pulling together my lunch at the last minute and scavenging a dinner while I work in the evening. Often times, it’s hard.

Last week, I survived off from carrots and a hunk of bologna that I stretched out for a couple days, along with some corn tortillas that I pan-fried each morning. Not the most alluring lunch, right? It hit my calorie requirements, but the macros were off and it was less than satisfying overall.

Where do you fall in the cooking versus premade food debate? Do you eat out for lunch when you work long days, or do you tough it out until you can cook dinner?