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Finances & Money Frugality

An Illustrated Frugal Lunch

PBJ smileAlmost 1 year ago, I posted Frugal Lunch by my Registered Dietitian wife, Stacie. She put together a sample menu of frugal, yet nutritious, lunches including peanutbutter and jelly (PBJ) sandwiches. Well, since beginning my new job, I’ve been trapped at work and getting out for lunch is just too much of a pain.

Now that I’m stuck in the office during lunchtime, I have begun to rely on a staple diet of PBJ sandwiches (and side dishes) for lunch. In fact, I’ve developed a way to make a work-month’s worth of sandwiches in 25 minutes! I’ll even give you a near-exact price per sandwich for your own budgeting AND step-by-step photos! I’ve even gotten my boss and a classmate to try it just by mentioning my method and they’re hooked!

The Idea

When I worked in PA for 5 months and lived there by myself, I didn’t want to take time to make lunches every morning, and there were no restaurants near our office building. Being the lazy yet resourceful guy that I am, I developed a method where I made a week’s worth of lunch on Sunday night. I just made a whole bunch of PBJ sandwiches at one time and froze them. I would grab 1-2 sandwiches out of the freezer each morning and by lunch they would thaw and still taste perfectly fine.

In the last article, so many people complained that it took too long every morning to make lunch and it’s just not worth it. Well how about taking an average of 2-3 minutes per day for the central part of your lunch instead? At the time, I would only make 1 loaf at a time, but now I make 2 loaves of sandwiches at once. And not counting the time I took to take pictures, this time only took 25 minutes from setup to cleanup.

The Cost

So how much does it cost to make 2 loaves of PBJ sandwiches. In my example, I was able to make 23 sandwiches. I was cheated out of a slice of bread, so I couldn’t make an even 2 dozen. For the jellies, I used a standard Welch’s grape as well as a fancier strawberry jam (for a change of pace).

So here’s the per-sandwich cost roundup using my example:

  • Bread: $0.09. I got 2 loaves of wheat bread for $2. It’s the cheap store brand so the slices are smaller, but you should easily find wheat bread at this price in your local grocery chain.
  • Peanutbutter: $0.12. I used half of a 40oz jar of JIF creamy peanutbutter (so 20oz). I bought it in bulk at Sam’s club ($0.11/oz), but I’ll use the regular price of $0.14 per ounce. So 20oz divided by 23 sandwiches times $0.14 per ounce is 12 cents.
  • Grape Jelly: $0.07. I used 10oz of grape jelly for 12 sandwiches (the other 11 were jam). I also bought the jelly in bulk, but the regular per ounce price for Welch’s is currently 8 cents so I’ll use that.
  • Strawberry Jam: $0.12. I got Knott’s Strawberry Preserves in bulk from Sam’s for $0.13 per ounce and used 10 ounces of it across 11 sandwiches.

Total per grape jelly sandwich: 28 cents
Total per strawberry jam sandwich: 33 cents

That’s $6.99 for a full month of sandwiches! Do you know how much Panera charges for a PBJ sandwich? Well I don’t either because they’re too embarrassed to print it on their website, but I know it’s at least $2-3 from experience!

These are real numbers based on my actual grocery bill, and even rounded up since not everyone buys in bulk. This is even cheaper than Stacie’s original prices because I got the cheaper wheat bread. Also, I won’t count the baggies I used since they’re so cheap, but you might want to use reusable plastic containers or wash the baggies and reuse them.

Step-by-Step Illustrations (and some tips)

If you need more than just numbers, I’m going to lay out every step I went through to make 23 sandwiches. Along the way, though, I found some tips such as:

– Wheat bread doesn’t absorb the jelly juices like white bread, so your sandwich isn’t soggy when it thaws
– Knott’s Strawberry Preserves has some giant strawberries in it. It makes spreading difficult, so I’ll probably skip the preserves next time.
– I recommend stirring up the jelly before spooning it out. It makes spreading it MUCH easier.
– The messiest part is trying to stuff 2 sandwiches into a single baggy, not actually making the sandwiches.

Step One: Lay out the bread. Our kitchen island was a perfect spot to make these sandwiches as you can see.

Step Two: Plop the peanutbutter onto the bread. Of course you want to only put it on half the slices of bread. I put a generous amount on each slice because I really like peanutbutter. You’ll spread out the PB in the next step.

Step Three: Spread the peanutbutter. I do each step for all slices first in a true assembly line fashion. If I spent time making each sandwich in its entirety, I’d get tired of it and probably stop after one loaf.

Step Four: Lay out the jelly. I just dropped a glob of jelly on top of the PB, not the empty slice, because it’s easier to close up the sandwiches when one slice is plain.

Step Five: Spread the jelly. Sounding familiar?

Step Six: Close up the sandwiches. This is the best part because it’s the fastest. just place the lids on each sandwich. A tip is to match up the shape of the top with the bottom so you don’t have unneeded overhang. Oh, and yes I use the crusts.

Step Seven: Bag them up. This is my least favorite part because I cram 2 sandwiches into a single baggy. I used one baggy because it’s less wasteful.

Seriously, it took me 25 minutes, not counting the picture times, to get out all my materials, make them, bag them, put them in the freezer and clean up the counter (watch out for all the crumbs). Now stop complaining that it takes too long to make your lunch. Also, since you’re freezing them, you don’t HAVE to eat PBJ every day, but at least they’re there to grab if you’re in a hurry or know you won’t get out for lunch.

About the author

Clever Dude

73 Comments

  • I hate making PB&J’s for my kids! I am so happy that I found you, Clever Dude! I am making a loaf of PB&Js for the freezer today. What a great idea. You didn’t even mention how helpful it is to put a frozen sandwich in the kids’ backpack in the AM so it is in not hot by lunchtime.

    Now, can you help me find a husband like you?

  • Re: baggies. We used waxed paper bags. We get them at some fancy-schmanzy “Whole Paycheck” store but they can still be ripped apart to use as a plate and/or reused for a future PB&J. They don’t seal, but how about just folding the top over and placing all of the PB&Js in a giant gallon or two-gallon Ziploc freezer bag? Just throwing out ideas. I need to go make 4,000 sandwiches now … luckily I have a chest freezer.

  • @beth, the only time I’ve had Marmite was in a Dublin, Ireland hostel when 2 Aussie travelers gave me a cracker and Marmite pack. It’s like our cheese and cracker packs with that little red, rectangular stick spreader, but with Marmite instead. Wasn’t bad, but Marmite and PB&J are two totally different things: one is salty, one is sweet (with salty too).

  • When we were kids, my dad had custody of all 6 of us (poor guy). Every Sunday evening we’d each have to make up 5 sandwiches of our choosing (PB&J or bologna usually), and put them in the freezer for our lunches for the coming week.

  • that was great, i have never tried pb/j sandwiches, here in Aussie Land, we eat vegemite sandwiches, i have mine with cheese and lettuce, i’m going to make up some pb/j sandwiches tomorrow morning,maybe have one for breaky,thank’s.

  • I can eat the same thing for months as I am a serious creature of habit. My hubby however needs variety. But still, even if *I* just did this…$$$. :) Thanks Dude, I’m going home to make sammiches tonight!

  • I do this all the time. One of the best parts about freezing sandwiches is that they are less likely to get smashed and gross while on your way to work/school. Best tip ever.

  • Here’s a pro tip two years later from my genius little niece: don’t make a top or bottom slice. Instead, do one slice, base layer of peanut butter, then jelly or honey or whatever, and fold over. Fits perfectly into one of those “snack-sized” ziplocs, no fuss, no muss.

  • This is the most retarded thing I have ever seen. I mean really, how lazy can one person be? Making pb & j in advance???? It takes 30 seconds to make a fresh sandwich everyday. Get a life already. :)

  • While this is frugal, it is not healthy! Peanut butter is full of saturated fat, and jelly/jam=high fructose corn syrup. No one said eating healthy was cheap, and if you are willing to trade nutrition to save a few bucks I feel sorry for your kids. Take the time to prepare your children a fresh, healthy lunch daily. That in itself is priceless. And “dread simply labeled “wheat” is not healthy! Whole grains are healthy, and are more expensive… but you get what you pay for.

    Healthy PB & J substitute:

    Whole Wheat Bread, Almond Butter, 1/2 Banana In Slices
    Almond Butter contains half the amount of saturated fat than Peanut Butter, so it’s a great choice! The banana stands in for the jelly and adds fiber, as well as cutting down the sugar.

  • I’ve done it & I love it. And it takes more time to repeatedly pull out all ingredients every morning than it does to do it all in bulk. @lazy is obviously single with no kids & probably has all the time in the world.

  • You don’t have to do this with JUST PB&J. you can also use Bologna & cheese, eggs, sausage, ham almost anything. You can do sides too like fruit portions, veggie portions and other things, While this is a great idea, it isn’t “New” my mother did this for me 30 years ago so she didn’t have to pack a lunch every day I just chose a sandwich and a couple sides, threw it in a bag and by lunchtime…. it was all ready and it’s always more frugal to do lunches this way. lol although it takes up more room in your freezer and you may need a larger one :) thanks for the info though..

  • Well I think this is a great idea!
    My kids (and Husband) are much, much, MUCH more likely to grab something that is already packaged up & ready to go…I mean that is why prepackaged convenience foods at the store are so appealing isn’t it?

    I have seen those little round PB&J things in the freezer section at my store…I have no idea how much they cost but I am sure it is ridiculous!

    This way everyone can grab & go, and I don’t have to clean up a sticky mess every day because I swear it is impossible to make a pb&j without getting sticky everywhere (atleast for my kids that is).

  • I know it is cheap to make your own sandwiches than buying at the grocery or at the fast food but hey, can you make some variants as I can’t stand eating the same kind of sandwiches for the whole month. Maybe add a ham or bacon with it.

  • OK, now you have another problem to overcome. This is taking way too long. 25 minutes for 23 sandwiches is more than 65.21 seconds each. Let’s think through, because there are likely some unnecessary movements in your production line. Maybe just lay out 1/2 the bread for spreading; the other half stays in a stack until you are ready to put the top slice on. I also wonder if instead of spreading the p & j, you couldn’t just dip the bread into it….then you don’t have to lay them out at all. Just some ideas.

    What do you calculate as the price per sandwich you are paying for the plastic bags? That can add up fast even with two per bag. I would suggest one big bag–or better yet, put them all back in the bread sack. Then take the whole set of them to your freezer at work. I share a fridge with only five others, so there is always plenty of space.

  • Oh, thought of another good one in case you don’t want to dip the bread into the p or j. Just use your hand to spread it instead of a knife. Knives are too slow, while hands are good at scooping and moderating the right amount of thickness. For sanitation you can put a plastic bag over your hand. That does add some cost back in though for the extra bag.

  • Damn health Nazis they are friggin everywhere now. His wife is a Nutritionist
    and he is eating peanut butter and jelly to save money and pay off debts.
    Will it kill him? Hell no. So shut up already and go follow people around in the grocery store and tell them how bad their choices are.

    I think I will go fry some tortillas and eat them with some NON organic salsa and drink it with a diet coke with Splenda in it. Insert raspberry here. :)

  • Gee, I don’t think I have room in my side-by-side frig/freezer for this many sandwiches, but this is commendable.

    I was one of 12 kids growing up. My mom would enlist one of us kids to make 12 white bread P&J sandwiches every night, pack them in a brown paper sack with 2 stale store-bought cookies and a piece of unripe hard fruit. Nobody wanted to trade with me in the lunchroom. I am not fond of P&J sandwiches to this day.

    I like to eat. It’s one of the few pleasure in my day. More importantly I simply love to cook.

    From the dinner leftovers we pack full nutritious lunches for the next day. We’re the envy of our coworkers and eat much more healthy than they do because they eat out many days a week.

  • That makes me want to throw up just looking at it. I ate so many PBJs in school that if never see another one it will be too soon.

    But, to each his or her own…

  • LOVE THE POST!

    5 things to make this cheaper, healthier, greener:

    1. ONE PIECE of bread folded over OR ONE slice of bread cut in 1/2. It feels like the FULL thing, but saves you calories and MULLAH!

    2. Homemade peanut butter or almond butter by purchasing the nuts in bulk and making all at once. (Its a matter of opening the food processor/blender and putting the peanuts, salt, and oil in – EASY PEASY! Quicker and cheaper than a trip to the grocer. http://www.wisebread.com/homemade-peanut-butter-recipe or http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=358)

    3. Reusable sandwich bags. Super cheap and easy, especially if you make them. Saves on the cost of sandwich bags, plastic wrap, and since you may be tossing the plastic (hope not, please reuse and recycle) you are filling up your garbage can, using more bags, which cost you more. http://newlifeonahomestead.com/2009/06/make-your-own-reusable-sandwichsnack-bags/ or http://www.craftstylish.com/item/43227/how-to-make-a-reusable-sandwich-wrap

    4. Make your own bread. Will cost about $2-4 for 3 LOAVES of ORGANIC whole wheat bread. No bread machine required, tons of recipes around the net. http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/simple-whole-wheat-bread/Detail.aspx or http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/whole-wheat-honey-bread/Detail.aspx

    5. Make your own jelly. Will be about $1.90/jar for organic jelly http://www.pickyourown.org/makejellyfromjuice.htm

  • Most of this last school year I have been sending my 7 year old to school with the Uncrustables variety of pbj. It’s a really small sandwich and you only get 4 for like $3. So I am glad I found this method. But if I pull it out of the freezer in the morning around 6:30am would it be defrosted by lunch at noon or should I move a sandwich from the freezer to fridge the night before and then into the lunch bag in the morning?