We were four guys who roomed and ate pre-made meals together in a fourth-floor walk-up near our university. This was quite a few years ago, and cost of living was considerably lower then. For instance, the total rent was $100 a month for a tiny three-room apartment.
Among the four of us were ex-Army, Marine and Navy, and the GI Bill paid each of us $100 a month ($30 of it went for rent and utilities), plus free tuition and supplies. We supplemented our incomes with some night and weekend jobs, but money was always tight. We couldn’t afford on-campus meals, even at the reasonable $3 to $5 each charged in those days.
We four young, healthy guys were always on the go. Carrying a full credit load and with jobs, we needed three substantial meals a day. It was for up to six days a week, so even if we had wanted to dine out several times a month, it would have eaten up too much of our money from the GI Bill and part-time earnings. The logical solution was pre-made meals.
Putting together pre-made meals became our way to get healthy lunches, and sometimes breakfasts and dinners, for about a dollar per serving. We were extremely lucky that one of our roomies came from a family of chicken farmers who lived only 100 miles away. He went home just about every weekend, and came back Sunday nights with at least one, often two, pre-baked whole fresh chickens.
Each free chicken made four generous servings, usually for Sunday dinner. Sometimes pre-made lunches on Mondays were left-over chicken salads or sliced chicken sandwiches. However, we often needed a combined total of 70 meals a week, and the chickens went only so far.
We could have bought pounds of baloney, jars of mustard, gallons of milk and loaves of sliced bread to supply most of those pre-made meals. In fact, we sometimes did that during exam week or other very busy times. However, we wanted healthy foods whenever possible.
To get nutritious menus for our pre-made meals, we rotated duties. Two guys were assigned shopping, and the other two were chefs. We already had fresh chicken once a week for a dinner and sometime for one lunch menu. So we shopped for other high protein/low calorie foods, including lean meats, canned and fresh fish, eggs, veggies, cheese, nuts and fruit.
We used some in sandwiches, but also bought plastic containers with snap-on lids that would each hold a single healthy lunch serving of fish, meat, egg, fruit and/or veggie salad. Lunch came with a one-serving bottle of milk or tomato, grape or orange juice. The cost for each brown-bag lunch, and often breakfast and dinner, too, except for free chicken once a week, was always kept as close to a dollar a person as possible.
Because we were young guys, we could have used some of our funds for candy, cake, pie, crackers, ice cream, chips, beer and pretzels. However, with everyone’s agreement, that money had to come solely from each guy’s part-time earnings, not from the general fund for pre-made meals. I believe we developed habits then of snacking on healthy celery stalks, carrots, apples and oranges instead of the highly-sugared stuff. It has stayed with me ever since.
Even after all this time, whenever the guys get together, we brag about how we made it through four years of college with just some gift chickens and hundreds of pre-made delicious and nutritious one-buck brown-bag meals.