Thursday, February 18, 2016

Using Gift Cards to Stock Up on Food

Every month at the nursing home where I work we have an All-Staff Meeting. During the meeting they hold a raffle and give away all sorts of little prizes. The most popular prizes are gift cards, and I have won a few in my day. At the last meeting I attended I won a gift card to Olive Garden. I was quite dismayed by the idea, since the nearest Olive Garden restaurant is a 75 mile drive from my house, but then I got to thinking. I had a few gift cards that we had received a few years back as gifts, and if I combined them all I could buy a good amount of food. So, what was the plan? The next time I drove down to the "city" I would order food to go, portion it up when I got home, and use it to fill my freezer with lunches.

Too much Parmesan on my penne? I didn't think so either. 
You could do it with any gift card to a "sit down" restaurant, as long as you are ordering the right stuff. You want to make sure that what you are ordering is something that can be easily reheated, and won't be ruined by the microwave. Probably the best options would be pasta, soups, chicken dishes, or anything saucy served over rice or noodles. If you were planning to eat it within a day or two, you could get a salad and put it in the fridge, just be sure that the dressing is on the side and any toppings that would get soggy, or cause the salad to get soggy, are on the side as well. You can also use your card to purchase side dishes. For example, a card for a Mexican restaurant could buy you shredded meat, rice, beans, or salsa that you could use to make burritos at home. A card for an Asian restaurant could buy you fried rice or lo mein noodles, to which you can add your own meat. Avoid deep fried or breaded food, as it really doesn't reheat well. If you order a steak dinner, order your steak to be cooked a little less than you normally would, put the veggies and potatoes in separate containers to put in your lunch, and slice the steak thin to use in other dishes (put it on pasta, salad, in fried rice or cook it up for steak and eggs in the morning.) There are so many possibilities!

Zuppa Toscana and some crescent rolls from a can.
So, what did I do with my gift cards? I had enough gift cards to order four meals from Olive Garden, and each meal came with a choice of salad or a bowl of soup. I opted for the soup, so I could freeze it for later. My four meals got portioned into 7 lunch-sized portions and put into the freezer. Since the bowls of soup were pretty darn big, I ate one as a meal and portioned the others into six "cup-sized" portions and put them into the freezer. Now, whenever I want to take soup with me for lunch all I need is some bread or a sandwich to go with it! All I did was put the meals into the fridge a few days in advance to thaw, and add a splash of water before I microwaved it. The water will keep it from drying out or getting hard as quickly in the microwave.

Now, I believe that I have some Cafe Rio gift cards somewhere around here...