Maybe you're recently out-of-work. Maybe school has shut down and confined you to your apartment.

Maybe you're working from home for the second consecutive week. Whatever's happened, you're likely, for the first time, needing to plan, prepare, and consume all your weekly meals from the confines of your kitchen. It's a taxing prospect, especially since grocery stores are infected zones to be avoided whenever possible. There are other options on the table, but many of us are priced out of grocery delivery services through Amazon or Peapod, or otherwise can only make it worthwhile by buying in bulk.

For those reasons, it's vital to keep fridges and pantries stocked for as long as you can, for as little money as possible, without settling for pasta so often that it plumps you up like a Christmas goose by the time this is over. So, here are five easy ways not only to stretch your money as far as possible, but also keep your meals varied, relatively healthy, and long-lasting.

1. The Ol' Slow-Cook-and-Freeze

Physically cooking requires constant focus and multitasking. But there's no cheaper and healthier way to cook than when you prepare meals yourself, using ingredients you've decided on. But cooking, while cathartic to some can be a hassle. Enter slow-cooker.

A slow-cooker, crockpot, or pressure cooker will suffice. As long as you can put food in it and then leave it alone to cook, the thing you're thinking of will be a perfect tool. Thats not just because it requires only preparatory steps—cut vegetables, thaw chicken breast, choose sauces, cover, wait—but because these things make a ton of food. Since the smallest size slow-cooker still allows six-quarts of ingredients, you're looking at a week's worth of meals (if you can make them last that long).

The freezer is your friend. Put stews in deli containers; tupperware meats indefinitely. Just as bulk-buying minimizes miscellaneous charges like delivery and service fees, bulk-cooking minimizes prep time, maximizes meal amount, and lets you cook cheap and simple ingredients like potatoes, turnips, or radishes in really interesting ways.

2. Rice (and Grains)

Let rice be your culinary staple because rice is cheap. You will find bagged rice in all sorts of uncooked varieties: brown, black, wild, forbidden, long-grain, basmati, jasmine, white. If you have a rice-cooker, you are likely already aware of the beauty freshly-cooked rice exudes. But even amateurs need no more than a pan, heat, and tap water, to cook huge amounts of rice in short amounts of time. Directions are on the bag and differ based on rice type, amount, and company, but heed them. Just two cups of rice, usually about half an average bag, will provide multiple-day's worth of sustenance.

If you're health-conscious, quinoa can be prepared and stored similarly, although at a bit more premium price point.

3. Potatoes

"Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew," says Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, describing his personal precious. Potatoes are the MVP of foods because they can take so many different forms, be prepared in so many different ways, and last forever. Small potatoes (fingerlings, butterballs, etc.) can be easily boiled in bulk and thereafter last for a week in the fridge, serving dutifully as sides or meal bases or as simple, salted snacks. Sacks of potatoes, while heavy, are low-cost, and because it's rather easy to cut them, dice them, boil them, smash them, microwave them, or bake them, you can conceivably have a different form of the world's greatest starch for every meal for a week or more.

4. Canned Foods

Buy canned vegetables. Buy canned beans. Buy canned anything. Canned foods get a bad rap because their containers are often dinged and un-lasciviously-colored, but the food inside is allowed to marinate in its own juices and keeps for years. A can of beans can be a meal all on its own, usually for somewhere close to 99 cents. Get a couple cans of beans and a bag of rice and find yourself understanding why rice and beans is a beloved culinary staple the world over.

Be careful intaking too much sodium (many canned foods will have separate low-sodium versions), but with a little bit of extra time in the aisle, you can leave the store with pounds of delicious and nutritious foods to keep around for snacks (canned corn always hits the spot and goes shockingly well in guacamoles) or as meals unto themselves.

5. Vegetable-Based Proteins

Plant-based protein options are comparable in price to meat, keep longer, require far-less preparation, and are more versatile. Whether it's veggie-or-bean-based burgers, vegan sausage crumbles, faux chicken, or garden-variety tofu, the plant-based protein industry is coming up with new ways to pique our salivary glands daily. Vegetable-based options are easily thrown into any dish for extra protein and generally require no more than a quick pan saute to show their true flavors. Freezing meat is not a bad option, but that strategy requires large amounts of meat to be cooked at once, and it's generally inadvisable to re-freeze already cooked food. In contrast, vegan food can be kept for months or more.

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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