We all know that eating lunch out everyday can be a major money suck. Even if you keep things on the cheap side, you can still spend around $25/week, $100/month, $1200/year. Just think what you could do with that cash if you made the extra effort to take your lunch! The King has made a strong commitment to taking his lunch (and sometimes dinner, too since he works late on Mondays and Tuesdays) to work with him, both saving money and maximizing his working hours. We also pack the Eldest Princess’ lunch during the school year which helps us save money and her eat much more healthfully (I am resisting my strong urge to go on a school lunch rant). But the questions remain, what should you pack? How much should you pack? And what can you do to shave a bit off the cost of bringing lunch from home?
1) What should you pack? Obviously leftovers are the top choice for most. I usually try to make enough for at least one extra serving at dinner for this very purpose. Sometimes this doesn’t work, though. During temperate weather, I marinade and then grill an entire bag of frozen chicken on Mondays. That night we have a dish that features the chicken and then I chop the remaining breasts and store them in the fridge. It’s simple to toss this great lean protein source into a salad, some pasta, or make it into a sandwich. I find that I’m at ease knowing that the chicken is always there as an option if we don’t have enough leftovers.
2) What about beverages? Ditch the juice boxes, sodas, and water bottles. We were purchasing juice boxes to place in the Eldest Princess’ lunch box and then toward the end of the year for both economical and ecological reasons chose to purchase a nice metal travel bottle that we pour bottled juice into instead. It saved us a couple of bucks/week (the bottle paid for itself in only a couple of weeks!) and she enjoyed having milk occasionally or water instead of juice, too. For big people, bring a reusable bottle of tea (my fav), water, or another beverage from home to cut costs. The King actually only drinks water and keeps cups at the office to drink from their filtrating system.
3) Be sure you have enough. Don’t blow your lunch bringing strategy by packing too light. The last thing you want to do is to have a moment of weakness and pay 10x what you should on a vending machine purchase (and probably something you’ll regret eating later, too). Pack snacks like fresh cut vegetables, whole fruits, whole grain crackers and cheese, whole raw nuts, string cheese, yogurt, or granola. Any one of these snacks will still be good later in the week if you don’t get to them on the day you bring them with you.
4) Stash PBJ supplies at the office. If you can, keep a jar of peanut butter and fruit spread in your break room or desk. That way if push comes to shove, you can grab a couple of pieces of bread on the way out the door and have a simple lunch. And more than likely, you’ll have a leftover snack from a day earlier in the week to pair with this childhood favorite. It’s also a great idea to keep some instant oatmeal at work in case you have skipped breakfast because you were pinched for time.
5) Step away from the chips. As tasty as they are, chips and pretzels are not a wise lunch choice. Sure they taste great with your deli sandwich but they are both more expensive than fruits and veggies and leave you feeling hungry only an hour later causing you to eat and spend more in the long run. Choose high quality nutritional foods (lean meats and cheese, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.) that take longer to digest so you stay full longer and keep the munchies at bay.
What about you? Do you have healthy tips for packing a money saving lunch?
Last night’s leftovers go into our lunch box just like yours!
These are all great tips, and I use them all for myself. I have a hard time packing my husband’s lunch though. He’s allergic to nuts, so no PBJ or nuts to munch on. He won’t eat fruit or raw vegetables. He likes just being able to grab his lunch & not have to heat it up, so, no leftovers. It’s a struggle, and I have to break most of these rules to make a lunch for him, but I know whatever I pack will be healthier and cheaper than the alternative- a fast-food value meal.
My most successful lunch strategy so far? A homemade “lunchable” with slices of cheese and summer sausage, crackers, a salty snack, and a sweet snack. Not the healthiest, but better than the alternative (That’s what I keep telling myself!).
Heather Sokol says
My hubby keeps frozen dinners on hand. I know I could pack a lot cheaper (and most days, we still try), but I tell myself a $2 Healthy Choice meal (though I stockup heavily when I get them for less) beats a fast food alternative! He also has a microwave at work and keeps soup & pasta on hand just in case he forgets.