Alright, so you’ve planned your menu and done your grocery shopping. Now what? In your menu (especially if you’re following the notepad I shared in the first post), I hope you included something to pack for your lunch. If not, leftovers make great lunches! However, I’m personally not a fan of eating a hot, heavy meal in the middle of the day, which is usually what leftovers means for us. Instead, we prefer to have lunches that are ready to go or only need minimal preparation in the morning, to throw in a lunchbag and head out the door. For so many reasons, I encourage you to do the same. Controlling what you eat in the middle of the day can make a difference in your energy levels and productivity at work. Or if you’re still a student, it can take some of the stress out of making the time and finding where to grab lunch. No matter what stage of life you’re in, packing a lunch can be less intimidating and more creative than you imagine!
How-to: Pack A Lunch
So we’re all grown up now which means no more homemade lunches packed by mom to enjoy at school. Or maybe it means no more lunch lines with mysterious food – hooray! I think the art of learning to pack your own lunch is one that gets skimmed over in adulthood because frankly it’s easier to just go buy something. If you work somewhere where you get an hour lunch break or there’s a cafeteria, what else should you do with that time? It makes sense how many people I know go and grab a lunch in the middle of the day. Trust me: I get it. If we were on less of a budget, I’d imagine I would be less concerned with eating out for lunch, too. But we’re on a fairly tight budget and as a result, Will has really gotten creative about what he makes for our lunches!
I know it sounds silly that I’m indicating that adults need to learn how to pack their lunch. But in reality, how many of you pack and bring your lunch every single day of the week? I’m guessing that we’re in the minority here. Have you ever considered how much money you spend on eating out for lunch per week? Let’s estimate you spend about $10 per lunch per day. You’re spending around $50 per week, just to have lunch prepared for you. That’s upwards of $200 a month on one type of meal (types being breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack). Over the course of a year, that adds up to $2600! And that doesn’t even include your daily morning coffee/breakfast run, which is easily another $25-30 a week or up to $1500/year. Or if you eat out for dinner, you’re looking at another $15-20 per day. Multiply that by two people if you’re in a relationship and you’re looking at up to $9300/year being spent on eating out (and that just includes weekdays). To put that in perspective, Will and I usually spend $350/month on all of our groceries, total. That’s anywhere between $60-90/week to feed ourselves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day which ends up being about $4600/year, total for food. Think about it. You could cut that lunch bill in half just by packing each day of the week! Think of how much more you could contribute to your retirement savings. Excuse me while I go cry in excitement for all the money you could save from reading this! All it takes is a little planning, a little prepping, and potentially packing the night before. I promise it’s that easy. Read on to learn more.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the lunches we make aren’t your momma’s PB&J made with love and sweet notes in your lunchbox. We tend to make protein-rich, grain and veggie “salads.” To help you find a starting point for brainstorming your lunches, here are some of our favorites ranked from “Easy” to “Time-Consuming.”
As you can see, lunch doesn’t have to be boring! Our typical lunch schedule is to take advantage of our Sunday afternoons to prep all the ingredients or the entire lunch, if it’s something like Tabouleh, and then stick it in the fridge. When we’re both home, Will usually gets up and packs our lunches for us while I shower (or vice versa depending who needs to be out the door first), with both breakfast and lunch, plus a little snack for the afternoon. While living alone this summer, I’ve been coming home for lunch most days since I work so close to our apartment, but on the days where I have something that prevents doing that, I get up 10 minutes earlier to pack breakfast, lunch and my snack. Those 10 minutes make all the difference in the world. The reason it’s easy to pull all the food together in 10 minutes, though, is because everything has been prepared. There’d be no way if we were trying to make the food in the morning! And if you know your morning doesn’t have time to prepare a lunch, pack it the night before. Just make sure if you have some sort of dressing, that you stick it in another small container (unless it’s a Mason Jar Salad, where it can safely hang out in the bottom of the jar) so it doesn’t make your food soggy before morning!
Besides being a frugality choice to pack lunch, it’s also a health-conscious decision. Even if our lunch isn’t the healthiest, we at least have control over what the portion size is and how many veggies we’re getting into that meal. But we wouldn’t have this kind of control over what we eat if we didn’t prepare. Are you sensing a theme yet? Packing your lunch follows the same principles as meal planning and grocery shopping. A little investment in time and resources can go a long way. For lunches like a Healthy Mason Jar Salad, all you have to do is make sure your veggies are cleaned and chopped. If you have enough jars, you could even pack two to three days in advance! And maybe that salad doesn’t look as enticing as a burrito or gourmet sandwich, but at least you know how much it cost and what’s in there! To me, that’s the most important part of packing my own lunch. No need to waste money and calories on food that you can make at home!
In summary, here are some lunch-packing tips:
1. Prepare foods on the weekend so they’re ready for the week
2. Prepackage any ingredients/meals you can, in jars/Pyrex/Tupperware
3. Pack in the morning or before bed, depending on your schedule
4. Feel free to be creative and think beyond normal sandwiches
5. Avoid being tempted by heavier meal options/eating out, which cost money and zap energy
We hope this is useful in sparking some creativity when it comes to packing your lunch. Remember: worst case, you throw some leftovers in a jar and take it into work. For your health and your wallet, please consider packing a lunch instead of eating out every day! We know not everyone is interested in enjoying a homemade meal at lunchtime, but if you find it difficult, I hope these tips and recipes can spur some creativity for you. Leave any questions in the comments section and we’ll be happy to offer any insight we might have, from our experience 🙂