Spend Less And Stay Thinner By Making Yourself Better Lunches

“I need to pack my lunch more often” is a favorite phrase of those who spend more than they should on high-calorie lunches most workdays, and continue to do so despite their inner protests. Even if serial lunch-buyers make an effort to pack their lunch for a while, they soon revert to those old ways.

Sense of Cents reasons that the main reason it’s tough to stick with a sack lunch plan is because the meals are often so boring. Rushed decisions made amid the bustle of getting ready for work lead to bland meals that make a trip to a fast food joint seem enticing.

The writer has pledged to test her theory by putting more effort into making her lunches more inventive and diverse to see if she can shake her habit of eating out. With enough forethought, lunchtime can become a treat rather than a burden, drowning out the siren song of fast food.

Do you bring your lunch to work? [Sense of Cents]


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  1. Rebecca K-S says:

    I’m a dedicated lunch bringer, but it’s definitely a pain in the ass when you have access to neither a fridge nor a microwave. It’s hard to get myself excited about yet another lunch of apple, carrot sticks, and pumpkin seeds. Even though I really really love pumpkin seeds.

    • pop top says:

      What about springing for a nice lunch pail? You can get an insulated one and add an ice pack to keep everything nice and cool.

      • Cat says:

        Add a thermos for hot stuff!

        • AD8BC says:

          Thanks for reminding me of the classic “blonde” joke:

          “Blonde” walks into a store and sees a man pouring coffee from a thermos. She asks him what it is and he says “It’s a Thermos. It keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” She is intrigued and purchases one.

          The next day at work, another “Blonde” asks her what it is. “It’s a Thermos. It keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” The second “Blonde” asks her what she has inside of it. “Two cups of coffee and a popsicle”

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        Yeah, I’ve thought about it, but it’s just not the kind of bulk I feel like adding to the backpack I already carry around for several miles of walking every day. And I’m more annoyed by the lack of microwave. :-P

        Though if I really wanted to hunt one down, I’m sure I could.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      Why do you need a fridge? I bring mayo/meat/cheese sandwiches to work every day and have never had a spoilage problem. Americans worry too much about such things.

      • tooluser says:

        Europeans avoid bathing.
        Americans avoid eating spoiled food.

        Which behavior is more offensive?

      • OutPastPluto says:

        If you are worried about “spoilage”, simply use an insulated lunch bag and a pack of blue ice. You can take that idea up a notch and have a small cooler that’s not much larger than an old school adult metal lunch box.

  2. sponica says:

    I used to do PBJs every day of the week (except Fridays, that was Happy Meal Friday) or I’d do leftovers from dinner the night before.

    Also, taking 10 minutes the night BEFORE to pack lunch makes the morning that much less hectic.

    • Quirk Sugarplum says:

      Agreed on taking time the night before!

      Rushing out the door as I usually do, stopping to improvise lunch makes for some really horrible choices – both in taste and health impact. It’s a hard habbit to break, but very worth it.

      I failed to do so yesterday and had to play Vending Machine Roulette today! o/

      • sponica says:

        I’m by nature a person who wants to sleep as LATE as possible, so if I can take 5-10 minutes the night before I try to do so….

    • ilovemom says:

      At my first job after graduating I forced myself to eat only PB&J for lunch for a year to pay off some credit card debt. I’m not sure how much it helped pay off the debt, but I really learned to hate PB&J from it. Ten years later and I’ve just gotten over that trauma.

  3. Lethe says:

    I’m lucky. My office building comes complete with a fully stocked kitchen – fridge, stove, and 2 microwaves. Usually my lunches are leftovers from the night before.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Mine too. We try to keep sandwiches to one or two a week to break up the monotony of eating leftovers all the time or sandwiches all the itme. And we allow ourselves to go out for lunch once a week.

    • bsh0544 says:

      I am jealous. We have a refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, and toaster. More than once my coworkers and I have talked about bringing in a camp stove or induction burner to fry something up for lunch, and I’ve considered baking something in the toaster oven on a Friday when I’m here by myself.

  4. pop top says:

    My favorite meal is pretty boring, but I like sandwiches. I change things up a bit by mixing chili powder in the mayo or adding a few dashes of oregano. It’s easy to make, the ingredients are cheap, and it can be as healthy as you need it to be.

    And I guess I’ll ask since Phil was incredibly rude and didn’t end his article on a question: What is your favorite lunchtime meal?

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      I’m very simple with my sandwiches- meat and cheese with mayo ( veggies make my sammich soggy). I like to mix it up by getting unique cheeses, breads and meats. Sometimes I’ll have a salami and colby jack sammich on focaccia bread, sometimes leftover chicken and cream cheese on toasted wheat bread.

      • cybrczch says:

        If you like veggies but don’t like the sogginess, a few tricks:
        1) butter or mayo the bread to act as a moisture barrier
        2) put the veggies between the meat and the cheese as an additional barrier
        3) wrap the veggies separately (in a little cling wrap or aluminum foil) and add them right before you eat.

  5. Quirk Sugarplum says:

    I’m already buying the cheapest luncheon scotch at the store, and I’m limiting myself to just one can. Not sure how much more I can cut back.

    • ilovemom says:

      Have you considered lighting your cigars with $20’s rather and $100’s? I switched a while back, and after you get over the initial shame and embarrassment you really start to see the value of it. That, and get your monocles polished weekly instead of daily. You’ll be back to single malt in no time!

  6. Cat says:

    I blame my food for making me fat.

    I always bring my lunch, but I also can’t shake my habit of eating out.

  7. May contain snark says:

    I generally have to bring my own lunch due to dietary restrictions. Win/win situation. I save money and don’t feel like shit because I ate something I shouldn’t have.

  8. Ratty says:

    I always try and cook four portions for supper for two people. Two for meals then, two for lunches. problems arise when it’s something that doesn’t keep well or transport well. but I definitely have been buying more lunches lately and I don’t like that.

  9. smo0 says:

    I know more people who do this just because they can’t afford to eat out during lunch. Some don’t eat lunch at all.
    I was unemployed for an entire year before I got my current job (work at home) :D so I make my own lunches.

  10. bugpaste says:

    I’ve been a dedicated lunch-bringer for years and years but it was usually something frozen. In the last year or so I’ve switched over almost entirely to things I make myself. It doesn’t take that much effort and I like my cooking much more than I like Healthy Choice’s.

    I save time by looking for recipes that serve six, cooking on Sunday afternoons, and eating the same thing all week. So sure it’s a little repetitious, but after the week’s up I probably won’t make that same thing again for a couple of months. I love recipes that are some combination of grain + vegetables + protein source in one pot. Add a piece of fruit and I’m set.

  11. etz says:

    I find that when I bring my lunch, I end up eating it all by 10am, then I still go out to lunch. I’m losing weight and saving money how exactly?

  12. mcs328 says:

    I have the same problem. I make the effort but fall back to my old ways. We have two microwaves, two refrigerators and a toaster oven. Still when I open the fridge there’s no place to put my bag lunch. There usually something leaking or sometimes it full of a weeks worth of food for one person or two people each.

    • pop top says:

      Then your office needs to institute a cleaning rotation for the fridges and crate a policy that everything must have a name and date, and anything that it over X weeks’ old will be thrown out. Also state that it is not for grocery storage and that people can’t put large amounts of food in it.

  13. sadie kate says:

    I lost my job during my pregnancy (too sick to work), so we had to greatly reduce our household expenses. I started packing my husband’s lunches, which saved us several hundred dollars a month, because he used to eat out every day. He’s also dropped about 20 pounds. He wound up getting a better job with a 50% pay increase after a few months of our austerity measures, but we continue to do the packed lunches.

  14. arsenicookie says:

    i bring my lunch most of the time too (usually leftovers). I’m lucky enough to have a microwave at work so i also stock up on cheap frozen dinners. The temptation to buy junk food is still strong so i usually try to bring my own snacks.

  15. Donathius says:

    I work for a large university. It’s sooooo easy to just say “I’m going to go to the food court” and get Subway, Taco Bell, Grill, Pasta, Pizza, etc. (we even have Hawaiian food!). I’ve been making a real effort the last 2 months to bring my lunch to work. We’ve saved about $200 so far and I’ve lost 8 pounds. Definitely a nice cost/benefit.

    • CubeRat says:

      You are lucky. We have a small cafeteria that is closing for its annual Christmas holiday. It closes at noon on Friday, Dec 16 and opens again Jan 3. There are no other options here, there are no places to eat nearby. So now 100 + people will be trying to use 2 microwave & 2 frigs to store lunches.

      PB & J and fruit for the next 2 weeks.

    • lettucefactory says:

      Me too – I work for a decent-sized university, and my office is literally on top of a food court. I make an effort to pack lunches and I often succeed, but it’s really hard to resist all that greasy food RIGHT THERE. I was slimmer when I worked in an office that didn’t have any cafeteria on site, for sure.

  16. cameronl says:

    This strategy was part of my plan that let me lose 75lbs last year. Packing a sensible lunch (using 1-cup sized containers to limit my portions), plus no cash for the vending machine, meant I slashed my caloric intake. Cutting out liquid calories (unfortunatly that included beer) also helped a lot. Watched what I ate at dinner. Made sure I ate breakfast. Walked an hour a day without fail. Fat just melted away.

    Woo Hoo! I weigh less than I did in college!

  17. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    Just Bento is pretty awesome, and while some may scoff at eating things at room temperature, I haven’t had issues with it yet. Yes even with mayo. Yes even with meat. Yes even with meat cut to look like little octopii (octopodes?)

    • RedOryx says:

      I always find Bento lunches so fascinating to look at and they also sound yummy, they just seem like a lot of work.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Yeah bento!

      The bf gave me a bento box for my birthday. It has a thermos container in it that I can put soup or rice in. I usually end up eating the rice mid-morning anyway. I have to eat something then or my stomach hurts (hiatal hernia).

      As far as snacks, rather than hit the vending machine, I try to bring stuff like apples and oatmeal. I recently discovered Honeycrisp apples *HAAAALLLLELUUJAH!!* They are the most amazing apples ever, and when I bite one and then have to answer 15 phone calls, don’t even turn brown.

      • Cat says:

        I bought an apple tree on clearance 3 years ago for about $10. HONEYCRISP! I got about 1/2 bushel last fall. Yummy.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      If I forget to put lunch items in the ‘fridge at work, it’s not refrigerated for maybe 4 – 5 hours. I’ve never died or been sick as a result. Especially if it’s a sandwich, an apple, and some cheese, it’s a non-issue.

      I work at a university, which gives me a number of pretty affordable options. It’s easy to eat lunch for $5-6, and it’s not uncommon to get free food. That said, it definitely adds up. I don’t mind eating left-overs for a couple days, but I’m usually working hard to get my son to school on time. When I put left-overs into lunch-sized containers, it’s a lot easier to grab something on the way out.

  18. RedOryx says:

    I pack everyday. I make stuff on Saturday or Sunday and put it in containers. Lunches get packed the night before, so there are no “rushed decisions made amid the bustle of getting ready for work.”

    Bonus: I always make stuff that has freezable left overs, so after a few weeks I have a week’s worth of meals again without having to do anything.

  19. CrankyOwl says:

    Meh. Sandwiches I make for myself always seem boring. They taste better when somebody else makes them.

  20. weathergirl says:

    I can’t imagine going out for lunch every single day. Then again, I’m a grad student (though I do have a generous stipend, as grad student stipends go). I live by myself, so whenever I cook anything, I’m eating it for days anyway. So I just make interesting and/or delicious things that I don’t mind eating for 3 days. The days I bring sandwiches are usually the days when someone wants to go out, and I say “Oh well, I’m not excited about my lunch…sure, I’ll tag along!”

  21. axolotl says:

    I find that I save even MORE money by just picking stuff out of other peoples’ lunches in the fridge. A cheese stick here, an apple there, half a serving of pasta, etc..

    It’s free, there’s lots of variety, and I don’t have to think about packing anything in the morning. It’s a win/win/win situation!

    • Cor Aquilonis says:

      If you did that to me at my office, you would find yourself enjoying laxative spiked food very regularly. Lucky you don’t work with me.

  22. dolemite says:

    My wife packs my lunches. Usually a dry sandwhich, some chips, and an apple. After eating that, I usually run to the vending machine for a snickers.

  23. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    My largest issue is that the containers never make it out of my car and back into the house.

  24. NumberSix says:

    I eat a Stouffer’s single serving lunch every day (a few hundred Calories) and a snack (usually a banana) around 4:00. Seems to work ok.

  25. c_c says:

    I work from home … it’s nice to take a break and make something for lunch. Occasionally I’ll go out to eat though just to get out of the house.

  26. denros says:

    I keep a Head of lettuce / greens (anything but iceberg), bottle of dressing, sunflower seeds, green olives, and 1.25 lbs of lunchmeat in the fridge at work, and I have a week’s worth of lunches. I vary the ingredients enough to not get sick of it. I eat 6 meals a day, so of course I occupy quite a bit of space in the break room fridge… but nobody minds since almost everyone else eats out.

  27. j2.718ff says:

    One strategy that helps me is to find something else to do during my lunch break. For example, this time of year, lunchtime is the only chance I get to see the sun, so I go for walks or runs. If I do that, I can’t spare any extra time to eat out (or even get takeout).

  28. ElleAnn says:

    I pack and got tired of buying sandwich bags and frustrated that the cheap reusable containers always leaked and I never had the right size for snacks. I finally gave in and bought a bunch of containers like this in different sizes: http://www.amazon.com/Sistema-Klip-15-2-Ounce-Sandwich-Clear/dp/B0040QD9J4/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1323893831&sr=8-3 . We’ve had them for a year, and they’re holding up really well. Having a decent container inspired me to start bringing more diverse foods- sugar snap peas, blue berries, crackers and cheese- because they were no longer getting crushed at the bottom of my lunch bag.

  29. ap0 says:

    I’ve brought my lunch every day since I got out of college (with the rare exception that I was out of bread, meeting my SO, etc.). I also weigh 80 lbs. less than I did when I graduated.

  30. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    I make my own lunch daily. I stopped eating fast food a year ago and make my lunch, my daughter’s and my husband’s. DH and I can heat ours up at work. The kid has a thermos that keeps her stuff hot.

    I love homemade lunches. I can’t say they have helped in my weight loss. Nothing does at this point.

  31. little stripes says:

    I’m lucky: We have a kitchen that is stock full of bagels, cereal, bread and sandwich fixings, cheese galore, condiments, snacky stuff like chips and peanuts and granola bars, and tons of juice and other drinks. Oh. and we have kegerators. Four of them. I work for the largest business review site on the net. I’m sure you know who it is. 4pm every Friday is happy hour, on the clock or not! (It’s delicious, delicious beer, too; no Bud Light or other horrible beers in sight.)

  32. Snip says:

    This is good advice. No matter how you switch it up, a packed lunch is still likely to turn out cheaper and healthier than a carb and fat bomb from the takeout joint. If it’s getting boring, go ahead and splurge on that fancy mustard or the more high end cold cuts. It works out better in the long run.

  33. OnePumpChump says:

    Raid your spice rack when making sandwiches. Put a little cinnamon on that PBJ. You know what’s great on a ham sandwich? Garlic. Basil goes good with anything with mayonnaise, pretty much. Try anything that looks like it could work. Seriously, an extra 30 seconds and negligible marginal material cost (but non-negligible initial cost) to pretty much transform the easiest, cheapest lunches.

  34. kiltedbrandon says:

    The town I work in has a really crappy selection of places to eat lunch, so I always make enough dinner that I’ll have leftovers. If I want to eat a decent lunch around here it’s 10-12 dollars or awful fast food, so I’m happy to have my leftovers.