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7 Easy tips for planning affordable work week lunches

Confession: sometimes we're not so good at saving money. A particular sore point may be how often we eat out, especially in the middle of the workday. Whether we are too busy in the morning to pack food for ourselves or to find edible options that also pack and store well, we often overlook lunch expenses in our overall food budget.

 

The benefits of preparing your own brown-bagged lunch are good ones (it’s cheaper, healthier, and potentially tastier), but too often you may pass the burden of food preparation on to a neighboring restaurant or drive-through lane.

 

If you’ve set to correcting your pattern, the first step: the plan. How do you approach breaking one habit while building a new one? Or is going out to eat just a good way to break up a long day of meetings and desk work?

 

Come midday a refresher is needed to either stretch or to step away from coworkers and customers. A small pilgrimage out to eat is one way to refresh. A better goal might be to prepare lunch as an exciting destination all its own — one that you'll want to make time to enjoy.

 

Make your brown-bag lunch cheap

  1. Recycle from the night before. Leftovers are hardly a new/exciting idea, so let’s not call them leftovers. Let’s call them… new beginnings! Sounds a bit too new-agey, doesn’t it? The idea’s not to reheat and repeat your dinner from last night, it’s to extend the longevity of the food you prepare. For example, if you made pasta last night, make a cold pasta salad with the remaining noodles. Turn the remaining meat into the topping of a salad.

  2. Cook a couple of principal dishes at the beginning of the week. The key is making meal foundations that you can include with nearly everything. Staples like rice, quinoa, beans, tomato sauce, and roasted vegetables work well. Spend a little time on Sunday, before the work week, to make some foods en masse to form the base of your meals throughout the week. (Use your Taco Tuesday meat to top a salad with a few corn chips and a bit of salsa on Wednesday.)

  3. In addition to cooking in bulk, it helps to buy in bulk. This isn’t an idea that can be applied evenly to all foods. Grains are easier to keep than produce. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you’ve got a freezer, throw those plants in there. Don’t fear the bulk meats either, they’re susceptible to the cold as well. (Try frying extra bacon with your weekend brunch that you can use to add flavor to a mid-day meal.)

 

Make your brown-bag lunch exciting

 

  1. If your lunchbox doesn’t look good, make it so. Try out a Japanese bento box or recycle a bag from a favorite department store. An adult lunch box is designed for the most attractive presentation of food in the smallest space possible. Make the lunch look as good on the outside as the inside.

  2. Expand your effort a little for bigger results. PB&J and a bag of chips is probably the quickest meal to fill your lunchbox, but it’s not something you dream about or look forward to eating. Spend a little more time and effort and try doing most of the cooking/prep in the evening before. Also, making your meal more attractive helps you make lunch packing a habit.

  3. Make your food healthier than anything you could buy. You have a greater stake in your own wellbeing than a restaurant does. A well-balanced meal is more likely when you’re the chef.

  4. Don’t eat at your desk. One way to make your prepped lunch a destination is to actually make it a destination. Find a bench outside or use the break room as a change of scenery. Make it a goal to not spend your lunch time in the same spot where you spend the rest of your day.

So there’s the plan — not too tricky. If you're pretty proud of the way your mid-day meal turns out (or the fabulous view away from your desk), share a photo with us on our Instagram page.

Tags: Budgeting, My finances, Spending

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