Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zen and The Art of Packing A Lunch

I must be odd.  I absolutely love to bring my lunch to work.  

It seems like the easiest way in the world to save $6-$8 a day, and I really like the things I bring: for Monday of this coming week, I made a great salad, and on Tuesday, I'll take the rest of the clam chowder we had for dinner tonight (Sunday).  

Wednesday's lunch will be tomorrow night's leftovers, and so on.  Things get a little less organized after that, since I'm working late a few nights and probably will not make anything in particular for dinner - I'm the queen of cereal for dinner on nights like that.  But we have pasta and sauce in the cupboard, and I can put that together pretty quickly, or there's some cans of soup in the cupboard in a pinch.  Canned soup is a far cry from homemade, but I keep some around anyway, as it's good for those days when there is no time.

Then for snacks, there are granola bars, pretzels, dried cranberries and some oranges.  

My husband's lunch is easy - a ham sandwich and yogurt or cheese every day.  Makes him happy.

Maybe I like my lunches because I love to cook - not a lot of folks seem to bring chicken with roasted lemons, olives and capers on a bed of sauteed spinach in a tupperware...

It also might be that I once read that people who pack their lunch eat, on average, 300 fewer calories a day than those that buy.  I think this is probably true.  I make my clam chowder with 1% milk, I'm pretty sure that the cafe near my office adds something a tad fattier.  

But mostly, I like it because it's a simple way to tend to our goals.  We have lunches we enjoy, we never have to take time to go find something, and we're eating pretty healthy most of the time.  In addition, we've literally saved thousands - figuring 2 of us eating lunch approximately 240 days of the year at work - over the last few years.  Even subtracting the cost of buying foods for lunch, the savings is substantial.  

If you figure that the average lunch + drink costs about $7 per person, and we spend about $25 or so a week on lunch meat, bread, and snacks, or adding additional portions to dinners so that I can pack leftovers, we're still saving $45.00 a week.  Multiply that by about 48 5-day work weeks (the approximate amount we work after vacation time, holidays, etc), and it adds about $2160 in cash to our budget annually.

Over the years packing lunch has become routine.  Before the dinner dishes are washed, I put together the lunches.  His lunch bag fits in the fridge, mine usually does not.  So the components of my lunch go in separately, and in the morning I take them out, and put them in my bag, along with an ice pack.  

I also put bread in the toaster oven for a breakfast of toast for me, and set up the travel mugs next to the coffee pot.  My husband's job is the morning coffee.  He grinds the beans and fills the pot before we go to bed, and sets the timer.  In the morning, we add milk and our respective sweeteners, and off we go. 

I think it must be hard to imagine packing a lunch if you've never done it before, but really, it's easy.  The simplest way is to just make more of whatever you had for dinner.  Or soup, or a sandwich.  Even if you brought it 2x a week, you'd still save.   

Maybe I'm strange, but I like my homemade lunches.  It's a little way to bring home to work with me, and save at the same time.  For me, it doesn't get better than that.

For those who are interested in the chicken with roasted lemons recipe: 
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/105556
Frugal tip: Substitute the olives called for in the recipe with jarred sliced green olives. Normally I am something of an olive snob, but in this recipe the inexpensive type taste just great.

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