I pack a lunch 5 days a week for work, so does my husband. We're not broke, we have no dietary restrictions, we simply bring our own lunches to work, since driving home for lunch for either of us isn't an option (our commutes are 45-55 minutes one way for work each day). It takes minimal planning, some basics on hand, and a willingness to save time and money every day.

Why would we want to brown bag it every day? For me, I like to know what I'm eating, and I don't want to consume too much greasy, fried, sodium-laden dishes that are the fast-food norm - but beyond that, DH & I each work in areas that have many specialty restaurants, ethnic eateries, high-end fast-food, steak houses, and overblown casual eateries. The costs are insane. Two of my co-workers once estimated that by eating out 2-4 days a week for lunch, they spent an average of $200 a month - just on lunches. I have the added bonus of working in Illinois' infamous Cook County - where sales tax is over 10%.

Every week, I plan lunches along with all our dinners. All our lunches are interchangable - doesn't matter what one of us grabs, there are at least 3 options each day for our lunches. We each take one, and the remaining one goes into the pool of choices for the next day. I typically emphasize the first in, first out rule. We have no problems eating leftovers, so this works out well.

I also do a fair amount of what I call - leftover makeover. This week is a great example of that: I roasted a whole chicken and the leftovers are going to be used in salads, in sammies, in soup, and on a pizza. Not all weeks are like this, but 2-3 weeks each month, I make a meal that converts into many dishes easily. Browned, ground turkey (chicken or beef) or bulk sausage also works well for many meals. If you're new to this, just track for 2-3 weeks what meals you often prepare for your family - it won't take very long for a pattern to emerge.

When you see the pattern emerging, you can do some simple meal planning. You don't have to designate which meal is for which day, if that's too exacting for you. You can meal plan by day, week, or 2-4 weeks at a time. For me, the weekly meal plan with each day planned helps me see how quickly we can use a leftover so we waste less food. When I make my meal plan, I take into account how many lunches we need for the week, if we have sandwich fixings on hand, and try to tailor the meals to be easily portable and reheatable. Each week, I look at the 2 prior weeks of meals, to make sure I'm not serving the same things too often. Each week, I try to offer a different meat that covnerts well to many other dishes.

The result? I take restaurant quailty meals for my lunches, while not paying an extra dime out of pocket for it. Today, I'll be having a Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Chicken, and a wedge of parmesan focaccia bread. For tomorrow, I'll be having tostadas topped with chicken, red bell pepper strips, and some peach salsa. Where could you get a meal like that?

Tell me, how do you save money on meals? Do you meal plan, brown bag, cook from scratch? I'd love some new ideas!
4 Responses
  1. Frances Says:

    I don't think I can give you any ideas. Your lunch today sounds amazing! I brown bag every day, too, bringing leftovers from previous dinners. Hubby just packages up something from dinner most night and puts it in the freezer and I grab one every day. I never have the same thing we ate last night, so it doesn't feel like leftovers.

  2. I'm having a variation on that same lunch today - just swapping out the peach for some nectarine slices. I just can't believe how much people spend on eating lunch out several times a week.

  3. Precious Says:

    Your lunches sound wonderful! When I worked, I just reheated leftovers from dinner in the microwave at work. For the days that there were no leftovers the night before, I kept a loaf of whole wheat bread, peanut butter and jelly in the office. It was quick and easy!

  4. Thanks, Precious. I get bored easily, so I keep looking for ways to build variety into my homemade lunches.

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