You’ve probably heard these complaints … packed lunches are boring, too much work, and the take out Chinese food place is just downstairs where I work. “We all know we should skip the food court and pack a lunch each day. Not only do the health books recommend it, but so do the financial guides. If you purchase lunch at an average cost of $6 per day, the habit can add up to over $1,500 a year. By packing a lunch, you can keep your costs to under $2 or $3 a day” (homemakers.com).
It sounds like a straightforward topic, packed lunches. Maybe you’re making a lunch for yourself, or your spouse, or your kidlet. My husband works in a garage. They don’t have a lunch room, but all the guys sit in their work area, eat on their laps, and play cards. Thankfully, they have a fridge and a microwave. But imagine the temptation when the hot lunch truck drives up to their site everyday at noon, offering homemade chicken skewers or lasagne. At $6 each. Plus milk and dessert. And the lunch truck lets you run a tab.
I started making his lunches just over a year ago when we returned from a vacation and realized that we had to watch our pennies. Trying to keep costs down, it seemed like a reasonable task. I’ll make your lunch, darling, and you’ll stop buying the hot convenient easy food that arrives on your doorstep each day.
Over the past year I’ve figured out a couple of really fabulous lunch tricks.
1. Lunch is a jigsaw puzzle made up of 5 parts: drink + meal + veggie/fruit + sweet + salty.
2. Shop once a week for lunch staples.
The important decisions are made when you’re still in the grocery store. Small containers of milk may seem expensive to buy individually, but they’re better for you than juice boxes with added sugar. For salty snacks, instead of chips or cheesies, you can buy a large bag of pretzels, and take a handful in a plastic container (to prevent crushing).
Each week I buy 5 containers of milk, an equal number of cans of juice or diet pop, an 8-pack of small yogurts (or one big yogurt which can be divided up into plastic containers). I buy some fruit (a couple of apples, or kiwis, or a fresh pineapple — depends on the time of year, and what looks good). I buy some generic lunch-able vegetables: cucumber, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots. I personally think celery sticks are grim.
3. Assemble lunch in the evening, after dinner, not first thing in the morning.
It’s just too easy to roll out of bed and think “I’m too tired.” And I don’t know about you, but smelling certain foods at 6 am does not make me want to eat them later on. I make lunches right after supper, before any cleaning up or movie-watching or additional wine consumption takes place. I put the dinner leftovers in a microwave-able container. At least, that’s what happens ideally.
4. Try to make a few meals each week that produce lunch leftovers.
Sure, there’s nothing easier than putting a slice of lasagne into a plastic container. Done.
Of course, this assumes that I’ve done a couple of things. For starters, it assumes that I have, in fact, cooked dinner. And that I’ve been smart enough to make enough for a lunch leftover. And that we’ve stopped eating, have not had third helpings (thus eating up the next day’s lunch).
On nights where I’ve failed in some way to create a leftover, the meal part of the lunch might be a sandwich (tuna, egg salad, ham+cheese), or I open a can of soup and plop that into a container.
5. Once the meal part of the lunch is ready, the rest takes care of itself.
The rest is a breeze. I add a drink, some variation on the fruit/veg theme depending on what’s in the fridge, and what’s about to go bad, and what I’m trying to get rid of before it goes bad. I wash the apple in advance and remove the produce sticker. I cut the kiwi in half and pop it in a baggie. Now I need to remember to put in a spoon…
6. Try to bake once a week to stock your freezer.
One evening a week, after dinner, when I’m feeling inspired (or if that doesn’t happen then one weekend afternoon, when the house is quiet) I will make the “sweet” part of the lunches all at once. How hard is this? One batch of gingersnaps (frozen a dozen at a time in bags). Or I make one lemon poppyseed loaf (leaving half on the counter wrapped in plastic, and freezing the other half for next week). Or I make 12 banana muffins (frozen all together in a big zipper bag). Or one batch of shortbread cookies (these don’t last long enough to freeze).
It doesn’t really matter what you make. Try to vary the choices a bit week. Have some variety. Then each night when assembling the lunches, you can pull out what you need from the freezer, put it in reusable containers, and the individual bits are easily defrosted by lunchtime the next day.
OK, what do you think?
Do you have any lunch tips you’d like to share with us? Any particular challenges? Need help? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Just hit reply to this email and drop me a line 🙂
You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks and bon appetit!
Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef