One of the ways we have saved money over the years has been by always packing lunches for my husband to eat at work. (I also try to do this whenever we're planning to be away from home over a mealtime, which isn't very often.)
Packing a lunch saves a lot of money (at least several dollars per day!) and can be much healthier than buying restaurant food or food from machines. It can also be pretty quick and easy to do, if you plan ahead, or at least have some sort of plan!
Here is my general plan for Joshua's lunch (8-hour shift):
Main Dish (1)
Lunchmeat sandwich (tip for easier cold-cut sandwich dressing)
Chicken salad sandwich
Leftover (cold) pizza
Tuna salad sanwich
Egg salad sandwich
Leftover burritos, lasagna, stuffed shells, soups, or anything that can be re-warmed (if there is microwave access)
Dairy or other Sides (1-3)
Yogurt (we buy a quart-sized container and put it into lunch-sized containers)
String cheese or cut pieces of cheese
Homemade Baked Beans (eaten cold)
Hard-boiled "deviled" eggs
Grapes, washed and stemmed
Canned fruit (last resort)
Bread or snacks (2-3)
Drink (48 ounces total; we use water bottles and wash/re-use them)
Other 100% juice from concentrate
By making sure I have included at least one thing from each category, I'm able to pack a balanced lunch with whatever we currently have on hand. Joshua always just takes water to work these days, although in years past he took some orange juice also. If you usually drink coffee or some other hot drink, you can make it and put it in a thermos. To keep your coffee hot longer inside a thermos, pre-heat your thermos with boiling water* before pouring your fresh coffee inside.
When I'm packing Joshua's lunch, I often get things ready for the next day's lunch, also. For example, I might wash and stem enough grapes for 2 or 3 days' lunches. I might wrap two pieces of banana bread in plastic wrap, and save one to use for the next day. That way, even if I am really in a rush, I can at least manage to pull everything out of the fridge, make a quick sandwich, and pack it all into the lunchbox!
Another nice addition to a packed lunch, if you are packing your husband's lunch, is to put in a little love note somewhere inside for him to find later in the day!
Sometimes I get tired of trying to think of creative lunch ideas, or having to pack yet another lunch! Having the above list of categories has helped motivate me. I also like to remind myself that if there were no lunches to pack, there would also be no money to pay bills! That helps me stay thankful!
I'd love to hear tips from others who pack lunches on a regular basis! What are your favorite things to include?
This post was originally published in 2006.
Update: Joshua no longer works at a factory where he gets lots of physical exercise; now, he works at a desk job.
His lunches for the past 7-8 months have been simply:
He comes home hungry for dinner, and I try to serve a protein-rich dinner each evening. :)
*Details on pre-heating a thermos: Fill thermos at least half-full with boiling water. Screw lid on and allow to sit for 10-30 minutes while you're making the coffee or the rest of the lunch.
Empty the water out of the thermos and then fill with coffee. A good-quality thermos that has been pre-heated should keep your coffee nice and hot until you wish to drink it!
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1. 10 uses for a bundt pan (Tara)
2. Serve watermelon with less mess (Christine)
3. Flaxseed meal as egg substitute (Mary Jo)
4. Easier breading zucchini (Alison)
5. Cocoa powder substitution (Alea)
6. Packing lunches (Kolfinna)
7. Keeping produce from going bad (Annie)
8. Determining base recipes (Rachel)