How much do you typically spend when you eat out for lunch—$5, $10, or even $15?
That can add up quickly to between $100 and $300 a month or $1,200–3,600 a year.
Money isn’t the only concern. Calories are hard to manage at restaurants, too. Yes, it may be fun eating with your coworkers, but think of all the money and calories you could save if you just spent a few minutes before bed or in the morning packing a simple lunch. A little extra effort can make a big difference in the size of your bank account and your waist.
When you pack your own lunch you have the ability to control portion sizes and what ingredients are in your food. Unfortunately, many people get stuck in a rut when it comes to packed lunches. The same peanut butter and jelly sandwich day after day can get old quickly. Here are a few ideas that may inspire you to pack a few more lunches this week.
The Go-To Sandwich – when you think of a packed lunch, you likely think of sandwiches. If you’re a sandwich person, that’s great. There are numerous kinds of sandwiches and wraps you can make in a jiffy. Should you go this route, always choose whole-wheat bread, wraps, or pitas.
Then add your fillings. And make them healthy! Try tuna fish, lean deli meats, grilled chicken, humus or egg slices. Include veggies like greens, sprouts, cucumber slices, onions, tomatoes, olives or pickles. Top it off with light mayonnaise (or no mayo at all), mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and other spices to add flavor. If you must, add a slice of low-fat cheese.
Leftovers – unless you’re opposed to eating last night’s dinner, leftovers make easy and delicious lunches the next day. Purposefully make extra food for dinner then divide up the leftovers in small containers. In the morning all you have to do is grab it and go. Put your food in the fridge at work and microwave it when lunchtime rolls around. Hot lunch you don’t have to feel guilty about? Score!
You can also spend a couple hours on your day off making a big pot of soup, chili, or your favorite meal. Then divide it into containers and place them in the freezer for the days you don’t have time to pack a lunch.
Canned or frozen – you have to be picky about what you buy, but stocking up on low-calorie, low-sodium canned or frozen meals is a quick and easy way to save a few bucks at lunch. In the morning grab can of soup or a frozen dinner entrée and you’re good to go.
Snacks and sides – nutritious, low-calorie snacks can be part of a healthy diet. A small morning and afternoon snack provide the energy you need to function at your best. With plenty of these on hand, you won’t need any more stops at the vending machine. A piece of fruit, some raw veggies, a handful of nuts, a cup of low-fat yogurt, a granola bar, or whole-wheat crackers and hummus spread are great options for simple packed snacks.
If needed, include a couple sides to go with your sandwich, left-overs, or canned soup to fill you up. Pack a small salad (or a large salad for the main dish), apple slices, carrot or celery sticks, or some whole-grain chips.
Drink smart – save even more money and calories by bringing something from home to drink. Pack a water bottle or a to-go mug of coffee or tea to keep you from stopping by the coffee shop or vending machine. And when you’re feeling hungry, drink some more water. It may just quench your hunger.
Try packing your own lunch tomorrow and see how easy and yummy it can be.
Plan, plan, plan – before your next trip to the grocery store, make a list of the foods and snacks you’ll need for packing lunches. That way you’ll have what you need on hand and won’t be tempted to eat out.
Jack Wheeler is a personal trainer and owner of 360 Fitness in Red Deer.