5 Tips to Help Save Lunch Money and Pack a Brown Bag

Buying lunch at work every day can get expensive. Even if you eat on the cheap ($8 per meal), you’re spending up to $40 per week, $160 per month, and $1,920 per year. Those dollars end up, and so do the calories that inevitably come with takeout meals. Packing a lunch allows you to save money and know exactly what is going into your midday meal, but somehow, many of the nation’s 9-to-5 workers still find themselves in takeout lines every day.

If you’re one of those people who would like to pack your lunch every day but still can’t say no to an appetizing meal out, check out these five tips for packing your lunch for work Monday through Friday and enjoying it, too. Packing a lunch can seem like a chore, but if you prep efficiently and put the right things in your lunchbox, it easily becomes routine, and you can allocate your hard-earned lunch money elsewhere.

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1. Prepare Food Ahead of Time

Many people promise themselves that they’ll pack their lunch for the week and then end up never going through with it. They feel too tired to prepare it Monday morning, have the midday blues by lunchtime, and then take out their emotions on their takeout. Avoid this slippery slope and prepare early. The best way to guarantee that you’ll pack your lunch and not “accidentally” leave it in the refrigerator is by preparing ahead of time and not letting yourself waste food.

On a weekend afternoon before your workweek, do some food prep and begin to prepare items for the week. Chop vegetables, boil pasta, bake chicken, and wash fruit. That way, all of your essential lunch staples are prepared and accounted for, and you can easily throw them into a brown bag or reusable lunch bag when need be. If you chop all of your veggies early and prepare your chicken, you’re much less likely to let that food go to waste, and you won’t be able to use the excuse that you just don’t have time to make all of your food in the morning. The key: Leave no room for excuses.

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2. Pack Early

Another way to guarantee that you actually take your prepared food to work every day is by packing it ahead of time, so then you really have no excuse not to grab the bag on your way out the door in the morning. Most foods keep well in sealed containers in the refrigerator, so if you’re feeling ambitious, pack five separate lunches on Saturday or Sunday and then welcome the ease of already prepared midday meals for the entire week to come.

It might seem like a chore to carry out on Sunday, but it’ll make your rushed mornings that much easier. And once again, it will not leave you any room to use time or exhaustion as an excuse. If you leave a lunch in the fridge only to get takeout later, you’ll have to live with the guilt of wasting that food and (hopefully) learn your lesson.

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3. Take Advantage of Leftovers

Even if you don’t pack your week’s lunches early, make sure you take advantage of weekend and dinner leftovers and make it that much easier for yourself. Some people are leery of leftovers almost by default, but what they don’t realize is that most of the time, those leftovers are really just another (already prepared) meal at their fingertips. What’s more, as long as the food hasn’t spoiled, sometimes leftovers taste even better the day after, because letting a meal sit allows its flavors to marinate, and then you’re looking at another hot, seemingly indulgent meal come noontime.

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4. Make Your Homemade Lunches Interesting

It’s also key that the lunch you prepare for yourself every day is appetizing and doesn’t make you dread mealtime. It’s no fun to break up a workday with a mediocre meal — you can easily prepare a tasty, healthy lunch as long as you give yourself enough prep time. When you’re packing your lunch, remember to include the three essential components to a well-rounded meal: lunch entrée or sandwich, healthy side dish (veggies, fruits, nuts, or cheese), and a special sweet treat for the end. It’s a lot harder to say no to takeout when you know your brown bagged lunch only contains a bologna sandwich, but when it promises an upscale panini, a ripe piece of fruit, and a homemade slice of something sweet, then restaurant food suddenly doesn’t sound as appetizing anymore.

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5. Grocery Shop for Lunchtime

Last but not least, plan enough ahead of time that when you’re doing your grocery shopping for the week, you have a lunch game plan. If you think you’ll prepare a couple of servings of chicken and rice on Sunday for your weekday lunches (see No. 1), make sure you pick up your necessary ingredients on Sunday. If you know you’ll want some hummus and veggies for your healthy side dish for the week, grab those items, too. If you’ve already spent your money on food you’re more likely to eat it, and it will also give you something to look forward to as you decline to accompany your coworkers to the nearest Panera Bread or Chipotle. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.

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