How to Make Great Packed Lunches for Work

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A lot of us are in the habit of buying lunch out each day. I don’t mean we’re all enjoying three-course lunches with wine – for most people, it’s just a sandwich and maybe a bag of chips and a drink from the nearest store.

The problem is, when you’re sinking a few dollars on lunch five days a week, every week, the cost soon adds up. Buying a sandwich out is probably costing you around $3-$6 a pop; making that same sandwich as home would likely cost about a third of what it does in the store, around $1-$2.

So why don’t more of us brown-bag our lunch? In most cases, I think it’s simply habit.
Of course, there’s always the excuse that we’re too rushed in the mornings – but that’s pretty easy to overcome.

Finding Time to Pack Your Lunch
Firstly, you’ll probably spend just as much time standing in line at the store as you will making a packed lunch at home. It only takes five minutes to put together a sandwich (I used to make my sandwiches whilst cooking my oatmeal for breakfast!)

Set your alarm clock ten minutes early, and you’ll have plenty of time to make yourself some lunch. If you find it really hard to get out of bed in the morning, you can make sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them (don’t include lettuce or other salad greens if you’re freezing sandwiches). Just grab one out of the freezer before you head out the door to work, and it’ll have defrosted by lunch time.

Storing Your Lunch
If you’ve got a fridge at work, keep your lunch in there. It might be a good idea to label your lunch bag with your name and the date (that way, no-one’s gonna accidentally scoff it, or chuck it out).

If you don’t have access to a fridge, just keep your lunch in an insulated lunch box that will stay cool. You can get these for a few bucks, and if you refrigerate them overnight, they’ll keep your food cool and fresh till lunchtime.

Avoiding Sandwich Boredom

As well as the perceived “hassle” of packing a lunch, many people feel that it’ll quickly get boring. Don’t fall into the “ham sandwiches again?” trap: vary your lunches to keep them interesting. Here’s some ideas.

    • Sandwiches: There are loads of different types of bread to try. Pitas, tortilla wraps and bagels all transport well – and using different breads will encourage you to vary the fillings. 
  • Salads: Instead of a sandwich, why not make a big salad for lunch? Include some lean protein (like cold chicken, boiled egg, tuna or prawns) and some carbohydrate (pasta, rice or couscous work in many salads, or just take a few crackers to eat on the side). 
  • Leftovers: An incredibly simple way to make lunch with next to no effort is to cook a bit extra at your evening meal the night before and pop it in an air-tight box. I’m very partial to cold stir-fry; if you’ve got access to a microwave at work, you’ll have even more options. (If you’re reheating rice, make sure it’s been kept completely chilled until you reheat it.) 
  • Extras: Try to include a piece of fruit or a handful of veggie sticks with lunch – too many of us don’t eat any fruit or vegetables during the workday. You might also want to throw in a treat like a cookie or a small bag of chips. Look out for multibags of “treat sized” portions – far cheaper than buying candy bars and chips from the vending machine at work. 

If you’re stuck for packed lunch ideas, have a search on Google – there are hundreds of sites packed with great suggestions. You can also buy books of packed lunch recipes, though these tend to be aimed at parents making lunches for their kids.

Do you buy lunch out? Is it really a convenience or treat – or just a habit? Could you save $2 or more a day (that’s $10 a week, almost $500 in a full working year) by taking a packed lunch to work?

Written on 9/17/2009 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Republished on 1/13/2011. Photo Credit: shawn campbell
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