Friday, January 9, 2009

Bring Your Own Lunch

Tip #50 - Bring Your Own Lunch. This tip goes along with eating at home instead eating out. But I thought it deserved its own entry since some people don't consider buying lunch in the work cafeteria or in the school lunchroom "eating out." Heck, I don't blame them; the food is not exactly gourmet. So why waste money buying food in a school or work cafeteria when you can eat more cheaply and nutriciously bringing your own lunch? Because it takes more time. It does.

Let's face it, it's a pain to make a lunch every morning when you are trying to get ready for work or get the kids ready for school. It's so much easier to put a few bills in your pocket and worry about it later. Or nowadays, the schools have electronic lunch accounts so you keep a balance at school and your child just needs to key in a code. Easy! And when the money runs out, you can replenish the account with your credit card and for a small fee, of course. Instead of falling into this easy trap of buying lunches at work or school, how about if it were easier to make lunch? Then we'd be more likely to take it.

On Sunday evenings or whatever day works for you, decide what you will make for five lunches for during the week. Let's assume you are doing this for one child. You want to give them some variety - so try not to make the same lunch for more than 2 or at most 3 days. Possibilities include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, lunch meat or cheese sandwiches or wraps, yogurt, hummus and pita, hard-boiled eggs or egg salad. We can make lunches for the week in 5 easy steps.

1. Assuming it's Sunday, then try to make as many preparations as possible for the upcoming week. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches freeze very well. So make a couple of sandwiches - put them in a plastic container (or plastic storage bag) and throw them in the freezer. These are two lunches for later in the week (Wednesday and Friday) that you don't have to worry about. Boil an egg and put it in a container in the fridge. This will be lunch for Tuesday. Make a lunch meat sandwich for Monday. Then you can give yogurt for lunch on Thursday. This offers a nice variety and is very easy to do in about 30 minutes' time on a Sunday night.

2. For sides that go along with the main lunch, you can package them up and throw them in the freezer as you make them. If you are making banana bread during the week, cut up five pieces and put them in five small containers (or plastic storage bags) for lunchtime meals over the next two weeks. Again, try to offer variety so your child isn't eating banana bread every day. Two or three days during the week should be the maximum. Do the same for muffins or cookies. All of these items freeze well. Try to have about 10 items in the freezer in small containers for lunch for the upcoming two weeks. Tailor this to how often you bake. If you bake a few different items every week, then you can do this weekly and have five items in the freezer at all times. If you bake monthly, then you can put in a month's worth of individually-wrapped bread items for lunches.

3. You probably want to pack another side for lunch in addition to the main lunch and a bread item. Yogurt or a piece of cheese are healthy side items on days when they are not the main entree. Depending on how much your child will eat, yogurt may need to be packaged in smaller containers than the 6 or 8 ounce containers they come in. I try not to do this more than two days in advance. Or you can use yogurt tubes (which may cost more and has more packaging). Same thing for cheese, don't prepackage those more than two days in advance because it may get hard. Or use pre-packaged cheese such as string cheese.

4. The next item should be a fruit or vegetable. Some fruits don't do well when cut in advance. Others do. The ones that do not do well should be reserved for the next morning (Monday). On Sunday you can wash grapes or grape tomatoes and pre-package them in two individual containers for later in the week (say Tuesday and Thursday). Some melons also do okay pre-cut for a few days. Apples, not so much. You can probably cut one up the night before and put some lemon juice or orange juice on it to stop it from getting brown. Or you can include a small apple that doesn't need to be cut. Again, this would be good item for Monday. Bananas can be thrown in the lunch box as is on Wednesday and Friday. Again, try for variety, an apple one day, a banana two days and grapes or grape tomatoes the other two days.

5. Fill up a container with water, juice or other beverage. On the evening before work or school or even the morning of, you can pull out all of the pre-packaged items and throw them in your lunch box. Even if you put them in your lunch container in the morning, items that were in the freezer will thaw by lunchtime.

And there it is, lunchtime made easy. We'll talk about cost savings in the IRL section.

In Real Life (IRL) - My daughter brings her lunch almost every day to school. Being the frugal person that I am, I figured out that her lunch costs us about $1 or so per day to make versus $2.40 to buy at school. We save at least $1 per day when she brings instead of buying. She does buy when they have macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese, which is usually about twice per month.

These are the options I usually send her for lunch:

Yogurt (45 cents)
String Cheese (20 cents)
Crackers (10 cents) or a homemade soft pretzel (15 cents)
Banana (20 cents)
Water (Free) or Fruit Juice (15 cents)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (50 cents)
String Cheese (20 cents)
Grapes (20 cents)
Homemade Cookies (20 cents)
Water (Free) or Fruit Juice (15 cents)

Egg Salad (20 cents) or Hard-Boiled Egg (15 cents)
String Cheese (20 cents)
Peanut Butter Crackers (15 cents)
Small Apple (40 cents)
Water (Free) or Fruit Juice (15 cents)

Hummus (30 cents)
Pita (30 cents)
Grape Tomatoes (20 cents)
Baby Carrots (10 cents)
Banana Bread or Homemade Muffin (15 cents)
Water (Free) or Fruit Juice (15 cents)

Mini Bagel (25 cents)
Cream Cheese (15 cents)
Banana Bread (15 cents)
Fruit cocktail (20 cents)
1/2 Yogurt (25 cents)
Water (Free) or Fruit Juice (15 cents)

Of course this assumes I buy things at the best price possible. String cheese is 20 cents per string only if I buy it at Costco. Same thing for peanut butter crackers. Yogurt is 45 cents at Costco or sometimes I get it for 40 cents if they are having a good sale at Safeway or Giant. I buy Apples when they are 99 cents a pound, crackers when they are on sale for a certain price, etc. Hummus and pita I buy at Trader Joe's. If I started buying things that aren't on sale or more convenience foods, then the price would go up, obviously. These are the items I generally stick with. In the springtime, I will buy fruits that are in season trying to get fruits that are on sale for 99 cents per pound. And I do mix these items around. I generally try to have a main item, a fruit, a cheese and one other thing like a muffin.

Over the course of a year, I figure we save about $200 by doing lunch this way. And I think she eats healthier options. When all three of my children are in school, we will be saving even more money by having them bring their lunches instead of buying.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Thanks for sharing. Please join me today for Tasty Traditions, a recipe meme.