Thursday, September 10, 2015

Save Your Pennies: Pack a Lunch!

Turkey sandwich, pasta salad, berry applesauce, and a soda.
One of the best ways to save money is to avoid eating out whenever possible. One great opportunity for this is packing a lunch to take to work with you, instead of eating out on your break. Typically when one thinks about packing a lunch they think of peanut butter or baloney sandwiches, but it doesn't have to be! As long as your place of employment has a refrigerator and a microwave in their break room, your possibilities are many, and don't have to be boring!

My containers drawer.
What's the first step? Well, if you don't have a drawer or cabinet that looks like this, hop to it! If you are not willing to fork over the money for resealable containers, just remember what your grandma did. I remember looking through my grandma's refrigerator looking for the tub of butter and having to open several containers to find it. Butter, sour cream, cottage cheese, whipped topping, all of these tubs were saved and washed to be reused for food storage. Some brands of lunch meat come in resealable containers nowadays, too. Don't throw away what you can use again!

My spork and combo utensil.
Step two: utensils. At some point you will need to figure out how to convey the food from your repurposed Cool Whip tub to your face. When looking for utensils, don't look in the housewares department, look in the camping & outdoors department. In my lunch-packing repertoire I have reusable plastic sporks, as well as a few cool combo utensils. One end of the utensil is a spoon, the other is a fork with a serrated edge to be used for cutting foods. Granted, you could just buy plastic cutlery and throw it away each time, but that would end up costing quite a bit of money in the long run, and that's something we're trying to avoid.

Chicken Parmesan & spaghetti made with the extra sauce.
Next, what are you going to pack in your lunch? First off, leftovers! Whatever you don't finish, put away and eat later. Hamburger Helper, pasta, chicken and rice, pork roast, chili, whatever! Even if it's just a little bit. That little bit will go a long way toward filling your belly! 

Portioned up my brown rice.
Now, supposing you don't have leftovers, or don't have enough to get you through the week, you can also cook a meal that can be portioned out and eaten all week, I will typically make stroganoff, keema mattar, chicken ramen stir fry, brown rice or pasta salad. You can also buy inexpensive frozen, instant, or canned meals to pack in your lunches, but cooking your own is cheaper, and will likely result in tastier lunches!

The snack section of my pantry.
Once you have an entree for your lunch, what can you pack go with it? Whatever you want! Whenever I have time I like to whip up some baked goods to pack in my lunches. Tomato soup cake, Jell-o cookies, or coffee cake muffins. I also like to make Chex mix from time to time, especially since there are so many different recipes to try! When I don't have time to make or bake items to pack up, I buy inexpensive snacks. Chips, crackers, applesauce or fruit cups, granola bars, yogurt, or string cheese.

Delicious beverages!

Now, to wash it down! I decided quite a while ago that I was okay with drinking store brand sodas, so that is typically what goes into my lunches. From time to time I will buy juice boxes or juice pouches, so that I can reminisce about my childhood. There are also individually portioned drink mixes which can be added to bottled water. In the winter I pack pouches of hot chocolate or instant apple cider and use the mugs at work to mix it up. (I work at a nursing home, so they've got plenty of mugs, and a means of washing them.)

My lunch is all packed and ready to go!
Every day I pack up my lunch, put it into a plastic grocery bag, and tie it up. Why use a grocery bag? They are free, you can write your name and the date on them so your food doesn't get thrown away, and you can get two more uses out of them before you discard them. You will use it to pack your lunch in, and to pack your dirty dishes in to take home and wash. Just try to be choosy about which bags you use. I'm not really comfortable using bags from the thrift shop or the auto parts store to pack my meals in, and I trust you wouldn't be either.