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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Let's Do Lunch

Eating a lunch prepared for you by a restaurant or take-out place can range from super cheap to downright  pricey. According to a recent report , the average price paid for a buffet lunch with beverage by U.S. restaurant patrons in 2009 was $7.85, though the price can go through the roof at posh city eateries.  Sandwiches from restaurants near my office cost from $4.50 for a grilled cheese to $10.95 for a Maryland crab melt. Salads are in the $7 to $11 range. Soup goes for $3 to $6 a bowl. A large pizza with 1 topping is about $11.00, while a slice goes for about $2.50. And at McDonald's, you can get a double cheese burger, small fries and a small Coke for a little over $3.

But, I'll bet you dollars to donuts (where did that expression come from?), that even if you gorge on McDonald's Dollar Menu every day, you would still save money - not to mention fat, calories and salt intake -  if you brought your lunch from home.

With just a little forethought, it's easy to plan and pack nutritious, healthy and tasty lunches for a fraction of what you have to pay for restaurant and take-out food. The bonus factor is that, when you pack your meal in reusable containers and eat with reusable utensils, you can reduce the amount of plastic you use and the amount of trash you generate. It's completely win-win.

Here are some suggestions for easy brought-from-home lunches and snacks:

* leftovers - this is a no-brainer. When you're cleaning up after dinner, pack some of the left-over spaghetti with sauce, macaroni & cheese, chili, stew, pot roast, soup, chef salad, potato or macraroni salad, whatever, into a container with a lid and put it aside for the next day. Most of these possibilities assume that you have a microwave available at work.
* home-made sandwich - how hard is that? Make one for yourself while you're packing lunch for the kids.
* veggies & salad dressing, hummus, dips or spreads
* cheese & crackers
* cut up fruit
* hot or cold cereal  - don't forget to bring along some milk
* nuts, sunflower & pumpkin seeds
* yogurt or cottage cheese
* leftover pizza (some people, my husband included, enjoy a cold slice from time to time)
* juices in recyclable or reusable containers

Another option is to organize group lunches. A few years ago, when I worked in a very small office, my colleagues and I would take turns bringing in lunch for the whole crew. The menu ranged from quiche and salad to winter squash soup and home-made bread to spaghetti and meatballs, and everyone pitched in for set up and clean up. The cost was far less than ordering enough pizzas to feed everyone, and when we used real plates and silverware rather than paper and plastic, we were pretty eco-conscious as well.

What is your favorite lunch-time strategy? Please share.


  1. California's fast food is the noble burrito - which ranges from $3.50 to $6.99. We get burritos when we are in a time crunch - Back to school night vs. Swim practice!

    Although we usually bring our lunch (kids) or eat at home/beach/park, every once in a while it is nice to go out. And dining out at lunch often is much cheaper than dinner at a restaurant. Just can't make it a habit.

    My favorite lunch are salads or veggies, humus and a piece of fruit. Good for you and the wallet.

  2. I love burritos, Nadine. And you're absolutely rights...if dining out is is your goal, doing lunch is far more frugal than paying for dinner. Our old high school friend Alison M. recently emailed that she has been living in Lyon, France. She and her husband often eat lunch at the wonderful restaurants, cafes and bistros there as an alternative to more expensive dinners.
    How about taking the fixings for a great burrito with you for lunch at the office?