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Pack Your Own Lunch

Nancy Trejos

Today, we have another guest post from our frugal intern Emma L. Carew. She's figured out a way to make delicious lunches on an intern's budget. Her lunches put the turkey and cheese sandwiches I often bring to the office to shame. Here's what Emma has to say:

As a college student working for my campus newspaper, I frequently had 12-hour days. After rotating between Chinese takeout, Chipotle and the $5 foot-long at Subway when I “didn’t have time” to pack a lunch, I decided to get smarter about brown-bagging. It’s definitely a commitment — you can’t “not have time” four days a week.

I've learned a few things along the way, which I'd like to share with you.

First, invest in some plastic containers. I’m a plastic container junkie. I usually have three or four lunches worth of food in containers just waiting in my fridge. Second, devote some time on Sunday to make lunch for the week. I like fruit and veggies in my lunch, so I portion those out right away, either into plastic bags or containers. If you're into salads, chop everything for the week, mix it up and throw it in a big plastic bag. The grocery bill may seem steep from loading up on produce, but do the math per serving. It’s still cheaper than your cafeteria salad bar.

I like to make a big batch of something and eat it all week. Soups, stews and curries make for really good leftovers, which means they make for really good bag lunches. One way to cheat a little is buying a pre-cooked whole chicken, using the body for stock (freeze your excess) and the chicken for various lunches throughout the week — salad one day, soup or stew, a sandwich, with a side of rice or quinoa.

One pot meals are great for lunches. Pot roast (buy whatever cut of meat is on sale that week), a big colorful stir fry (throw it over glass noodles or brown rice — white rice will generally get hard and dry), and cold pasta salads with lots of veggies. If you can make the meal for about $10, maybe $15, that means you're only spending $2 or $3 for lunch each day.

Of course, a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter is always going to be cheaper — and some people don’t mind eating that every day. I’m also a household of one and can rarely eat through an entire loaf of bread before it molds. (I also don’t like peanut butter)

And, for the days you really, truly “don’t have time,” make a contingency plan. I’m not big into convenience food, but if you are, write your name on a freezer meal and keep it at work, or hide some microwave noodle bowls in your desk. I like Campbell’s Soup-At-Hand (but wait for a sale or find a coupon) and microwave popcorn (again, super cheap per serving if you can get it on sale) as a backup plan.

So, let’s hear your best leftovers-for-lunch recipes, and if you want, I’ll send you mine!

By Nancy Trejos  |  August 5, 2009; 7:01 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Nancy Trejos  
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Next: More Grocery Store Tips


If you get going with this, you can also make enough stuff to freeze it (so you don't have to eat the same thing 5 days in a row, but can nuke the frozen spaghetti sauce from two weeks ago and just boil fresh pasta the night before).

I have frozen sandwich-bag-sized portions of soup, spaghetti sauce, and macaroni & cheese well.

Posted by: | August 5, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Bread freezes really well. So I put half the loaf on the counter and half in the freezer. Then I always have some. Shredded cheese freezes too.

Posted by: hr_jones | August 5, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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