In two weeks, I’ll start working in an office again. For me, that means I’ll need to resume brown bagging my lunch.
When you work out of your home, eating what’s in inventory is pretty easy. You have a wealth of meal options 60 seconds away. But when you work in an outside your home, you face a horde of dining temptations…take out, fast food, dining out with co-workers, maybe even the company cafeteria.
For years, I gave in to lunch temptations (or even breakfast temptations), even though there’s a host of reasons that bringing your lunch from home is the smarter choice.
- A 2012 survey showed two thirds of American workers eat lunch out regularly, at a cost of close to $2000 a year. If you take your own food to work, you tend to spend much less on meals. Freeing up that money can be used to meet other financial goals like paying down debt, saving for retirement, or even buying things you want more.
- Restaurants often serve larger portions than are healthy. When you bring your lunch, you can limit your portions to healthy amounts..
- Restaurants tempt us with unhealthy food like french fries. When you bring your lunch, you can limit your lunch to healthier choices.
- Depending on where you work, you may have limited convenient options. Brown bagging your lunch can give you more options.
- While packing your lunch can take a few extra minutes before work, it can free up time during your lunch break to run errands, take a walk, or get back to work.
- Packing your lunch can help you finish off leftovers, reducing food waste.
But even people who want to bring their lunch to work can find it difficult to do consistently. There are some tricks, though, to brownbagging your lunch successfully and consistently. If you can make lunch preparation easy and convenient, you’ll find it much easier to stick to a brown bagging routine.
Have the Right Containers
I say brown bagging, but I don’t really use little brown bags to carry my lunch anymore. Instead, I have an insulated lunch box that helps keep my food warm or cool. I have serving-sized containers and a reusable water bottle. As with so many other things, having the right tools makes all the difference.
You can spend a ton on nice containers for your food, and Bento boxes and glass storage kits are cool. You don’t have to buy special containers, though. I find that small Chinese takeout soup and sauce containers, plastic lunch meat containers, and Noosa yogurt containers work pretty well. They’re just the right sizes for various types of food, and I feel better about reusing them as long as I put them in something not plastic to reheat the food.
If you don’t have anything in the house you want to eat, you’re going to have problems coming up with a lunch to take. So when you do your grocery shopping, shop with an eye towards what could be easily added to your lunch box.
String cheese, crackers, fresh fruit, sandwich fixings and pretzels all are regularly on our shopping list because they make good food on the go.
Pack Leftovers in Portions
To me, the easiest, healthiest, most cost effective lunches tend to be the remains of the previous night’s dinner. And when I’m smart, I package them in lunch-sized portions while I’m cleaning up.
I’m busy in the mornings. If the food I need is ready and waiting, i’m a lot more likely to grab it than if I have to make something special.
Stock Emergency Supplies
When I did have success in taking my lunch before, it was often because I’d pack a frozen entree, like Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice meals.
There’s a place for frozen entrees and other convenience foods in your brown bagging plan. You can pack and prepare them easily, so they are highly convenient. The portions tend to be limited, and they are less expensive than eating out. However, they tend to have tons of sodium and taste meh.
So lay in a few emergency supplies, but only use them as your emergency lunch. Instead of pulling them out every day, save them for the days you can’t manage anything else. You oversleep or your fridge is bare or your kid has a morning meltdown. If you can put your lunch together even on your busiest mornings, you’ll have a lot more luck reducing temptation to skip a day in your brown bagging routine.
Pack the Night Before
I’ve seen plenty of bloggers suggest packing your lunch the night before when you have more time to get your lunch ready.
In fairness, I’ve never used this strategy. I tend to have time in the morning, if not always focus. But if time creeps up on you on a regular basis in the morning, then getting your lunch together before you go to bed makes a ton of sense. You’ll remove one of your fail points and set a new routine for success.
Pack a Snack
My work schedule can change unexpectedly, and I can go from having a 4 hour office day with no lunch break to having a 8 hour office day.
That doesn’t need to be a reason to buy lunch when I haven’t planned for it, though. On days I don’t pack a meal, I still try to pack substantial snacks just in case. Having a piece of fruit with me and an emergency protein bar or pack of crackers in the car has helped me avoid eating out multiple times.
Even if I don’t need to use them for lunch, having the snack can ward off takeout temptation on the way home.
Don’t Get Bored
I was able to successfully take lunch to work for a while by taking cheese, crackers and fruit every day. Then I tried the frozen meals every day approach.
Not surprisingly, I stopped taking lunch because the dining out options seemed way more interesting.
Now maybe you like a daily PB&J, like my friend Penny. But for me, trying to bring the same lunch every day is doomed to failure. I have to shake things up a bit. If you do too, a quick look on Pinterest or Google for lunch box ideas for adults should yield a ton of easy and nutritious options.
Budget some Breaks
I’m a lot more likely to stick to a brownbagging routine if I know that every so often I’ll get to enjoy a lunch out. I’ll also enjoy those lunches out a lot more.
The key for me is to limit my breaks from brown bagging to once a month and no more. If I do that, I’ll tend to push myself through some of the days when I might want to skip lunch preparation to save my break for a later day when I can enjoy it more.
Whether you limit your breaks from brown bagging your lunch to once a month or once a week, you’ll find it helps keep you on track much better than saying “I’ll never do it.” You’ll give yourself the opportunity to network and enjoy the local dining options while still saving money and eating healthier most of the time.
Track Your Savings
If you’re taking lunch to save money, try quantifying your savings and add it up to stay motivated. Say you were spending less than most, maybe on average just $6 a day on eating out. Maybe you think taking your lunch costs you about $2 a day. So for every day you bring your lunch, put aside $4. At the end of the week or month, add all those $4 increments together. If you brought your lunch every day for 4 weeks, you’ve saved an extra $80, and almost $1000 in a year!
If you can put a dollar sign on what you’re doing, you’re more likely to stay focused and motivated to keep with your brown bagging routine.
Brown Bagging Success
Establishing new habits isn’t easy, even when we know the benefits. And there are a ton of financial and health benefits to taking your lunch to work instead of buying lunch on the job.
So if you’ve wanted to take your lunch to work and just have had trouble setting a brown bagging routine, try these 9 strategies to help set a brown bagging habit by making lunch packing easier and more convenient. Your wallet and your body will thank you!
Do you take your lunch, or eat out more often? What’s your best strategy for making taking food from home convenient?