If spending less money and eating healthier are on your resolution list for 2016, there’s an easy way to achieve both goals at the same time: Stop eating lunch out. Start bringing your lunch to work and you’ll not only save hundreds of dollars per year, but you’ll also be completely in control of what you’re putting into your body. When you’re busy at the office and wait to think about lunch until you’re hungry, you’re more likely to make bad food decisions, order too much, and overeat. Packing your lunch eliminates this problem. Kicking your lunch habit might seem hard, but if you follow the tips listed below and commit yourself to making the change, it can be done. Here’s how to quit eating out for lunch and actually enjoy it.
Don’t believe that you’ll save a lot of money by not eating out? Track the cost of your lunch for the next two weeks. Eat out as you normally would and keep a log of what you’re eating and how much it costs. A turkey sandwich at the local gourmet sandwich shop can cost as much as $12. However, if you make a turkey sandwich and buy your groceries at Woolies, you’ll be able to get a week's worth (or more) of turkey sandwiches for that same price.
Get in the habit of thinking about your lunch the night before. While you’re cleaning up the kitchen after eating dinner, figure out what you’re going to bring to work the next day. Set aside leftovers, whip up a quick batch of tuna salad, or place the ingredients for a salad into a Tupperware.
Another great idea is to consider your lunch while you’re making dinner. If you’re making chicken and pasta, roast an extra chicken breast. Slice it and add it to a farro salad with arugula and goat cheese and eat that for lunch the next day. If you prefer to have a lunch that is completely different from last night’s dinner, put it together while you’re waiting for dinner to be done. For example, pop that lasagna in the oven, then prep tomorrow’s veggie pita with hummus for lunch.
Pack healthy and mindful lunches of your favorite foods. If peanut butter and jelly is your jam, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you’re into veggie-packed bowls, steam up some brown rice, then fill a Tupperware with rice, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, spinach, a squirt of soy sauce, and a tablespoon of harissa. Crazy about cheese plates? Pack a wedge of white cheddar, an apple, a handful of almonds, and seeded crackers. Make nutritious meals of food you want to eat.
Make lunch your healthy meal time. Go vegan or vegetarian, eat gluten-free, or eliminate dairy. Eat a big salad or vegetable soup. When you eat a clean lunch, you can indulge more at dinner. Plus, making one of your meals incredibly healthy every day is a simple way to improve your diet.
Nobody wants to eat a soggy sandwich or wilted salad. Be smart when packing your lunch. When you place a juicy tomato next to soft bread and stick it into a plastic baggy, the bread will most likely get soggy. Leave the tomato slices out of the sandwich. Place them in a separate container and put the tomato on the sandwich just before you eat it. When packing a salad, layer the ingredients with the most hardy items (Brussel sprouts, broccoli, carrots) on the bottom and the softer items (cheese, tomatoes, etc.) on the top. Toss just before eating.
Stock up on Tupperware and disposable takeout containers. The next time you’re at the supermarket, head to the area where they sell antipasto or salads. Pick up a few of the plastic containers in all three sizes. They are perfect for transporting grains, pasta, and green salads. If you make a lot of soups, grab the microwave-safe soup cartons. When purchasing a lot of groceries, supermarket usually don't charge for this sort of paper and plastic goods.
Fill your fridge with the necessary ingredients to make different lunches. One week get tortillas and you can make bean burritos, quesadillas, or taco salad. The next week, get a baguette and use it to make sandwiches at the start of the week and croutons for soup or salad at the end of the week. If you know you’re going to be out during the evenings and you won’t have time to make your lunch, fill your fridge with prepared salads. Almost every grocery store has pre-made salads that you assemble and toss just before eating. Buy a few on Sunday and eat them for lunch throughout the week. Easy to eat seasonal fruit (apples, bananas, grapes, clementines, etc.) make great snacks or additions to lunch.
Bring leftovers from last night’s dinner to lunch the next day at work. Soups, stews, casseroles, baked pasta dishes, and chili are easy to reheat in the office kitchen’s microwave. If you roast a whole chicken with potatoes on Monday night, use the leftovers to make lunch for the rest of the week. Slice the chicken and sandwich between whole wheat bread with hummus, greens, and avocado. Cut the potatoes into chunks and toss with green beans, olives, and hard-boiled egg to make a simple niçoise salad.
Ask one of your work friends to join you on your bring-your-lunch-to-work journey. The two of you can hold each other accountable and swap recipes. Once you have gone a couple of weeks, set a date to celebrate your new habit and go out for happy hour together. If you’re not too friendly with your coworkers, ask your significant other to eat lunch at their work or do it with your best friend.
If you enjoy going out to lunch because it gives you a break from being at your desk, don’t eat your homemade lunch at your desk! Grab your bag lunch and head to a nearby park or pull up a seat in the office kitchen. Just because you bring your lunch that doesn’t mean you have to eat it in front of your computer. You will actually be you more productive when you take a true lunch break! If you do end up eating at your desk, take a brisk walk after you’re done with lunch or got out for a coffee or cookie later in the afternoon. Don’t make this a regular habit—keep it more of a once and awhile thing.
When I worked in an office, I almost always brought my lunch to work, but about every two months, I treated myself to lunch out. I met up with a good friend and went to a nearby, much talked about restaurant and had a grand time. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. If you can’t remember the last time you went out to lunch, grab a gal pal and make a date. Or if you’re on a roll with your healthy lunch diet, treat yourself to dinner at that hot spot you’re dying to check out.
Need lunch ideas? Here are 23 easy and delicious bring-to-work lunch suggestions.
Shop essentials for bringing your lunch to work below.
Do you bring your lunch to work? What is your best go-to meal?