Doggie-Bag Your Work Lunch (Save Money & Eat Better)

I’ve been working for three and a half years since graduating college, and for other than a short, crazy-busy period at work, I can count on my hands how many times I’ve purchased lunch at work. I bring my lunch to work everyday. I’ve created a system that makes it a thoughtless exercise in the morning. I just grab & go from my lunch stash!

Benefits of Bringing Your Lunch to Work

  1. You know what’s in your food – you made it! You made this meal. It’s contained only what  you chose to put in it, preservative-free, or whatever else you value.
  2. You limit impulsive decisions – don’t make food decisions when hungry. When you pack it the night before you can choose to pack a certain amount and type of food, and then that’s all you have. No cookie or chips at check-out.
  3. Preparing your own lunches is cheaper. Some might argue that it’s not worth your time when you can buy lunch for $5-10, but the beauty is that this barely takes any extra time (unless you make your lunches from source #2 below).

How do you create a never-ending lunch stash?

This system does depend on you preparing dinner or bulk meals at home. Note that I said “preparing” and not cooking. It doesn’t need to be elaborate!

Required Supplies:

Source #1: Extras from Dinner

Whenever we cook dinner, we always make enough so that we get anywhere from 2-6 “lunch containers” worth of extra food from dinner. If it’s a new recipe, we make a normal batch and get less, but if it’s a recipe we know we like, we double it. On average, we try to make 4 lunches per dinner.

We prepare dinner at home about 4 nights per week, so if we generate 4 lunches, we’re generating 16 lunch containers per week. For two people, that’s enough for 5 days worth of work lunches with Will enjoying eating out a few days per week.

An easy prepared dinner might be pasta with jarred sauce and frozen veggies. We make two boxes of pasta even though we need less than one! I might just be making a batch of brown rice + black beans with Mexican cheese. It could be something more complicated like Walnut Crusted Tofu and Roasted Brussels OR Tempeh Bulgogi with Baby Bok Choy. Either way, we make extras!

It’s part of our normal dinner clean-up routine to break out the lunch containers and make lunches. We keep labels by our fridge. We label the meal with the month, year, and contents, and they all go right in the freezer. We add the newer things to the back if I can finagle it (optional).

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Source #2: Find Time to make A Lot of Something Easy

If I want to add some variety or volume to the freezer, I have a handful of go-to bulk meals that make a lot of containers. I’ll find time on a free Saturday or Sunday maybe every other month to do something like make a Baked Ziti, big batch of Rice & Beans, Pesto Pasta with Veggies. My last round of Pesto Pasta with Veggies yielded 8 lunch containers and more to spare! I ran out of containers with the freezer full already.

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Source #3: Leverage Economical Take-Out

I apply this concept even when we’re getting take-out. I love the hot and sour soup at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Newton. I’ll get a large hot & sour soup for $6 that will fill four lunch containers. Beats the $6 single soup I would need to pay for at our closest cafe to the office. I also turn a single entree from our Chinese take-out into 2-3 more lunches, making more rice at home. Will eats more and maybe gets 1-2 lunches out of his take-out entrees.

The beauty of this is that after 2-3 weeks, your choices for lunch are pretty awesome. On a given evening packing my lunch, I’m choosing between 4-6 different things.