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Brown-bagging your lunch to work

Whether you truly bring a brown bag, or a lunch box or Ziploc container to work, bringing a homemade lunch to work can save you thousands a year, for someone eating out three or more days a week.

A survey by Visa Canada found 60 percent of Canadians spend between $7 to $13 on lunch, each time they go out. Keep in mind, this is a survey, and most probably underestimate how much they really spend when dining out. In any case, if they’re spending that amount 3 times a week, that still adds up to between $1000 and $2000 on lunches per year.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty nice trip to the Caribbean.

Three days a week isn’t uncommon either. In both my past and current jobs, I’m seeing more and more of my colleagues heading out for lunch every day. I often wonder how these people can afford to eat out for lunch every day. And these aren’t even the ones who are making good money.

When I think of my average lunch spend, my wife and I spend less than $20 on average on our lunches for the entire five-day work-week. That’s less than $4 per day, for the both of us. That includes bread or wraps, deli meats, cheese, salads, snacks, fruits, etc. It’s both cheaper and healthier.

Common lunch excuses that don’t make cents

  • Have no time to make your lunch in the morning? Pack your lunch the night before and stop making excuses. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, it’s important to plan your meals ahead of time. Write a list of potential lunches and make a plan.
  • Bored of the same lunch every day? If there are any dinner meals you’re making during the week, cook a little extra and take the leftovers for lunch. How about bringing pasta, or chili? Ha! and you said lunch was boring.
  • But there’s nothing in my fridge. Raid your pantry, the freezer. Stock up on your non-perishables. Things like soups, tuna, and peanut butter are cheap and easy.
  • There’s no microwave or fridge at my work. If you don’t have a thermos, get one. They’re not just for keeping drinks warm (or cold). There are lots of insulated bags, containers and food jars on the market, that work. I got one!
  • How about drinks and snacks? Bring your own. Fruit cups, granola bars, etc. You want chips? Buy a big bag, it’ll be cheaper than the small ones you get from your snack machine and take them with you in little Ziploc bags. You want a drink? Drink water. Or bring your own. A case of 24 cans of pop will run you about $7 at the grocery store, regular price. A single can at a pop machine, will run you up to $2. You decide.
  • Eating out to be social? I understand going out every once and a while. Everyone does that. But if you’re relying on food to make you social, I don’t know what to say. Ever heard of a lunch room? Tired of the lunch room? Go for a walk to the local park and pack a picnic. If it’s truly a social networking event, and there’s true value in it, then maybe it’s worth it. But more often than not, I see my colleagues will buy lunch at some fast food joint and then sit at their desk, eating mindlessly, while they work. So next time you take a bite out of that sub, remember that that sub is biting away at your Caribbean vacation.

Think about how much you’re spending per week on lunches. Add up all your snacks, your afternoons out with colleagues. Keep your receipts – you might be surprised. Now I’m not saying you have to ditch your routine completely, eating out “every once and a while” is perfectly okay.

Sometimes we just need some lunch-spiration

Ok, true, ham and cheese sandwiches can be boring every day, but your lunch doesn’t have to be. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s some other brown-bag lunch recipes from Martha Stewart and Chatelaine Magazine. There’s some great healthy lunch ideas for work in there, as well as easy lunch ideas for your kids. If you don’t have an ingredient, don’t worry about it,  just substitute it and make it your own. In the end, not only is it lighter on your wallet, but chances are, your homemade lunches will be healthier too.

And if you’re brown-bagging your kids lunch every day, why can’t you?  Do you have any favourite brown-bag lunches, you’d like to share?  How much do you spend per week on lunches?


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