The Lunch Club
by Rebecca Underwood
The Frugal Lunchbox
Frugal Lunch Ideas
Lunches to Love
I'm single with no kids and my roommate has eating habits that are very different from mine. We don't have much space for OAMC (once a month cooking) storage, so if I cook for the week I usually find myself rotating the same two dishes for lunch and dinner (ick!). Sandwiches get old fast, and processed foods are expensive.
While choking down yet another egg salad sandwich, I mentioned my dilemma to the usual lunch group at work. To my surprise, I found that my co-workers weren't any happier! One had kids and found it difficult to get lunch together every morning. Another was married with no kids, but stepchildren visiting off-and-on made her schedule tough to predict. A third was single like me, but hated to cook and found it difficult to avoid prepared foods.
As we shared our complaints, an idea was born! Why not start a "Lunch Club"? If each of us brought lunch one day per week for the whole group, then we'd only be responsible for one lunch apiece! Imagine...at least three days a week that we didn't even have to think about lunch! Fridays could be On-Your-Own day, and each of us could bring our own lunch or grab an inexpensive burger. But would it really work?
Yes! The Lunch Club was an unqualified hit! As expected, each of us found that it was quite a relief not to have to worry about lunch for most of the week. It really wasn't much more effort to bring lunch for four than lunch for one. Our expenses went down because we weren't tempted to substitute prepared foods. As a bonus, we thoroughly enjoyed sampling dishes that we'd never tried before. And perhaps most importantly, we enjoyed each other's company more than ever.
Whether you're tired of dragging the same lunches to work every day or you're a stay-at-home mom who's sick of her own cooking, consider forming a Lunch Club of your own. If you do, my own experience suggests that the following tips will make it easier to be successful.
- Together, write down the club's guidelines before you begin. Make copies and ask each member to sign his/her copy as a gesture of commitment.
- Assign each member a particular day of the week. It's much easier to remember your responsibility if Tuesday is always your day, for example. If your work schedule varies, make assignments on a calendar as far ahead of time as possible. Of course members can switch days with each other if necessary, but it's best to do that only under special circumstances. Agree that day switching will be coordinated at least 2 days in advance, or whatever seems reasonable to the group.
- Make a list of "Foods to Avoid" (or at least serve "on the side"). Is anyone allergic to cucumbers? Does someone hate broccoli? You'll want to make lunches that everyone can and will eat, so be thorough!
- Establish the overall cooking guidelines. Does the group want meals to be meatless? Would everyone prefer lowfat lunches? Do you want to set a maximum total cost? Set expectations for these things before you begin.
- If appropriate (and if you haven't done it already!), ask everyone to keep a microwave-safe plate and bowl, a fork, a knife, and a spoon on hand. If that's not possible, consider a $1.00 to $2.00 contribution per month that will help buy the disposable stuff. At least it will be cheaper in bulk!
- Encourage each member to keep at least one non-perishable lunch on hand (can of soup and crackers, package of ramen noodles, tuna salad kit, etc.). Even if your group is committed to the Lunch Club, emergencies can happen.
I'd encourage anyone to try a Lunch Club if you think it might be right for you. The savings in money, time, and energy are substantial. Most importantly, there's nothing quite as satisfying as a community effort among friends!
My Story is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story to share please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with "My Story" as the subject. You don't need to be a writer. Just someone who's learned about saving money and is willing to share the information with others.
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