End Lunch Time Lunacy

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Frugal Lunch Ideas

My Story: Convenience & Culture

Bring Your Own Lunch

Looking for Creative Ideas for Cheap Lunches

My husband and I are looking at ways to cut back on spending. One area that we would like reduce spending is my husband's lunch during the day. He averages about $100 a week just on lunch!

He works in road construction, so he is never at the office where he can warm food up or store items that need to be kept really cold. He has a little cooler that he takes, but it doesn't stay cool for long staying in the heat all day. We've tried sandwiches for a while until he couldn't stand them, then he went back to eating out.

I would love to hear any creative ideas for his lunch!

Cooking Your Lunch While You Work

My husband works in construction and hates sandwiches with a passion. He's come up with a unique way to heat his food for lunch. He takes leftovers from supper or precooks a sausage, hamburger patty or hotdog and wraps it in tinfoil. He packs whatever condiments he needs. At about 11:00 am, he gets off the machine he is working on (bulldozer, hyhoe, backhoe) and puts the well-wrapped tinfoil parcel on the engine. Then gets back on the machine and works until noon. When he retrieves his lunch, it is steaming hot and heated right through. Beats warm, soggy sandwiches any day.
Jodi J.

editor's note: Obviously we suggest using some common sense here. We don't want any Tim Allen imitators!

Dual-Purpose Water Bottles

During a summer of a similar type of work, I began to freeze 20oz to 32oz bottles of water for use as "ice packs". Every night before going to bed, I would fill two to three bottles from the tap and place them in the freezer. In the morning, I put them into my small cooler.

The bottles served double purpose - they kept my lunch cold until lunchtime and (more importantly) I had cool water to drink all day as the heat melted the solid bottles. One hint: if one uses thin-walled bottles, do not fill to the top as they split. My sister also used this trick while working construction one summer.

Wide-Mouth Thermos Works for Hot/Cold Variety

Here are my suggestions re keeping foods warm - purchase a wide mouthed thermos to keep foods like lasagna, or pasta type dishes warm. There are several on the market available at outdoors/camping supply stores that sell these items. You could have a variety of hot foods like chili, beef stew and various types of one pot dishes. Hearty soups also keep warm for more than 4 hours. Soup and sandwich is a substantial combination. For variety, you could also use the same wide mouthed thermos jars for cold pasta and/or potato salads. And for those days when you are tired of the hot or cold foods, and want to get back to sandwiches, we never tire of the variety of gourmet fillings you could have e.g. shrimp and/or crab meat with mayonnaise, prosciutto and Brie. Also experiment with different kinds of breads to make your lunches more interesting.

Cheap Lunch Saves $1,250 a Year

When cutting costs people should look toward simple solutions rather than complex. Cheap lunches can be easily taken care of by living by one simple rule: leftovers. I make a hefty six figure salary and still am amazed that many of the people I work with waste precious time and hundreds of dollars a month on expensive lunches! Instead of wasting my time and money, I don't just eat lunch; I dine on great leftovers.

Starting on Friday evenings, I always make a little extra of my favorite meals; and therefore, never find myself scrambling for good meals during the week. On Sunday night, I pack up a half a dozen or so plastic containers (I use recycled plastic containers but for those without refrigerators at work, you may need to use an extra ice pack in a cooler to keep food cool until lunch).

Last week my lunches consisted of the following: Monday, vegetable risotto and green salad; Tuesday, cheese enchiladas and rice; Wednesday, tofu stir-fry and fresh fruit; Thursday, risotto and salad; Friday, homemade pizza and bread sticks. All of these meals took less than five minutes to assemble because they had already been made at home. In addition, I never have time to eat breakfast before I leave in the mornings so I bake up healthy muffins over the weekend, throw them in with my lunch and eat them with my morning coffee.

Lunches need not be complicated or expensive or even time consuming. Just make a little bit extra throughout the week and assemble leftovers on Sunday night. Its that simple. The only caveat for this strategy is that you actually are making meals your spouse likes and that your dinner recipes can be expanded easily to increase the quantities. I have calculated that, at the rate of $5.00 a meal (and that's cheap considering the cost of meals here in Silicon Valley), I save more than $1,250.00 a year.

Consider Lunch a "Picnic Opportunity"

I don't like sandwiches either. So think "Picnic Opportunity". Get 1 or more wide-mouth Thermos containers. Blue ice is great for keeping stuff cold. Or freeze beverages (juice boxes or refillable plastic bottles). They'll save space and thaw by lunch.

Thermos Lunches:

  • BBQ Chicken/pork/beef cut into bite-size pieces
  • Hamburger patty (small enough to fit in Thermos opening). Pack bun separately in Zip-lock bag. Include condiments in small jelly-sample jars or mini-Tupperware. Pickles/onion slices in Zip-Lock bags. Include paper plate. He can assemble on-site. Include "wet-ones" for clean up.
  • Sloppy Joes (pack bun separately and assemble on-site) Baked beans in another Thermos makes a good side.
  • Spaghetti or goulash
  • Stir Fry (mix rice in together)
  • Hearty soup or stews

Assuming that you have a microwave, all of these items can be easily re-heated in the morning, when packing your husband's lunch.

Cool alternatives:

  • Cold pasta or other salads are also a possibility. I put dressing in 2-3 of
  • the jelly-sampler jars and then put those in a Zip-Lock bag.
  • Cold BBQ Chicken on a bun
  • Cold Pizza
  • Cheese and crackers and fresh fruit

Last, but not least...sometimes I include a little "love note" or "cut-out" confetti hearts in my husband's lunch cooler.

Lunch Ideas to Pack

If you put plenty of ice and salt in the cooler, then the following should work:

  • Chicken
  • Chicken Salad and Crackers
  • Ice Cream, Yogurt, Frozen Smoothies
  • Hard Boiled Eggs
  • Potato Salad
  • Fruits

On days that he wants to go out, use coupons to fast food restaurants.

Buy groceries, earn cash back at Checkout 51

Invest to Save

If your husband is spending $100 a week on lunch, then it is worthwhile to make a onetime investment to lower that ongoing cost. Here are 3 suggestions:

The cheapest is to pack a 'regular' ice chest, instead of a small cooler. You can put in enough ice to definitely stay icy cold all day long. In addition to plain sandwiches, try stuffed pitas or wraps, pasta salad, green salads of all types . . . check websites for more cool recipe ideas.

Have you seen the Pyrex dishes designed to keep food hot or cold? They are glass Pyrex dishes, and they come with an insulated carry bag. Depending on what you are serving, you insert either the cold pack (which you keep in your freezer till needed) or the hot pack (which you zap in the microwave for about 3 minutes before using). I use these often for family get togethers, the food is made and stored well ahead of time, and always plenty cool or warm when time to eat hours later. Mine are fairly large, but I do think you can get them smaller. Or, put food in small size glass containers and then put those into the large Pyrex container.

On the Road Ideas

My husband is on the road all day and this is what we do for his lunches: As an alternative to sandwiches, try cold salads-- tossed salads, pasta salads-- there are dozens of possibilities, and alternate salads and sandwiches so your husband doesn't have the same thing day after day. Make sure you have one of the "Igloo" coolers-- these are hard plastic, not the soft vinyl. And use the cooler packs that you store in the freezer to keep cold things cold. There are also some can coolers (if you can find them in your area) that you freeze. These keep a can cold for hours. An alternative is to freeze fruit drinks, water, etc. in plastic containers and take them out in the morning. They can be used to help keep everything else cold and also you have a nice icy drink at lunchtime. On cold days, take a Thermos with soup, stew, canned pastas, or even hot dogs (put the hot dogs in the thermos with boiling water and they'll still be hot at lunchtime). Before putting the hot food in the thermos, let the thermos set for a few minutes with hot or boiling water in it. This pre-warms the thermos and keeps food hotter longer.
Carrie C.

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