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Our adventure with Optometry school leaves us short on cash each month. We used to get by until daycare expenses started rolling in, and now we’re left scraping by each month, trying hard not spend over what I make. Needless to say, I’m always looking for ways to cut back.
After we moved to a bigger home, it was further away from work. Before, we would both just go home for lunch, but now, that’s no longer an option in the short hour we have off. Now that I’m actually surrounding myself with others during lunch, I’m amazed at how often people either eat out or order in for lunch. I’m also much more aware of how easy and convenient it is to use this option. I mean, who really wants to eat sandwiches every day? Not me, that’s who.
Since our current restaurant budget is a whopping $0 a month, I’ve had to get a little creative on what we bring each day, and trust me, sandwiches are not the easy, cheapest route to go!
After months of trying out different options, I’ve finally settled on a routine that works so well for us, plus leaves mornings stress free. Win, win, right? Oh, and did I mention we save SO much money by doing this? Major win.
Solution: pack your own lunch.
I get it. This is not a ground breaking revolution. HOWEVER, my routine works so well for us, and it can for you, too. It doesn’t involve spending hours over the weekend prepping for the week. It doesn’t involve frozen entrees, which are also not a cheap lunch after awhile, by the way. Yes, this can be a daunting task if you are not properly equipped. I would have long ago given up if we were eating sandwiches everyday. Instead, we eat leftovers.
I make one meal a night and only choose meal options that will generate leftovers for our lunches throughout the week. Meal planning definitely makes this a much easier task to accomplish. If you’d like to see how I meal plan, check out my post How to Meal Plan. I’ve also listed out meal items I like to use in my menu in the post Planning a 4+ Week Menu. Many of the recipes are included via links, so check them out for meal inspiration!
Each night, after we’ve eaten dinner, I package the leftovers in individual serving sizes, and put them in the fridge. This does mean more Tupperware containers and more fridge clutter, but doing it this way makes it waaaaay easier. Then, in the mornings, I just grab two containers, one for each lunch box, two pieces of fruit, and silverware, and viola! Lunches are packed.
I use these cheap Tupperware containers because they are the ones we have on hand, gifted to us from our wedding registry. In hindsight, I wish I would have registered for glass containers if I had known how much I would use these every day. Though more expensive, these are the ones I would actually recommend for this meal process.
If you plan out your meals well enough, you can accumulate enough leftovers throughout the week to mix up your lunch options. This way, you aren’t eating what you just ate the night before. I think that’s the key in making leftovers more tolerable. I usually start my leftover process with Saturday night’s meal. The leftovers from that meal become our lunches for Monday, Sunday night’s meal becomes Tuesday’s lunch, etc. I try to finish off all leftovers by Friday’s lunch so nothing goes to waste.
I’ve even noticed that I’ve lost weight and maintained that weight loss by doing this. I only pack enough food for a decent lunch. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. No massive serving sizes from restaurants. The majority of what I make is fairly healthy and almost all of it is homemade, made from scratch, so it is much healthier than eating out. And, this is pretty much the only way I’m able to get my servings of fruit in for the day. So, another win!
This doesn’t seem like a revolutionary idea, but yet, so many people opt to go out for lunch each day. Just think: assume each lunch will cost between $5-$10 x 5 days a week = $25-$50 a week savings x approximately 4-5 weeks a month = $100-$250 a month savings! I know that’s a wide gap, but do know it’s pretty hard to find a decent lunch for under $5 if going the restaurant route.
It is also cheaper to make more of one meal than several separate meals, so my lunch option is about as cheap as you can get without majorly compromising nutrition while still offering the variety needed in order to have the will power to stick with the leftovers route.
This plan isn’t just for the out of the house working folks, either. Whether you work from home or are a stay at home mom or dad, you can easily implement this routine. I hate cooking for just myself, so if I have leftovers in the fridge, it keeps me from eating junk or not eating at all.
So, there you go! Any other lunch packing tips you’d like to share? I’m always game to more ideas on how to save money and live better! Share them below in the comments!