Back 2 Work Lunch Ideas
Here in NJ, the Day After Labor Day means one thing: my social media feeds will be flooded with pics of my friends’ kids sporting their new backpacks and First Day of School outfits while waiting for the bus. And hopefully healthy packed lunch boxes. But kids aren’t the only ones who should be taking a lunch from home. Let this new month prompt a new habit for you: start taking lunch to work.
When I worked in NYC full-time as an advertising executive, I always brought my own lunch. Taking lunch to work wasn’t just a health choice, but a financial one as well. Lunch in NYC can run anywhere from $8-15 per day. Multiply that times 5 for 4 weeks, and that $160-300 per month is money I’d rather spend on shoes or yoga pants.
Make a commitment to start bringing lunch a few times a week to work. Start small with 2 or 3 days if you’re not used to bringing lunch. You can take turns making lunch for each other, or make lunch together the night before or the next morning. Create a reward system to keep each other motivated to bring lunch, and treat yourselves to something nice with the money you’ll save.
Reduce the Excuses
If keeping up a healthy lifestyle is important, then the first thing you both need to do is reset your mindset:
“I don’t have time to grocery shop, so there’s no food available at home to make anything for lunch.”
So you’re telling me your fridge, freezer, and pantry are completely bare? Set aside an hour on the weekend to grocery shop, take turns with your significant other rotating the responsibility, or if going in person is not an option, do a home grocery delivery or curbside pick-up service offered by Fresh Direct, PeaPod or ShopRite.
“I don’t have time to pack lunch in the morning.”
Me neither – that’s why I do it the night before as I’m preparing dinner or cleaning up afterwards. One mess, less stress, and multiple meals.
“Even if I do remember to make a lunch, I forget it every time.”
This is why sticky notes were invented – place a reminder note on your bathroom mirror, door to leave the house, or steering wheel. Or set a daily reminder alert on your cell phone to go off every morning. OR bring some groceries to keep handy at work so you can make your lunch then and there.
“I don’t like sandwiches that were made 4 hours ago – or last night.”
This is Mr E’s #1 excuse. So instead of making the full lunch, pack the items separately and combine them when it’s time to eat. Or, as Lauren Harris-Pincus of Nutrition Starring You points out, “People think that if it’s not a
sandwich, it’s not lunch. I say to look at lunch like a bento box with a bunch of different items to provide nutrition and variety. Sort of like “Lunchables” for adults. That’s also a great way to empty out the fridge and decrease food waste.” Kelli Shallal of Hungry Hobby provides helpful tips for how to create your own “Lunchable”, which includes selecting a lean protein, healthy fat, veggies, and of course, a treat.
“I don’t have a place to store my lunch.”
With many offices transitioning to “community” settings, you may have to be prepared to carry your lunch with you. If fridge space is unavailable, or you spend a lot of time in the car, then invest in an insulated lunch bag and reusable ice packs to keep food safe. And if you pack your significant other’s lunch too, don’t forget to leave a love note inside for a mid-day pick me up!
“Buying lunch is a status symbol in my office – only recent college grads bring lunch to work.”
Working in NYC, there is definitely a perception that if you bring your lunch, then you’re lower on the totem pole. Anytime I would go the break room during lunch, at least once a day I heard a co-worker say, “Yeah, I’m brining my lunch now because I’m poor.” I always hated the stigma bringing lunch to a corporate office brings. I proudly told people all the time that I bring my own lunch because A) I like having control over what I’m eating; B) I don’t have time to wait in long lines during lunch hour; and C) Why spend a lot of money on lunch when I can buy shoes during lunchtime instead?
“My office orders lunch for us everyday – why would I bring my own?”
Do you get to pick what is ordered, or are you at the mercy of the office admin? Does the same sandwich platter get delivered to your office 3 or more times a week? Sure, the convenience and money-saving factor is certainly a bonus for you, but what is it costing you in the long run? And with many companies cutting back on budgets, assume providing lunch for employees is one of the first luxuries to go.
“I have lunch meetings most days, so there’s no point in bringing lunch.”
If the lunch meetings are taking place in your office, and the same issues as above are coming up (no control over what is ordered, limited variety, boredom), then start a new trend and bring your own lunch to the meeting. If you frequently dine out for lunch meetings, then consider packing a few snacks to keep handy at your desk to eat prior to dining out. This will help limit how much is consumed at the restaurant, which can add up in calories before we know it.
Get the Right Tools
You need the right tools to bring your lunch, just like with anything else! Cara Harbstreet of Street Smart Nutrition suggests investing in high quality containers with water-tight sealed lids to prevent spills or leaks. Stock your cabinets with multiple sizes so you have plenty of options. You’ll be equipped to pack a single container for a casserole or salad type lunch, all the way down to individual containers for sauces, condiments, or dressings you might need. Harbstreet also recommends getting organized – nothing is more annoying than searching for the lid you need so place a small basket or divider in your drawer or cabinet to store lids separately and conserve space.
Plan Outside the Bread
No, a sandwich is not your only lunch option! If you’re in need of some lunch-spiration, check out these recipes and additional tips provided by my Registered Dietitian colleagues:
- 5 Simple Ways to Pack a Healthy Lunch from Kelli Shallal of Hungry Hobby
- Broccoli Slaw Salad with Flaxseeds & Hemp Seeds from Amy Gorin of Amy Gorin Nutrition. Gorin suggests this side salad can be turned into a main course by adding grilled tofu or chicken breast with a side of quinoa or brown rice.
- Lunchbox Pesto Tortellini from Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition
- Join the the Mason Jar Salad trend! Sharon Palmer, the Plant-Powered Dietitian, provides tips and recipes on how to make a mason salad jar. Nazima Qureshi of Nutrition by Nazima shares her Salad in a Jar recipe for another take on this trend. OR check out the below video I share of Mastering Mason Jar Salads, then Contact ME to participate in a Mason Jar Salad Workshop event in-person or virtually!
- Don’t ignore all the Back to School articles you’re seeing this week featuring healthy lunch recipes for kids. No matter what age we are, we all need to eat lunch, so check out these 5 Quick, Easy, and Healthy School Lunch Ideas + 36 Recipes To Try from Jessica Fishman Levinson of Small Bites and NEVER complain of lunchtime boredom again!
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WHICH LUNCHTIME EXCUSE ARE YOU READY TO DITCH?
WHAT LUNCH RECIPE ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO TRYING?
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