When I held my reader survey the other week, a lot of you suggested more posts on kitchen/meal organization and lunch/breakfasts. With this in mind, I thought it’d be fun to talk about lunch today! Anthony and I are dedicated lunch packers — in fact, I find it weirdly satisfying to tackle the challenge of finding the extra time and food to get us through the week without wasting money on buying lunch. Of course, the occasional lunch splurge is totally necessary — but 90% of the time we avoid sandwich and coffee shops in favor of a cheaper (and usually healthier!) homemade meal. However, obviously the effort requires organization, time, and planning which can be tough to squeeze in during a busy work week. Here are some tips on how we manage to pull off packing lunches Monday-Friday:
- Pack leftovers into lunch-ready containers the night before. I used to put dinner leftovers into one big single container and then re-portion them in the morning into lunch-sized containers. Until one day I realized… wow, this is really inefficient. So, now I place dinner leftovers into multiple smaller food storage containers at the end of the night. If the meal has toppings/condiments, I’ll put those in separate mini containers, too! Since all the ingredients for the meal are already out on the counter and open, I pack as much as possible for lunch the next day before putting them away.
- Invest in a good set of food storage containers. I already dedicated an entire post to my love for good food storage containers, so I’ll keep this short :). I really believe that having nice containers for your food makes leftovers more appealing to eat the next day, easier to store and stack, and easier to clean. Glass containers are my personal favorite!
- Stock up on quick-cooking pantry, fridge, and freezer foods. I try to limit myself to one grocery store trip per week, which means that by Friday we’re running pretty low on food. This is where a good freezer and pantry stash kicks in! Some of my favorite pantry, freezer, and fridge favorites that store well and cook/thaw quickly are quinoa, eggs, beans, bread, frozen broccoli, nuts, frozen bell peppers, onions, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, couscous, and veggie/beef burger patties. Another great go-to option: slow-cooking frozen meat in the crock pot overnight. You can quickly stir-fry some veggies and protein and toss them on top of a carb or starch for a quick lunch. One of my favorites is Mexican-style quinoa bowls with meat and/or beans, peppers, onions, salsa, and whatever other toppings I have on hand.
- Use your office fridge for storage. If you have access to a spacious fridge at your work, use it as additional storage! In the past I’ve kept sandwich and salad ingredients in my office fridge and assembled lunch in the office kitchen to save time. If you don’t have time to pack lunch before work, this approach is a good time-saver!
- Track your budget. If you’re losing lunch-packing motivation, just do some quick budgeting to get yourself back on track. According to this very detailed economic study on lunch buying and packing, it looks like you can save $500-$2,000 per year by packing your lunch. This other article assumes the average person would save about $1,500 per year. And if you’re married/have kids, multiply that number to make it even grander. A little mess in your kitchen is worth thousands of dollars to put toward a vacation, right?
… and speaking of lunch, I’ve got to go pack ours and head off to work. Tell me your time-saving food secrets in the comments!