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Queen of free: Packing own lunch worth the savings

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We all know that eating lunch out every day can be a major money suck. Even if you keep things on the cheap side, you can still spend around $25 per week, which equals $100 per month and that totals $1,200 per year.

Just think what you could do with that cash if you made the extra effort to take your lunch.

The King of Free has made a strong commitment to taking his lunch to work with him, both saving money and maximizing his working hours. We also pack the Princesses’ lunches during the school year, which helps us save money and helps them both eat much more healthfully.

But the questions remain, what should you pack? How much should you pack? And what can you do to shave a bit off the cost of bringing lunch from home?

What to pack

Obviously leftovers are the top choice for most. I usually try to make enough for at least one extra serving at dinner for this very purpose. Sometimes this doesn’t work, though.

During temperate weather, I marinate and then grill an entire bag of frozen chicken on Mondays. That night we have a dish that features the chicken, and then I chop the remaining breasts and store them in the fridge or freezer. It is simple to toss this delicious lean protein source into a salad or pasta or make it into a sandwich. I find that I’m at ease knowing that the chicken is always there as an option if we don’t have enough leftovers.

What about beverages?

Ditch the juice boxes, sodas and water bottles. At the beginning of our debt-slaying journey, we were purchasing juice boxes to place in the eldest Princess’ lunch box. A few years ago, for both economical and ecological reasons, we chose to purchase a nice reusable bottle that we pour bottled juice into instead. It saved us a $3 to $4 a week, and the bottle paid for itself in only a couple of weeks. She also enjoyed having milk occasionally or water (by far the most economical beverage) instead of juice, too.

For big people, bring a reusable bottle of tea, water or another beverage from home to cut costs. The King actually only drinks water and keeps cups at the office to drink from his office’s filtrating system.

Be sure you have enough

Don’t blow your lunch-bringing strategy by packing too light. The last thing you want to do is to have a moment of weakness and pay 10 times what you should on a vending machine purchase and probably something you’ll regret eating later, too. Pack snacks such as fresh-cut vegetables, whole fruits, whole grain crackers and cheese, whole raw nuts, string cheese, yogurt or granola. Any one of these snacks will still be good later in the week if you don’t get to them on the day you bring them with you.

Stash snacks at the office

If you can, keep a jar of peanut butter and fruit spread in your break room or desk. That way if push comes to shove, you can grab a couple of pieces of bread on the way out the door and have a simple lunch. And more than likely, you’ll have a leftover snack from a day earlier in the week to pair with this childhood favorite. It is also a great idea to keep some instant oatmeal at work in case you have skipped breakfast because you were pinched for time. Crackers, nuts and granola bars are all great desk mates, too.

Step away from the chips

As tasty as they are, chips and pretzels are not a wise lunch choice. Sure they taste great with your deli sandwich, but they both usually prove to be more expensive than fruits and veggies. Processed snack foods also leave you feeling hungry only an hour later, causing you to eat and spend more in the long run. Choose high-quality nutritional foods (lean meats and cheese, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.) that take longer to digest so you stay full longer and keep the munchies at bay.

Don’t baby your carrots

It is much more affordable to purchase full-sized carrots and peel and chop them. Typically you’ll pay two to three times less for traditional carrots. It does take a few minutes, but it certainly pays off.

Break out your brown bag and keep your hard-earned green. Your waistline and wallet will both thank you.

Greenwood resident Cherie Lowe and her husband paid off $127,000 in debt in four years and now live debt-free every day with their two kids. Send questions, column ideas and comments to newstips@dailyjournal.net

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