Summer is upon us and office-bound workers everywhere are looking for an excuse to get outdoors. Since lunch is often the only opportunity to enjoy the sunshine, restaurants and fast-food chains will likely enjoy an uptick in midday patronage.
This is good news for those in the restaurant industry, but bad news for the waistlines and personal budgets of those who sit for a living. According to a study reported by Delish.com earlier this year, 66 percent of Americans buy their lunch nearly every day, spending close to $160 every month. Put that money to better use and try these eight ways to brown bag it for savings.
1. Get Creative
The latest trend in healthy, on-the-go eating is "salad in a jar." This creative concept keeps salads fresh for up to three days, though proper stacking etiquette is required. Select your favorite dressing -- or better yet, make it yourself -- and add it to a mason jar followed by salad fixin's like onion, carrots, mushrooms and bell pepper. Add the greens last to keep them from getting soggy.
2. Make It To-Go
Brown bagging it is fairly easy for those of us glued to our chairs all day, but it's more challenging when you're on-the-go. Yet, you can still save money and calories by packing a to-go lunch old-school style. Hit up FreeShipping.org for coupons to Kohl's, which offers great styles of insulated lunch totes. Add an icepack to keep it cool and save even more time when you're on the road.
As in "Bring Your Own Ingredients." Lame acronym, I know, but the method is still very effective and money savvy. If your office is equipped with a refrigerator and prep area, purchase lunch fixings for the week and make your salad or sandwich when hunger strikes. The time it takes to do so is likely much less than what you burn driving to the nearest fast food joint.
4. Mix It Up
When I find something I like, I tend to eat it religiously until the very sight of it repulses me. Though I'm currently enjoying three solid weeks of an extraordinary sandwich, don't be like me; mix it up to keep yourself from binging on cheap, pseudo-Mexican fare. Check the Internet for inspiration when your culinary ideas run dry, like this great list of unique lunch ideas from Real Simple Magazine.
5. Waste Not, Want Not
When I'm in a rush to get to work, I skip lunch prep in favor of leftovers from dinner. If my husband and I greedily consumed it all the night before, I've also been know to grab random items like ham steak and sugar snap peas. Ultimately, it doesn't matter if your lunch is "put together," just as long as it's satisfying and healthy. Plus, you reduce the risk of leftovers going bad which is the ultimate waste of money.
6. Keep it Seasonal
No healthy lunch is complete without a hefty serving of fruits and vegetables, but produce is often expensive. Keep costs low by purchasing items in season, and beware of buying perishable items in bulk unless you can commit to consuming them all before expiration.
7. Stay Satisfied
Even if you bring your lunch from home, midday hunger may sabotage your efforts to avoid the fast food joint down the road. That's why bringing snacks as well as lunch is so important. However, that doesn't mean you should binge on Cheetos and chocolate bars; instead, consider these healthy snacks under 200 calories from MSN.
8. Try Prepackaged
Some days, just getting out the door is a struggle and preparing your lunch is unrealistic. Stock up on on healthy, prepackaged foods to pop in the microwave on these days. The June issue of ShopSmart Magazine recommends several healthy choices, including Kashi All Natural Chicken Florentine ($4.99) and Michael Angelo's Eggplant Parmesan ($4.59).
Kendal Perez is a frugal fashionista and bargain shopper who helps fellow shopaholics find hassle-free ways to save money. As the site manager for a family of money-saving websites, Kendal has the resources to be an extreme couponer but prefers a less complicated approach to staying in-budget.
I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!