I’ve been analyzing our family’s finances lately. Gosh, doesn’t that sound fancy! At any rate, I got curious about how our food budget plays out over the course of a month, and as it turns out, we spend way too much money eating out.
Mostly, this is because my husband and I grew accustomed to eating lunch in the very reasonably priced corporate cafeteria before we moved out here to California. Out here, there is no corporate cafeteria with healthy, fresh food, so we got into the habit that so many very busy people do of eating out in the nearby restaurants.
When I was sick, restaurant fare became even more of a deeply ingrained habit because for some reason that other HGers will probably understand, homemade food just did not sit well on my poor stomach.
Frankly, I was pretty appalled when I looked at what we were spending on food. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad. I am a little terrified to confess to my readers that 30% of our food budget had been going to groceries and the remaining 70% went to eating out. At lunch, on weekends, and on and on and on.
That is not okay.
It’s an easy decision to make: Take my lunch to work. But I will admit, eating out is a tough habit to break. What do I take? What do I pack? How do I keep things interesting and avoid a ham sandwich every day?
I started easy. I visited Trader Joe’s and purchased a few of their prepared lunches. Is this cheating? A little bit, but if you can get a salad for $3, that’s a darn sight better than $9 for a meal out.
That first week, I ate TJ’s salads. I immediately learned that a single salad does not contain enough calories to make a meal for me. I learned to pack sides. A string cheese here, an apple there. By Thursday of that week, I felt brave enough to slice some leftover meat and augment my store-bought salad.
Giving myself a week of TJ’s salads helped me to learn how and what to pack to make up a lunch for myself. That following weekend, I didn’t have time to go to TJ’s and the regular grocery, so I decided to make my own “TJ’s” salads. I took their ideas of multiple, fresh ingredients and made it work for me. I haven’t looked back since.
Here’s an example of a lunch. This is what I had today in fact:
Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl (layers listed from bottom to top)
- Leftover Trader Joe’s microwaveable brown rice
- Dollop of leftover homemade Thai Peanut Sauce
- sliced mushrooms and sliced yellow squash from my garden
- Sliced leftover Coconut Crusted Chicken (basically just breaded, baked chicken, but instead of bread crumbs I used unsweetened coconut)
- limes and Asian salad dressing
It was easy and filling. Plenty of protein and calories in the chicken and peanut sauce, and packed with interesting and delicious flavor. I ate it with an apple and a piece of string cheese.
It’s so easy to do variations on this theme. Salads don’t have to be boring. Mixing in things like rice, quinoa, and other non-standard ingredients keeps things interesting and appeals to my creative spirit.
I’ve also been saving money! We’re on track right now to cut our food budget by $400!
It may seem like a simple step, but it’s a change that’s made a big and positive impact on our family.
Do you pack your lunch for work? What goes into your lunch box?