The Beauty of the Brown Bag Lunch

Brown bag lunches aren’t just for kids! You can save a fortune each month by bagging up a lunch for the grownups in the family, too. And this includes those of us who work from home or stay home with the children.

Brown Bag Lunch for Everyone!

Years ago, when packing two lunches for the girls each morning, I also packed lunch for myself. I was in a workplace where lunch was a social event for many of my co-workers. Each day, they’d have a long discussion about where to go out to lunch. I went with them a few times but soon saw at least $50 per week drifting away with those fattening, unhealthy meals. That, of course, is $200 a month or $2400 per year – a lot of money for a less-than-stellar meal.

The same goes for school lunches for the kids. A school lunch averages $2.60 across the United States. This works out to $13 per week, $52 per month, and $468 over a school year. PER CHILD. If you have more kids, you’ll need to multiply that number again. (Speaking of school, check out this article, Back to School on a Budget. You’ll find great advice on how to prepare the kids for back to school frugally and with less stress.)

So, a quick calculation: In a family with two adults working outside the home and two children in school, if all of those meals are purchased, you could be looking at a whopping $5,736 per year JUST FOR LUNCHES. Think about what you could do with that extra money each year if you worked lunches into the weekly grocery budget. It could be a vacation, a massive chunk of money paid off of your car loan or mortgage, or a nice cushion in your emergency fund.

And Then, There’s Health.

Cheapskatery isn’t the only reason to pack a brown bag it. The food we purchase away from home is rarely as healthful as what we’d eat if we bought it and prepared it ourselves.

Restaurants take shortcuts, spray their produce to keep it looking bright, and often use the least expensive ingredients possible (read: artificial or loaded with pesticides.) School lunchrooms aren’t noted for their fantastic nutrition either. The USDA usually subsidizes schools with the lowest priced goods the USDA can get their hands on.

When you prepare your lunch at home, you can be careful to avoid allergens and select whole foods instead of processed ones. And, when you think about it, good health can save you a lot of money too.

Easy Tips For Brown-Baggin’ It.

Some people say that they don’t have the time to pack a brown bag lunch, so here are some tips to make it easier.

Make lunches when you are cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. Add leftovers to containers you can heat at the office. Put aside a serving to heat in the morning and add to a thermos for the kiddos. Put sliced fruit and veggies into zip lock bags for snacks. My kids always preferred to assemble their sandwiches at school, so for them, I’d place leftover meat in a zip lock bag and a bun in another bag.

Prep some of your lunches during your weekly meal prep extravaganza. In this article, we talk about frugal meal prepping. You can portion out treats like cookies, sliced veggies, dip, and salads to grab when you’re in a rush. Grabbing lunches will be a snap.

Teach the kids to make their own lunches. I saw a cute system on Pinterest that brought back memories. You can grab some inexpensive plastic tubs to set up in the fridge with numbers on them. The numbers represent how many items in that tub your child can take in their lunch box. So, for example, 1 protein, 2 veggies, 1 fruit, and 1 treat. If you stock this on Sunday night, the kids will be all set to grab lunches each morning before school quickly.

Don’t Forget the Cool Containers!

Lunches are a lot more fun if you have nice containers, and this goes for grownups too. Think about adding the following reusables which will save you money over the year:

BYOBeverages

Of course, don’t forget how much money you can save by bringing your own beverages, too. Every bottle of water you purchase will run you at least a dollar (or $2). Each drive-thru coffee you grab is going to be anywhere from $2-6, depending on how fancy you get. Even if you end up bringing a can of soda pop with you, it’s going to be a fraction of the price if you bring it from home.

Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Reusable water bottles – get a dishwasher-safe bottle and run it each night with the dinner dishes. Refill it with filtered water from home and store it in the fridge until time to go.
  • Thermoses – I used to take a big thermos full of coffee, doctored up exactly how I liked it. Then I could indulge all day long at work.
  • Pre-packaged drinks – Soda pops, juice boxes, bottles of iced tea – they’re all cheaper purchased in bulk when you go grocery shopping. And if you know you’re just going to grab it from the vending machine, you might as well bring it from home, right?

If you add the cost of beverages to all of the other “getting food out” expenses, you’ve easily added another thousand bucks to your budget over the course of the year.

What’s in Your Little Brown Bag?

Do you pack your own lunch? What are some of your favorite, frugal and healthy foods? If you have any tips to share with other readers, please do so in the comments section below.

The Beauty of the Brown Bag Lunch
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

3 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Brown Bag Lunch”

  1. Hope you got that article I sent in, Daisy. If not I’ll re-send.

    Anyway, regarding packing a lunch: I love this! One tip I have: At some grocery stores, in the US and probably elsewhere, the lunch meat comes in resealable tubs. Those tubs are every bit as good as some of the plastic lunch tubs sold elsewhere and I’ve found the meat is really cheap. For example, I’ve found that the Kroger 8 ounce store brand sliced lunch meat has a tub that perfectly fits a sandwich made with the Kroger sandwich bread! Meanwhile, the one pound value pack has a tub that will fit a whole lunch!

    I also love the various forms of glass resealable containers. So great for meal prep. As a final money saving tip, there are usually great deals on insulated travel mugs at the end of summer, and also great deals on lunch boxes at back to school sales and pre-summer, end of school year sales.

  2. It’s been a long time since I’ve packed a lunch but we use up leftovers and make sandwhiches for meals at home. I always try to include fresh fruit but sometimes we do share a can of fruit. I have sandwhich containers, sealable fruit dishes. We don’t drink sodas but milk, juices, and in summer cold Gatorade are enjoyed. Husband likes sandwhiches, fruit and sometimes a salad. I like a salad, fruit and sometimes my home made soup and a half sandwhich. Lunches are a good time to use up dinner leftovers. Leftover meats and vegetables can go in a quiche, omelet with a bit of cheese, or a soup. I even save vegetable liquid when I open canned vegetables. That liquid is a good soup base or add cream or milk and thicken for pot pie filling with leftover meat and vegetables topped with mashed potatoes. Not fancy, but easy meals.
    We use up most leftovers. One dog, 5 farm cats, and some chickens will clean up anyother leftovers.
    Leftover fruit juices mixed with a bit of water or served over ice taste good. Leftover fruit, and fruit juices can be sweetened and thickened to make small turnovers or serve over plain yogurt or icecream.

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