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Want to save money? Pack your lunch

May 16, 2001

Want to save money? Pack your lunch



You have heard this before, but it's still true: You can save money by bringing your lunch to work. A typical takeout or convenience meal can easily cost $4 to $6 a day. Packing your lunch can save $3 to $5 every day. Add up that money weekly, then monthly and suddenly you have some serious cash on hand.

The time to think about lunches is not at 7:30 in the morning, as you are about to run out the door. Instead, think about the noontime meal when you do your weekly shopping. Also, think about making lunch the night before. That little bit of extra time and care that you take in the evening is well-appreciated when you sit down to eat your lunch the next day.

Begin with the right supplies. Many discount stores carry a variety of inexpensive lunch boxes and mini coolers. A variety of insulated bottles will keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. You might want to invest in small, spill-proof drink bottles for carrying juice. This is a great alternative to expensive juice boxes. Every lunch should be as nutrition-packed as possible, so look for 100-percent juice.

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A little note about juices: Read the label. If it isn't 100 percent juice, don't buy it. A 10-percent juice is mostly sugar water - and you can make "sugar-water juices" yourself. Just mix up a concoction of sugar water and a shot of juice.

When selecting lunch items, keep the Food Guide Pyramid in mind. Select at least one item from each food group. But when packing lunches, don't leave out creativity. If lunches become boring, you might begin sneaking out to the local fast-food restaurant. Doing so will cost you double - first for the lunch you packed, then for the lunch you bought.

Instead of the usual two slices of white bread for sandwiches, try different varieties made with whole grains. Try using pita bread, tortillas, focaccia or English muffins. Fill them with lunch meats, cheeses, egg salad, chicken salad, ham salad, tuna salad and even that old stand-by, peanut butter and jelly.

If you add tomato and lettuce, keep sandwiches from becoming soggy by packing those vegetables in plastic containers and adding them to your sandwich just before eating.

Here are other ideas:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> As you clear your dinner table in the evening, think "planned-overs." Leftovers become "planned-overs" when you make a plan before storing the leftover food. Store them in individual serving dishes that can be used for reheating in the microwave the next day at work.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make a big pot of soup or chili. Freeze it in individual containers. Add crackers, a slice of bread or a roll, and your lunch is set to go for the next day.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Pack an assortment of veggies. After all, we all like to crunch. Bring some low-fat ranch dressing as a dip. Pack a green salad or take small containers of potato or macaroni salad.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Bring yogurt to work; it makes a nice snack or a good addition to your lunch. And the yogurt will give your body a much-needed boost of calcium.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make your own snack mix. Mix popcorn and pretzels with nuts. Or make small bags of chips or crackers, as well as dried fruit.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Bring a piece of fresh fruit. It will help you toward your goal of eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Don't forget dessert. Bring some homemade cookies or brownies. If you don't, you likely will hit the snack machines later in the day.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Be creative. Making and eating lunches can be fun - and the best part is that you can save money!




Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator, Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County. Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

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