Packing your lunch is more economical and almost always healthier than eating out. Overcome the brown bag blahs with this guide to making your packed lunch more appealing. Photo by chanchan22.
Ditch Childhood Notions of Packed Lunches
Unless one of your parents was a caterer or a culinary snob, the lunches you took to school as a child were likely extremely utilitarian. Your parents weren't trying to bore your tastebuds and make you forever hesitant about taking a lunch with you; they were likely just being pragmatic. The kid likes peanut butter and jam and it's easy to make, the kid gets peanut butter and jam every day. Ditching the association you have with eating out as fun and different and bringing your lunch as boring and predictable is important. Good intentions of eating healthier and saving money are worthless if you hate bringing your lunch from home. Nobody adopts a habit they hate. Photo by gregmote.
Ditch the Bag
If you're going to take lunch to work consistently over the course of years, you're going to burn up a lot more energy and resources using disposable items than if you'd bought something for dedicated use. Buy a nice lunch set. My grandfather used the same lunchbox for nearly his entire working life. The ubiquitous Tiffen lunch carriers can be found all over India and are durable enough to outlive the owners. Investing in a lunch container that keeps your food separated, cool, and undisturbed by transit to the office will go a long way towards making lunch more enjoyable.
In the same vein, having a silverware set and even a cloth napkin goes a long way towards cutting down on waste and making your lunch more enjoyable. Years ago I purchased a titanium knife, spoon, and fork set that has seen me through many a lunch and midnight dinner on the graveyard shift. You could bring silverware from home, but I found that having a dedicated single-person set just for lunches at the office made it easier to keep track of and made sure pieces of silverware from my home set weren't lost.
Over years of use a nice lunch set will far outpace paper bags and wax paper in the environmentally-friendly department. Find a lunch container that is durable, appeals to you, and has room for all the food you want to bring for lunch and snacks during the work day. Whether a shiny steel Tiffen carrier, a soft-sided cooler, or a vintage Wonder Woman lunchbox, having a sturdy lunchbox you like will increase the likelihood you'll actually use it.
Presentation is Everything
Who wants to eat a smashed up ham sandwich and a bruised apple every day? After years in the work force I can't tell you how many times my coworkers opted to buy lunch or dinner out instead of eating the food they brought just because what they had packed was so unappealing to them. Buying a sturdy lunch pail as suggested above might alleviate the smashed up aspect of your dining experience, but it won't do much for the bore factor.
If you're going to commit yourself to the prospect of packing your own food, you need to make an honest effort of it. Pack lunch it for a week with the attitude of "do I have to do this?" and a sack of bland food and you'll go right back to eating out every day. Whether you're painting a house or packing a lunch, the difference between doing a half-ass job and a great job is usually a fairly small amount of extra effort. Something as simple as cutting everything neatly and packaging it appealingly in containers that will keep things from getting soggy, stale, or mushed up goes miles towards making it more enjoyable to bring a lunch. Just because nobody else will see or eat the lunch doesn't mean it has to be utilitarian and boring. Which leads us to our next important point. Photo by René Ehrhardt.
Convenience might be the reason most people give for going out to grab lunch, but novelty is a huge part of it. People love novelty. We love new things, new flavours and new experiences. Even if we end up eating at the same couple of restaurants 99% of the time, the very act of going out to get your lunch dangles the potential for novelty in front of us. Photo by bingbing.
Use lunch as a chance to introduce new flavors and foods into your diet. One of the things that keeps people going back to a good deli, for instance, is the variety of sandwiches and the interesting combinations of ingredients. The Seattle Times wrote about ways to jazz up a packed lunch and included these sandwich ideas which perfectly highlight the idea of novelty in your lunchbox:
- Try alternative seed or nut spreads like tahini or cashew butter with jam.
- Pair creamy smoked Gouda with sliced apples on pecan raisin bread.
- Layer garlic hummus with ripe tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese on spelt bread.
- Try roasted yellow peppers, ripe tomatoes and a spread of cream cheese on a French baguette.
- Stuff pita bread with sliced chicken breast, lightly dressed spinach salad and purple onions.
- Spread ham salad on rye bread with dill pickles.
- Sandwich deli-roasted veggies and pepper jack cheese between slices of olive bread.
- Arrange cream cheese and apple or cucumber slices on sourdough raisin bread.
While you could easily argue that you don't have some of those items readily on hand, you won't pay nearly as much acquiring the raw materials for a week of novel sandwiches as you would buying those same sandwiches at a deli counter. You'll also have control over the quality of the ingredient, the conditions under which they were prepared, and you'll gain a little culinary experience in the process. If your playbook for packed lunches is a single page that reads "Peanut butter and jam, carrots, and a can of Coke" you'll definitely benefit from branching out. Check out some of the recipe resources we've shared like Nibbledish, SuperCook and the huge recipe search engine at Food.com to broaden your lunch hour menu.
There is one final element to address regarding packing your own lunch. The last bit of resistance most people hold on to is that going out for lunch is a networking and social time with their coworkers. While sharing a meal with coworkers is certainly a good thing, you'll often find that if you start packing appealing lunches and turning down lunch dates that other people start bringing their lunches, too. The economy is still pretty rough, and it's quite probable that you've got more coworkers than you realise who would like to stop spending so much money on meals out but would prefer to not be the one sitting by their lonesome staring at a soggy sandwich. Share this article with them!
If you have your own recipes, tips, or tricks for making an awesome packed lunch, we want to hear about it in the comments below.