In an effort to watch our spending and try to save as much as we can, we decided to challenge ourselves to not eat out for a whole work week. This doesn’t sound like a big deal–a lot of couples and families do that all the time. For us, though, that’s not a common thing. My partner is really good about taking her lunch every day, but I’ve fallen out of that habit recently. A while back we stopped buying frozen meals so we would be required to cook more; fresh foods are healthier, too. We also cut back on lunch meat because we never ate it all, which was just wasted food. But all of that also meant that, if we didn’t cook one night for dinner, we didn’t have leftovers for lunch the next day. My partner doesn’t have a problem taking PB&J sandwiches but I can’t stand them. So there were a lot of days where I bought lunch out because I wouldn’t have anything to take with me.
Snacking is also a big deal for us. We’re natural grazers and I can have three or four snacks outside of lunch a day. I’m lucky in that my office has a fridge for our lunches and snacks, so I can take anything I need. But some nights I would forget and be running too late the next morning to pack them. That meant another trip to get snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The prices could even higher when I considered that most of my snacks and lunches came from downtown where prices tend to be more than average, even at chains. Altogether, especially if I stopped for a Starbucks coffee on the way a few times a week, I could easily spend $50 a week just on eating out during the day. That didn’t take into account if we ate out for dinner some of the evenings.
So we set out on Monday morning to pack our lunches and snacks every night beforehand and to cook every night to ensure we didn’t spend any money. This included drinks as well. And I was surprised at how easy it really was. All it took was some planning and discipline in the evenings to ensure we split up our leftovers and packed enough for our meals each day. I also made certain that I had enough tea at work for when I tired of the water I take with me each day. Snacks worked the same way–on average I take three snacks plus breakfast I eat on my commute. So altogether, an average day now includes the following in my bag:
- A lunch with at least one side such as a salad or vegetable, depending on what we cooked the night before. If there are no leftovers, I take a wrap with lunchmeat and a salad.
- A minimum of three snacks, usually a protein bar, wheat thins with hummus, and a mix of nuts or dried fruits.
- At least one bottle of water with 32 ounces to last most of the day.
- A separate bottle of water or a to-go cup with orange juice and a banana or protein bar for breakfast while I drive.
My average day’s grocery bag looks something like this:
This usually looks extreme when I get to work and start unloading in the fridge for the day, but I can tell a difference in how I feel eating fresher foods throughout the day. Not to mention the money we’ve saved and the time we spent together cooking and trying new recipes each night. I’m proud that we made it until Friday evening before we decided to eat out. All it took was a little discipline and we saved around $65 this week between the two of us!
Do you have any ideas on how to better do meal prep or incorporate fresher food into your work days?