Burning Brown Bag Question
August 30, 2005 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I no longer work from home and I have just started a new job. I want to bring lunch to work because I am 1) trying to lose weight and 2) save money. Any ideas for what's both healthy and easy?

I hate spending too much time every morning making lunch. Also, I don't necessarily object to eating the same things on a regular basis... Thanks.
posted by Heminator to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There's an earlier thread on this addressing healthy snacks.
posted by craniac at 10:01 AM on August 30, 2005

I don't make lunch in the morning -- I make it the night before as I'm cleaning up from dinner. All the tools are already out. I take either leftovers from dinner (real food makes an excellent lunch) or any of a variety of my standby lunches. These include:

Hummus, shredded carrots, and baby spinach on a whole-wheat tortilla
Salad with grilled chicken (I grill an extra breast the night before)
Whole wheat bagel with PB, apple, and sunflower seeds
posted by Miko at 10:13 AM on August 30, 2005

One thing I like to bring for lunch when I'm feeling virtuous is a jar full of tomato juice. I buy it cheap in the big cans, and then decant it into empty pb jars or whatever, I add hot sauce and maybe soy sauce and it makes a very filling and delicious drink. Add a hard boiled egg, a piece of fruit and a few crackers, and you've got a filling and low-cal lunch with enough variety to keep you happy.
posted by OmieWise at 10:14 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

High protein foods are essential, because they fill you up and give you energy. Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are great, as is tuna and crackers. Create your own trail mix to go along with it by buying your favorite nuts and dried fruits (and maybe even a few M&M's, but only a few) and mixing it all together. Try to get some balance between proteins, fruits, etc. with every meal. And drink water instead of soft drinks; it's healthier and cheap (as in free, if your office has a water cooler); I just keep an old Aquifina bottle around and keep filling it up before lunch.
posted by arco at 10:15 AM on August 30, 2005

I work at an office with two communal refigerators. I keep a container (with my name on it) in which I store cold cuts, deli meats and the like for wraps or salads. I usually stock this container on Monday, either with stuff from home or buy from the grocery near the office, and clean it out on Friday after work.

I also keep a supply of salad greens in the communal fridge, along with a bottle of salad dressing. I buy the organic greens in the rigid plastic container, and they keep pretty well for the week.

When I'm not in the mood for salads and sandwiches, I often prepare a meal the night before. It's actually pretty quick -- I often bake something like chicken thighs, breasts or drumsticks in a store-bough sauce or marinade or coat them in spices (I take the raw chicken and shake them in plastic bag of spices and nuts/bread crumbs/cornmeal and then bake). It takes 5 minutes of prep time, 45 minutes of baking and 5 minutes of clean-up.

Last but not least, there's the old "leftovers from Mom" trick. Although my sister and I each live on our own, our family has a tradition of getting together for dinner on Sunday. Whenever there are leftovers, Mom sends us home with them and they become lunch the next day.
posted by AccordionGuy at 10:23 AM on August 30, 2005

I eat nothing but ham and cheese everyday for lunch. It's Simple, and the lack of carbs keeps my energy level up throughout the day.
posted by TurkishGolds at 10:24 AM on August 30, 2005

Here's a vote for tuna fish. If you have a cafeteria area, don't make the sandwich until you're ready to eat it. Instead, bring a tin of tuna, mayo in a packet, lettuce, bread and whatever is separate bags. Then it won't get all mushy whilst you wait to eat it.
posted by Kibbutz at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2005

I usually make a salad with three or more of the below:

baby spinach (out of a bag - prewashed, saves time)
crumbled feta
crumbled boiled egg (boiled the night before)
shredded turkey
bacon (cooked night before)
grape tomatoes

oil and vinegar

it takes about 3 minutes to assemble in the morning. I generally eat lunch around 12.30 and am usually hungry again by 4.30 when I eat a bit of fruit and some nuts.
And seconding the drink a lot of water. Just make sure you wash your water bottle frequently otherwise you'll get slime mold buildup.
posted by gaspode at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Miko, the suggestion of "Whole wheat bagel with PB, apple, and sunflower seeds" made me want to throw out my lunch and go get some peanutbutter. Mmmmm. Good stuff.

Lately we've been doing the Lean Cuisine or leftovers. Lean Cuisine is easy and utterly brainless, and if you happen to have eaten out the night before, you are not up the creek with respect to lunch. I'd keep one or two around if only for this reason. The bowls or "Spa Cuisine" are definetly not "your mom's" Lean Cusine. This frozen stuff's much improved from back in the day.

Of course, fresh is always going to taste better, and probably be better for you, but sometimes the frozen stuff is the simplest, easiest to stick with option. That, and they count the calories, carbs, sodium, and even WeightWatchers Points for you. I know it's hard for me to do something, particularly during the busy work week, unless it requires about a nanosecond of my attention.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:30 AM on August 30, 2005

As already addressed in that other thread, the intersection of value and health is hard-boiled eggs. Tuna and frozen dinners are not a good way to save money.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:34 AM on August 30, 2005

I really like cereal. I bring a gallon of milk to work each week along with a big box of Special K Red Berries. It satisfies my hunger and my sweet tooth.

I have a hard time eating breakfast or lunch regularly, so having something conveniently stowed in the communal fridge works well. I eat it whenever, not just at breakfast or lunchtime.
posted by cior at 10:40 AM on August 30, 2005

rxrfrx, hard-boiled eggs may be the nexus of saving money on lunch, but not everyone can stomach hard-boiled eggs everyday for lunch. If you are talking about five frozen lunches at say, $2.89 each that's $14.45 in lunch for the week. Compared to getting a Chic-Fil-A meal for $5.89 (or whatever it is now) five times a week (more like six dollars or more if you get a "healthier" option) $29.45 for the five days of food. That's a net savings over what someone might have spent on easy, convenient, and really bad for you fast food, no matter how you slice it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:42 AM on August 30, 2005

Egg salad.
posted by scratch at 10:45 AM on August 30, 2005

Lately, I've been making white bean mush (boil white beans until mushy; mash with little water and some butter) sandwishes, and bringing lots of fruit.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:51 AM on August 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I eat Oatmeal for lunch almost every day. I bought a microwave-safe pirex measuring cup I eat it out of. That, and the Oats stay in a drawer at work. Want to make it more lively? Add some maple syrup, or berries, whatever. I have been doing this for about 3 years now. Cheap, and I'm not on cholesterol meds. IANANutritionist/YMMV.
posted by safetyfork at 10:52 AM on August 30, 2005

Cheap and healthy can intersect on frozen if you're patient & observant. Every time I go to the grocery I swing through the frozen food aisle. About one in every 4-6 visits the Lean Cuisine stuff (and the other pseudo-healthy brand whose name I cannot remember) is on mega-discount - under $2.50 a meal. At that point I buy as many as the limits will allow. After all, they're FROZEN. Lather rinse repeat.

I sometime buy the more often on sale but less healthy frozen stuff too, within limits. After all, not every go-out meal is healthy so unhealthy & cheap beats unhealthy & expensive.
posted by phearlez at 11:02 AM on August 30, 2005

DON'T eat tuna every day unless you want to increase your mercury levels. Article here with links to various opinions re. how much is too much.
posted by chr1sb0y at 12:05 PM on August 30, 2005

I (try to) make enough dinner food to take leftovers. It ususally takes only a little bit more food (=$$), no more effort, and no requirement to try to be creative or fully awake in the early AM.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:09 PM on August 30, 2005

I lost 35 pounds earlier this year eating a low carb diet. My lunch almost every day for five months consisted of a grilled chicken breat cut up on a salad with an vinegar/oil based dressing. I grilled a whole bunch of chicken breasts on the weekend and froze them. In my case, I bought the rest of the salad from a nearby salad bar ($3.00 or so without the heavy/expensive meat), but you could just as easily buy the bagged salad and bring that and a bottle of dressing to the office.
posted by tippiedog at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2005

Oh, I exercised, too.
posted by tippiedog at 1:59 PM on August 30, 2005

Let me just add another vote in the "make a larger dinner" camp. It's dead simple, really cheap, and if it's not good, then it should be! I don't see why more people don't do this, unless they don't cook dinner.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:35 PM on August 30, 2005

I eat Lean Cuisine / Healthy Choice frozen entrees for lunch, depending on which is on sale that week. I just picked up a couple of Lean Cuisine Spa meals (really good!) for $2.20 each. They take no effort, they're cheaper than most lunches, they're good for you and they taste good. What more could you want?
posted by geeky at 3:04 PM on August 30, 2005

I lost 65 lb. this year on the South Beach Diet; the book has several choices for lunch that work in a lunch box/cooler.

One thing I like to do is keep fresh, cut up onions and peppers in the fridge. I add them to some snap peas and add a half a can of tuna, half a pack of fake crab meat, or several slices of lunch meat to make a quick but filling salad (you can add some salad dressing but it's really not needed). Each of those meat choices also works good over about 1/4 lb. of cole slaw. As a bonus, these turn out to be really cheap lunches (a buck or two per serving).
posted by Doohickie at 3:06 PM on August 30, 2005

I make iced tea by the gallon and take it to work (so even if I buy a sandwich or burrito I don't get a soda).
On Sunday I cook a large piece of meat (turkey, ham, corned beef, pork roast, venison) and when it's cool, I cut up the whole thing into slices (well, sometimes it's also sunday dinner and the bones go into soup). Each morning I can make a sandwich or take some leftovers for a change (as such). Chicken also works, you can bake a whole pan full of thighs and then freeze them on a cookie sheet. After they're frozen you can put them in a ziplock and they won't stick together (so you can pull one out at a time). I've also used a George Forman to cook up a single boneless thigh or breast for a sandwich. I keep a stash of fast food packets of salt, pepper, ketchup, and hot sauce in my desk for when I bring leftovers. I also keep a few cans of sardines (in hot sauce or mustard) stashed at work for backup (keep some breath mints too).
posted by 445supermag at 5:45 PM on August 30, 2005

The Betty Crocker recipe for lentil soup w/bacon is wonderful, and makes a relatively healthy sandwich spread after it has cooled and sat in the fridge for a day.
posted by mecran01 at 8:12 PM on August 30, 2005

A can each of chickpeas, diced tomatoes, and corn, tossed with olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and herbs, makes enough salad for 3 or so lunches. You can ladle it over mixed greens or baby spinach, mix in cold pasta for a pasta salad, or eat it in a pita.
posted by Tomatillo at 2:56 AM on August 31, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the responses here. Really helpful.
posted by Heminator at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2005

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