This Thursday, I’m thinking out loud about my plans to meal prep and pack my lunches (and breakfasts, and some dinners) for the work week while I have time on the weekend.
It’s something I decided to do long before I started working. In fact, I’ve been doing it since I was in college. When I was at Oxford, many of my friends still ate the dining hall food at lunch even once we lived a few blocks away, because it was a convenient central gathering spot, the hours were short so you were guaranteed to see everyone (not kidding, it was only open 45 minutes per meal, so for lunch it was 12:15-1pm) and it was cheap for a hot meal – I think about 2 pounds, or $3, for a main, starch, vegetable, and roll. And juice box. Now, I barely ate any food in hall because of my allergies and the fact that there was very little choice. It was not at all like an American dining hall – there was a main option, a vegetarian option, and a “salad bar” with iceberg lettuce and watery tomatoes. I give them credit for providing maximum calories for minimum cash and feeding hungry students on a budget, but it just didn’t work for me. So I started buying my own veggies, protein, gluten free bread on occasion, and other items for lunch, and bringing it with me so I could eat with my friends.
In law school it was no different, except everyone had to buy there lunch unless they snagged the free food at a school event (always pizza or large sandwiches, also off limits for me and a constant source of consternation, because I definitely did not get my money’s worth from the “free” food paid for by our tuition!) I packed my lunch and brought it with me almost every day, and if I didn’t I usually went to the grocery store and compiled a snack plate with yogurt, fruit, veggies, string cheese and such, rather than spend a lot of money and time waiting in line at a deli or sandwich shop for an overpriced, under-delivering salad.
And now that I’m working? Well, the options for buying lunch near my office are better. Midtown Manhattan is a veritable cornucopia of Chop’t, Just Salad, and other chains that have some tasty offerings. There are also places like the Little Beet and Dig Inn with hot food that caters to the health conscious crowd. And in a pinch, they’ll be good to have around. But on my first day of work, I went to Chop’t with some co-workers. A basic salad with greens and four included toppings (mostly veggies) was around $8, and adding just one protein and throwing in the tax brought it up to $11.41. Multiply that by five lunches a week, and you’re spending $55-$60 per week just on a salad for lunch. That doesn’t include all the snacks I have to eat with the salad or at other times of day to make it from breakfast to dinner.
My salad was definitely delicious. Chopped kale, celery, one hard boiled egg, edamame, carrots, and grilled chicken with tzatziki dressing is a great combination. But I could easily buy all the ingredients each weekend, prepare and pack salads, and bring them with me to work for a fraction of the cost. The kicker is that not only do I save quite a bit of money, I don’t even have to sacrifice the socialization time that lunch offers, because everyone goes and stands in line, buys their lunch, and brings it back to the office to eat in the lounge if they have time (and if they don’t they’re at their desks anyway). So I save money and time, because I don’t spend any time standing in a lunch line, and I can still eat with friends. Kind of a win-win!
So how much will I save, exactly? Leaving breakfast, snacks, and all the dinners I might have to bring in out of it, let’s focus just on lunch. If I got a typical salad for lunch each day, it works out to around $58/week. Assuming I get four weeks of vacation and work 48 weeks, that’s $2,784 per year spent just on lunch. On the flipside, if I buy a bunch of lettuce and veggies ($8), grilled chicken or turkey ($12), eggs ($2), goat or feta cheese ($4), grape leaves ($2), pumpkin or sunflower seeds ($1), dressing ($1) – any of that stuff – it comes out to about $30/week, and I’m using the prices for the weekly amounts of each from the local grocery store on my corner on the Upper East Side or FreshDirect. Since I’m lucky to have Costco deliveries we can slash those 🙂 But for argument’s sake, using the more expensive groceries, it works out to $1,440/year. Still a lot, more than I’d actually spend because of Costco, but saving $1,344/year or nearly half the cost of buying lunch out every day! And I also don’t need to worry about being gluten-ed ALL THE TIME. So, my plan for now is to keep doing it.
Of course, I’ll also try to meal prep and bring in leftovers from dinner, or actual meals rather than simply salad every day. My frittata and quiche penchant will serve me well! But in the middle of the day, salads are a versatile option and they’re easy to throw together.
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Do you pack your lunch or buy it at work?
If you bring food with you during the day, do you meal prep on weekends?
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