Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lunch break


It's no secret that food is the way to my heart (just ask K). So it's no surprise that I've already posted on eating etiquette and breakfast options. Today's topic is one close to my heart: lunch.

I love lunch not only because of the food options, but also because of the social aspect. If you ask me to lunch, I'll probably accept (hint hint, Sacto folks). It's just a great mental break to the workday and, if you're a cubicle dweller like me, gets you out of the office. On days I bring my lunch, it's not uncommon for me to spend all nine hours (eight hours of work + one hour of lunch) inside the building. Sure, I have a window, but it's just not the same as the fresh air and vitamin D. Balance is key.

Eating out
Hoofing it over to your fave restaurant is a great way to take a break, but constant eating out can stretch your wallet and your waistline. I'm lucky enough to have a coffee shop in my building (which I count as "eating out" since I didn't bring it in), so I can sometimes end up buying lunch up to 4 times a week. A few tips for counting the calories (and your spare change).
  • Eat half and stash half in the work fridge for tomorrow. It's like eating out twice!
  • Split a meal with a friend. Oftentimes a full plate can give me food coma, but half is perfect size to avoid feeling gross for the rest of the day.
  • Buy half, bring half. Sometimes I'll go a little hybrid. If I have a small serving of pasta (or something else super-starchy), I'll swing by the coffee shop and pick up a small house salad for $3 (hold the dressing). It's perfect for filling the void in a small lunch and getting my veggies in.
  • A salad isn't always healthier. Especially if you're eating only half, a regular meal can be just as few calories as a salad. Unless it's a salad with creamy dressing and cheese, in which case it's probably just as bad, if not worse, than non-salad.

Brown bagging
Bringing your own lunch is a more economical way to eat, and can sometimes be healthier.  I have to admit--I'm a bit of a sandwich snob (meaning I like mine freshly made, usually heated, with ingredients I don't keep at home), and I don't cook as often as I'd like to, so brown-bagging it isn't as easy for me to adopt. Here is how I've managed:
  • Frozen dinners. Sure, some taste like cardboard. Many aren't even all that healthy. Try them out and find one you like. I recently discovered these and I'm in love. (I've previously been really into these and these.)
  • Leftovers. Whether they're leftovers from lunch the day before or from a dinner out, it's usually relatively easy to make a purchased meal last two sittings.
  • Overcook. If you (or your roommate or partner) is down to cook, make more than you know you can eat. In our household of two, I often cook the full recipe that serves four and pack the extra servings away for lunch the next day (or a few days later--I'm not picky).
These last two carry the stipulation that you aren't picky about eating leftovers. They work even better if you're flexible within a few days.  Some of the best reheatable items: lasagna, enchiladas, meat loaf, pot stickers.

    Do you typically eat out or bring your own lunch? What tips do you have for lessening the impact on your wallet and waistline?

    6 comments:

    1. I always try to bring my own lunch - preferably leftovers from dinner the night before. I do take clients out to lunch fairly regularly though. It's nice to have my company pay, but it's hard to eat healthy when I'm going out. I do have a stash of frozen food that I can eat in case a lunch cancels at the last minute.

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    2. i do sort of a hybrid of your three suggestions for packing lunch: whenever there are leftovers, i pack them into tupperware containers and toss them in the fridge. when i make things i know freeze well, i always cook extra to have some to freeze. this way i'm not eating the same thing i had the night before and i have a freezer full of tasty, homemade choices.

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    3. @charlotte - how fun! I also bring in frozen dinners when I can and just leave them in the freezer if I end up going out that day. Another point for the frozen dinner!

      @withacapitalz - How cool! I haven't quite gotten to the point of freezing meals yet, but it definitely sounds like an idea worth trying.

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    4. I'm try to eat out only 1 lunch a week, if I do that. I bring a lot of soup to work [today i brought a can of chicken noodle and a bowl], and frozen meals. I'm not big on heavy lunches, so left overs usually don't work. I'm all about anything that is easy that i can just grab and go.

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    5. I bring lunch from home 99% of the time. Instead of taking the exact same thing for lunch that I had for dinner the night before (which gets boring very quickly), I try to make a new meal--for example, left over baked chicken easily turns into Chicken Alfredo with some pasta and sauce I always keep in the pantry, add it to rice and frozen veggies for quick stir-fry, and it also makes great sandwiches and wraps. But I also like to eat dinner early, so I have the extra 20 minutes after the meal to create these lunches for the rest of the week.

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    6. @jenn - oo soup is a good one! I usually don't buy the pop top ones and I don't have a can opener at work, but if I planned ahead that could definitely work.

      @keisha - oh, that's a great idea! We do that sometimes with leftover dinner (turning it into another dinner) but I never really thought of turning it into a different meal for lunch.

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