Unfrugal Confession: My Lunch Shame

Time for a shameful unfrugal confession: in October, I spent $198.13 on work lunches.

That's real money! At the rate of $200 a month, I'm spending $2,400 a year on lunch alone. That's 6% of my target yearly spend! The worst part is, I'm not even really enjoying it anymore. Eating out used to be the most delightfully delicious part of my day, but now it's just the default way I get food. It's not unenjoyable, but it's not special anymore.

When it comes to lunch, I feel like the jaded little kid sitting next to my wife and me as we shared a small dark hot cocoa at the fancy chocolate shop. Pushing away his mug, he sighed and asked his mom, "Can we go now?" Imagine being in a chocolate shop and asking "Can we go now"! I don't blame the kid, I just feel sorry for him that he lives a life where going to this extremely decadent place is a chore, a way of killing time. What delights him?

I want eating out to delight me again. And for that to happen, I need to do it less often.

Packing a lunch has been the bane of my existence since my school lunch years. I've never known what to bring. My typical high school lunch was a baggie of Life cereal, a cherry yogurt, and a pouch of Shark Bites. I get a toothache just thinking about it.

Now that I technically can eat out for lunch whenever I want, it's really hard to resist! I'm so completely out of the habit of bringing a lunch that even when I have one ready to go, say leftovers from the night before, I often forget to bring it.

My best friend and frequent lunch companion has also expressed dissatisfaction with the amount we eat out, so I can no longer blame my lunch habit on socializing. The gauntlet has been thrown. It's Brown Bag November.

Here are some factors which make lunching out so tempting, and how I plan to try to use them to my advantage to change my habit

Social factors. My friend and I used to eat out together; now we'll eat in together.

Office location. My office is right downtown, close to many restaurants… and many corner groceries where I can buy lunch-in ingredients. It's also close to the park, so I can take a walk and get out of the building without going to a spendy spot.

Office amenities/lack thereof. My office doesn't have a usable fridge, but what it does have is a microwave. Plus, I can bring my own dishware and keep nonperishables at my desk.

Lack of meal ideas. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to solve this one. This is where you come in. What do you like to bring to work for lunch? What do you like to keep at work to help make lunch better?


  1. I've got this thing DOWN. Here's my system:
    I really like soups, stews, and stir-frys. Like, I can eat them probably 2 out of three meals a day and not get bored, as long as there is recipe variety. Luckily, these things freeze well.

    I cook one day a week. Usually Sunday I spend 4-8 hours in the kitchen. I make 2 freezable dishes and 1 salad-like dish. Sometimes I also make stock, pesto, salsa, or other freezable components for future meals.

    I portion out 3-4 lunches from what I have made. Usually I do 2 lunches from each "freezable dish," and alternate them, so I don't have the eat anything two days in a row. The salad is often something like coleslaw or bean salad, and I also portion that into 5 containers.

    The rest I freeze. Ideally I would freeze them in individual portions so I could just grab and go, but I don't yet own enough good-quality tupperware, so usually they go into random re-used yogurt containers or whatever.

    The 4th and 5th days I take a lunch out of the freezer that I made in a previous week. This is how I avoid getting bored.

    This method, of course, would only work for someone who really likes freezable things. I get bored of salads really quickly, plus I can't seem to get it together enough to assemble a fun one every night.

    1. I bow to you. I guess I know that the right thing to do is to cook a lot on Sunday and freeze. Everyone says so. I haven't managed to get it together so far.

  2. In practice I actually only end up cooking every other weekend, and that provides 1-2 meals per day, so it's not like I'm slaving away every single sunday. I cook slightly more often in the winter, since I'm spending less time visiting nature, and that extra carries me through times when I can't cook at all (e.g. end of term, when I'm working every weekend)

    It would be hard to cook enough for two, though. If your wife also needs to eat (I assume she does) you'd have to double that cooking time to around 12-16 hours a week.


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