I know, I know. I hear you girls, paper bag lunches are so middle school. I was even one of those girls in high school who bought lunch everyday, so trust me when I say this is hard even for me to do. Bringing lunch for me is always difficult because I'm very forgetful (so I end up leaving my soup and pretzels in the cupboard and then remember two hours later that I have no lunch) and I'm a sucker for fast food, pizza, etc. My trick is to purchase my food for the week early Monday morning. I wake up early, go to the grocery store near work, buy exactly five meals (healthy, nutritious and usually Lean Cuisine), and that way I have no excuse to 'just run downstairs and grab a slice' when I could just run to our kitchen and heat up a frozen meal. And I end up saving big bucks.
*Frozen meals can always be substituted for deli meats, canned soup...I think you get the idea.
When turkey sandwiches and PB&J just aren't cutting it anymore, it's time to go Food Network on your lunch's ass. Recently, I've been frequenting the new websites for meals to spice up my brown bag lunches. I happened upon MedicineNet.com and while their suggestions aren't out-of this-world new, I did think their idea to bring a chicken cutlet sliced up and some honey mustard a good enough idea to try. While I'll admit that Rachel Ray kills me, her 30-minute meal cookbooks are killer in the kitchen for a post-grad like myself. And last but not least, my favorite place to find new killer lunch ideas is Kaboose. They have sandwich recipes, salads, soups, Mexican recipes, and even semi-easy Chinese recipes. My only criteria is that the lunches I find are easy to make and have relatively easy to find ingredients (because I am so not going all the way to Italy to pick some herbs for my next pasta salad).
When that annoying co-worker just won't stop pestering you to join them for a meal or you just can't fathom eating another stale chip from home, there are ways to skimp on your dining out excursions. My advice is to avoid sit-down restaurants at all costs since these will immediately put you into double digits range, but if you can't avoid it stick with appetizers and side salads. If at all possible try to veer towards mom and pop owned delis - generally they will be cheaper than Cosi or Lenny's whose sandwiches range from $8-$10.