As I sit in my favorite booth at my favorite Chinese eatery watching the steam rise above the platter of rice and sauced vegetables that has just arrived from the kitchen, I sigh, melancholy, despite the gorgeous dish laid out immaculately and awaiting my fork. No good thing can last, I ponder as I dig in for what may just prove to be my last meal, of sorts.
You see, increased expenses coupled with a pretty fixed income have finally slammed into my life with the destructive power of a Mack truck. Despite the fact that we have been economically stagnant for years now, I inhabited a nice little patch of denial while doubting that I’d be effected in more than a minute way. And actually, it’s not “these tough economic times” that have just caught up with me, it’s several other personal financial situations that have all seemed to come together to form this perfect storm that threatens to blow me and my children away. Apparently, everyone wants to be paid . . . NOW. No one wants to hear it. All that’s left to do is get my fiscal act together . . . in a hurry.
Corners must be cut and belts tightened.
In addition to downgrading my cable and trimming some extras off my car insurance, it seems that eating out for lunch will be the next item on the chopping block. I lightly broached the subject of homemade lunches in a previous post but the fact of the matter is, I despise homemade lunches! I work hard and therefore feel I am entitled to sit down in the food establishment of my choice sometime around noon everyday and select a delectable dish to satiate my hunger as well as soothe my weary soul after a grueling morning. If I chose to, I could eat somewhere new and something new every single day of the year. Ah, the power of choice! The joy of indulging in all that yummy goodness! After a hearty lunch in a spot with great atmosphere, a bowl of cereal would suffice for dinner. Lunch reigns as supreme meal of the day for me making this a particularly rough transition.
In the past, I’ve balked at the time needed to prepare the lunch, turned my nose up a the tired sandwiches and stale chips that sit glaring at me from the lunch bag I borrow from my seven year old. Even a decent lunch would be hard pressed to keep me in the office break room with all that great food just minutes away ready to be ordered and consumed!
But, no matter how much I temper tantrum on the inside, it’s clear what needs to be done. Brown bagging is to commence immediately so I’m on a mission to reinvent lunch. No more dull sandwiches and lame sides. I need excitement! I need color! I need taste!
I’ve spoken to a few folks here in my office who I notice seem to always, ALWAYS, bring lunch from home and their method is pretty simple: leftovers. Hmmm . . . not entirely drab. OK. The web offered a plethora of “new, funky, fresh” ideas for jazzing up the old brown back lunch. Here are a few ideas I found here:
- Pasta Lover's Lunch Salad. Pack a cold pasta salad. Make your salad with lean meat or low-fat cheese (so it has some protein), lots of vegetables to boost fiber and nutrition, and use a whole-grain blend pasta, like Barilla Plus. Then just drizzle some light vinaigrette over the top and toss.
- Pita Pocket Sandwich. Pack your whole-grain pita pocket with chicken Caesar salad, or any other lean meat or cheese filler mixed with vegetables and dark green lettuce.
- The Fruit and Cheese Plate Special. Make crispy cracker sandwiches with whole-wheat crackers, slices of assorted cheese, and lean meats. Don't forget the fruit, which goes nicely with the cheese and adds fiber and nutrition.
- Peanut Butter Fun Pack. Pack 1/8 cup of natural-style peanut butter, along with a plastic knife or spoon, wheat crackers, and celery sticks, and you have a peanut butter fun pack!
- Bagel With Cream Cheese, Please. Bagels are a wonderful foundation for hardy sandwiches that stand up to being in a backpack or locker all morning. You can toast a bagel in the morning and simply spread some light cream cheese in the middle. Or make a bagel sandwich with, say, a little light cream cheese, some turkey, and cranberry sauce, then top it off with alfalfa sprouts or Romaine lettuce.
- Carry a Cobb Salad. Plastic containers can hold the makings of a delicious salad lunch. Fill it with chopped green lettuce, chopped hard-boiled egg, light cheese, and/or lean ham. You can buy packets of light dressing, or just use extra packets of light salad dressing left over from your last trip to the fast-food chain.
- It's a Wrap! Wraps are a nice change of pace from the usual sandwich. Use one of the new higher-fiber tortillas, like the multigrain flour tortillas available in most supermarkets. Then fill 'er up with chicken Caesar salad or assorted lean meats, cheese, tomato, sliced onion, shredded Romaine lettuce, and light dressing. Just roll it up and wrap in foil.
- Fried Rice Can Be Fun. When made with eggs or chopped lean ham and lots of veggies, cold fried rice can be a satisfying noontime treat. Make your own, or plan on leftovers the night before if you're ordering from a restaurant.
- BBQ Chicken Sandwich. Just pack a grilled, boneless, skinless chicken breast (you can make it in your indoor grill the night before) with some lettuce and sliced tomato in one baggie, and a whole-wheat bun in another. Add a packet of BBQ sauce to the lunch bag, and it's good to go.
- Meal Muffins. Certain types of muffins work as a lunch entrée. If you bake them over the weekend and keep them in the freezer, you just have to pull one or two out in the morning. By lunch, they are nicely chilled and ready to eat. Try ham and cheese muffins, Mexican Cornbread muffins, or quiche muffins (quiche filling, baked with or without crust in a muffin pan).
I saw a few pretty tasty sounding ideas in that list and I’m thinking that if I find a very chic lunch bad to toss it all into like this, the aesthetics will even further aide in the transition. And maybe if I’m a really good, money saving girl for, oh, say a month, then I can possibly treat myself to a “real” lunch. LOL!