Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brown Baggin'

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 entrĂ©e. 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!


Domesticated-Bliss said...

Thanks for the 'adult' brown bag ideas. I should really be taking my lunch to work instead of eating out every single day...

You know your fruit and cheese lunch sounds like a grown up lunchable!

TabithaVenasse said...

Spicing up the leftovers with a little bit of fresh stuff can help too.

Even, what I did during college that really helped for a while, was I'd make a big meal, and then divide it up into individual sized meals and freeze it. Stir fry, chicken dinners, pasta dishes, etc. Anything can work.

And if all else fails - a fresh fruit salad can be fantastic and healthy each day!

Mrs Soup said...

I always hated packing instead, I do separate grocery shopping. We have a freezer and fridge at work, along with a toaster and microwave. I have bread, butter, mustard, mayo, sandwich meats, string cheese, crumbled blue cheese, lettuce (for sandwich or salad) and a variety of freezer meals if I want something hot. It allows me to have the joy of choosing what I want for lunch as I am hungry instead of having the squishy PB&J.

It has made a huge difference. Now I don't ever want to leave the office for lunch time and fight with the other office workers for space and time.

Caz said...

Leftovers are my key to brown bag lunches. But really, re-invention is key if you're having them for more than once.

It's amazing how much goes well on a salad. Trying to get a lot of veggies in at lunch I usually start with a base of baby spinach. Leftover roast veggies are wonderful on top, even left over pasta, sliced veggie burgers, dahl, chili, etc. And if when I'm at lunch I feel like "hot lunch", baby spinach wilts wonderfully in the microwave. Just beware it drastically reduces the volume of your lunch, possibly leaving you hungry!

I leave a bottle of salad dressing at work to eliminate the small, drippy container of dressing every day.

We're also lucky to have a sandwich press. Even the most boring lunch tastes better grilled.

I still try to treat myself to one lunch out/week but that's more a throwback to high school than anything.

tris1978ton said...

Great, money-saving suggestions! Yum! Wraps, bagels and fried rice. Brown bags can be fun.

Anonymous said...

I feel you when it comes to cutting costs and cutting back on things you love. Great packable lunch ideas! I also love sidekicks, leftovers (of course), soup, and always, always pack a treat! I like rice crispy squares!!

Kat said...

I definitely need to do the same with saving money...I'm trying really hard not to eat out as much. I looked at all the expense that I was spending eating out and it was ALOT!!!

Healthcare Working Girl said...

Great ideas girls! I especially like the separate groceries thing. We have a fully equipped break room so that would definitely be an option AND it leaves room for choice!

Just Jay said...

@Mrs. Soup - That idea is great! I started to realize that is what I need to do because it will save me some time in the morning or in the evening from packing lunch. When I remember to pack my food for the day, I usually do it right after work. If I wait till the evening, I'm usually to lazy or tired to go to the kitchen.

I also find that outside of leftovers, dry and cold lunches also work. Like bringing sandwich fixings or a variety of different snacks etc.

luckygirl said...

i definitely bring my lunch nearly everyday. some of my favorites are:
soups - they are very filling and it's nice to have a hot lunch.

wraps - i do a spinach tortilla with hummus, chopped veggies and feta. it's delic!

frozen organic burritos - i know the frozen thing isn't so good but i found some cheese, beans & rice burritos that are moderately low in cals/fat and sooo yummie!

good luck in your quest :)

Luna said...

i know what you mean. i have had to do the brown baggin thing for a while too. especially where i work. the area i work in is a pricey area so eating out is not cheap and the cheap places are too far to walk to.

i make good money but its still a big expense. i also would prefer to sit somewhere and order fresh hot food or have a waiter/ess bring me my food but its pricey and not convenient for me. the only good thing about my brown baggin at my job is that the employee break room is close to the office on the 2nd floor. next to the office is the machine where we have to clock out for lunch so once thats done we can just go to the room and eat. it gives us extra time to relax but not having to walk somewhere and wait for food.

FB @ said...

Lunches really don't have to be boring.

I too, make good money when I have a contract, but I ALWAYS brown bag it.

I always cook meals for the whole week (delicious meals).. and pack snacks into little baggies, and have lots of different fruit on hand

It isn't as sexy or as easy as grabbing a big bowl of Pad Thai or Sushi, but it is sure as heck cheaper...

E said...

I to am need to brown bag but like you said at lunch time I want to escape the office! Not stay in it! ugh... but yeah must cut expenses. And your right this is an easy way to do. I'm going to try some of your list. I am however leaving myself a $10 budget a week for lunch. They way I can have a splurge day, and maybe won't hate my brown bag as much! lol

Carly said...

This had made so hungry! I need to start bringing my lunch to work as well. I have my own dating blog and should save money!