Packing Lunch For Work Just Got Easier

Over the past two years of reading personal finance blogs, I’ve seen plenty of articles on packing lunches to save money. As much as I love the idea, I just couldn’t make it work. I absolutely HATED packing my lunch. Every time lunch rolled around, my sandwich was the soggiest thing I ever touched. It was disgusting.

It was so disgusting, I often found myself heading out to Subway or the local pizza shop for lunch (even with a soggy sandwich in the fridge). I was averaging about $7 a day and that added up to about $140 a month. Talk about a budget buster! Peer pressure also played a role but that’s no excuse.

Well, I am here to say that I found a solution. I started taking everything for my lunch in separate pieces. In other words, I assemble my sandwich at work and not at home. Wow, does that make a huge difference! I love packing now. I’m not sure how much my colleagues like the mayo, cheese and ham in the fridge, but they will have to live with it (and hopefully not eat it).

All I know is, we will now be saving about $140 a month on me not eating out for lunch. Also, I will be able to take leftovers to work once I start working in DC. You always need some variety!

Have any tips on motivation for packing your lunch? Sometimes it’s not as easy as you think….

36 thoughts on “Packing Lunch For Work Just Got Easier

  1. psychsarah

    Good for you for figuring out how to remove the barriers to taking your lunch! I personally am not a big sandwich person, so I prefer to pack leftovers from dinner the night before, or containers of soup I’ve prepared and frozen. Once in a while I’ll make a big pot of soup, put them into serving size containers and freeze them. That way I can grab a container, some fruit/veggies and nuts and I’m good to go. Plus, the frozen soup slowly thaws, but keeps the other stuff cold until lunch. Obviously this only works if you have a microwave available, but if not, you could heat up the soup in the morning and put it in a thermos. Good luck in continuing this frugal and healthy endeavour 🙂

    1. Adam Post author

      My wife and I typically make just enough for us each night that we usually don’t have leftovers. However, once I move back to DC, I want to start making big batches of food like spaghetti. I love taking that kind of stuff to work!

      The soup idea is a good one. We are a little limited on freezer space because we live in an apartment, but we may be able to freeze some.

  2. Daniel

    I had the same issue! I would put ketchup and mayo the bread and it was a horrible experience. Finally, I got smart and put the sauce between the meat, not touching the bread. The I got even smarter and starting using the condiments in the cafeteria.
    .-= Daniel´s lastest post ..Interview Series: Monevator =-.

    1. Adam Post author

      I don’t think it was the condiments that made my sandwiches soggy. I think the moisture from the meat and cheese sort of went towards the source of the coolness and made the bread soggy. I think that’s the case because one piece of bread would be soggy and the other would be bone dry. Weird!

  3. Caro

    If work has a freezer and a microwave, you can also bring in your frozen soup for those days when all else fails. Or, if you are okay with canned soup, keep a few in your desk. Having a backup when something goes wrong with my primary lunch plan (bad food, spills, just not feeling like it) has saved me from spending the money on lunch out.

    The other thing I found helpful was managing the social stuff. I made it a habit to eat out on Fridays with my coworkers. In one office where I worked, I was able to encourage everyone to bring back their food so we could eat together in the conference room. That way it didn’t matter who was eating from home and who was not.

    1. Financially Fab

      I found the social aspect to be important as well. One solution is to just bring my lunch when my team goes out. My teammates usually go to sandwich shops that don’t mind if one person packs, especially if I buy a drink.

  4. Jody

    For the past 5.5 years, I’ve brought my lunch to work every day (eat out 2-3 times a year).

    Every few months I’ll spend a couple of hours cooking about 5 or 6 different dishes and I will then freeze them in individual serving sizes. Periodically I will make something else during the week and will add the leftovers to my stash of freezer meals, extending the time until I need to do a mega batch cooking. It takes me seconds in the morning to pack my lunch (and breakfast actually) for work and I have an inexpensive meal that I like for very little effort.

    I only have a regular fridge-freezer so not a lot of freezer space is required. This is one case where a little bit of effort and planning has saved me a lot of money!

  5. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff

    I just started brining my lunch as a 2010 resolution. So far, I’ve only ate out once – the Burger King $1 double cheeseburger was calling to me and off-brand Ramen wasn’t. What’s worked for me so far:

    1. The right size containers – My husband bought me these small containers that are perfect for lunch…that makes it much easier to pack my meal and head out. They’re in great condition after lots of use and cost $15 for a set of 10.

    2. Pasta – Reheats very well in under 3 minutes. I like using penne instead of spaghetti since it’s less messy to eat.

    3. Peanut butter and jelly – My sandwiches don’t get soggy…do you refrigerate your bread at home?

    4. Ham and cheese sandwiches – I can put on the ham and cheese without any issues and just have to put on condiments at work.

    5. Leftovers – If I don’t finish my dinner or we go out for dinner, I have leftovers. I usually have to supplement a little with some fruit or veggies, but it works.

    6. Off-brand Ramen in a bowl – I have Sunlee bowls as backup. I can add hot water from the coffeemaker and voila!

    My current goal is to continue packing lunch and to start making easy breakfasts (like freezable whatnots like tacos). Unless I have time for cereal, I either have instant oatmeal or buy a breakfast taco from my job for $1.29. I need a few more options before I turn back to donuts and McDonald’s again…
    .-= Budgeting in the Fun Stuff´s lastest post ..Determining Our "Allowances" =-.

    1. Adam Post author

      Great tips! I am really digging to pasta and I think that will be my main choice once I move back home.

      See my comment above to Daniel. I think my soggy sandwiches have something to do with our 1970’s mini fridge at work….

  6. Lisa Sonora Beam

    New to your blog today and enjoying your posts.

    For some fun, economical — healthy– ways to make your packed lunch more interesting, look at other cultures.

    In Japan, packed lunches are an art form — Bento Box meals. (hmmm…maybe that’s where McD’s got their idea for Happy Meals?)

    If you do a google search for Bento Box lunches, meals, you’ll find some really passionate bloggers who know this subject well and can show you the ropes.

    Bento is not just for Japanese food, of course — you’ll be putting together your own well designed meals.

    I’ve happily lived on PB&J sandwiches on extended road trips in my old VW Bus, and backpacking in Alaska — a good, whole grain bread won’t get soggy.

    Try bread alternative: good crackers, tortillas, etc.

    Enjoy!

  7. Sherry

    So glad you found a workable solution to your lunch problem. I work as a RN; often my lunch may occur @ 10AM or 3PM, depending on the patient workload. Many of us bring our lunch in the form of ingredients (as you have done)…a bag of salad, toppings for the salad & dressing. But we bring food for up to a week at a time, which saves the nightly or morning effort to pull your lunch stuff together. We have a large refrig. in our dept so we can do this. The other thing I do is purchase Stouffers Dinners (on sale) & keep several in a bag in the work freezer. We label or write our names on our “stuff” & hope the docs don’t pillage our food! LOL…:)

  8. Sheila

    Put the mayo in between the layers of meat rather than directly on the bread. Same for the jelly in a PB&J. I cannot tolerate soggy bread myself.

  9. Jennifer Lissette

    Definitely have to chime in on packing soup for lunch. It’s one of the few foods that actually tastes better after it’s been frozen. Plus, there’s an infinite variety of soups that you can make. I’ve sent my husband in with chicken vegetable, barley beef, pork & lentil, minestrone, chicken noodle, shiitake miso… well, I think you get the idea.

    The other thing that’s nice is if someone offers to take you out and treat you to lunch (which happens occasionally at my husband’s office), you can take them up on it without wasting what you brought. Simply let it thaw in the fridge and eat it the next day.

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  11. Single Guy Money

    That’s a great idea! I hate the idea of having to prepare a sandwich in the morning before I head to work. It’s hard enough getting myself ready to go to work. We have a fridge in my office so this would actually work out great.

    1. Adam Post author

      Yeah, I didn’t mention that but I too hate packing for work. All I take now is a banana and two slices of bread. Much easier (and quicker)!

    1. Adam Post author

      That actually sounds REALLY good! I may have to try that. I’m not much of a salad person but that sounds like a good one.

  12. Ken

    I am the king of leftovers at my workplace. I also do a good amount of sandwiches, chips, bananas as well. It’s truly a money saver.

  13. bhleigh

    New to your site, and loving it so far. I too work for the Fed and lunch-time peer pressure is very difficult to overcome, so my hat’s off to you. since you already make your lunch while at work, use that same fridge to keep snacks for the other times of the day. I started bringing in yogurt and fruit to work so that I wasn’t tempted to grab candy/soda from the vending machines. Saves me a bunch of money over the course of a month.
    .-= bhleigh´s lastest post ..Defining Career Finances =-.

    1. Adam Post author

      Well, thanks for stopping by! The peer pressure is a big thing. I have a co-worker at the office that has been with the IRS for over 20 years and he loves going out to eat. He’s also my assigned mentor and it’s tough to say no to him.

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  15. MyFinancialObjectives

    I recently started packing my lunch as well! Such a good feeling to save so much money is it not!? I usually pack my sandwich already made, I usually find it not too soggy. I however eat a salad quite often for lunch. In this case I mix the veggies and chicken in the night before, and just add the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper right before I eat it. Delicious and Nutritious!:)
    .-= MyFinancialObjectives´s lastest post ..Tax Savings, Part 1 of 4: Why You NEED to Contribute to Your 401(k) =-.

  16. YYC

    I do manage to pack my lunch for work 95% of the time, but I’m still really lazy about it. Cup-of-noodles, granola bar and an apple. I want to get out of the cup-of-noodles rut, but usually can’t find the time or energy to actually make proper lunches.

    Leftovers are great. I always make too much when I make spaghetti or stir-fry, and the leftovers usually make their way into my lunches.

    I’ve never been a huge sandwich person, and can’t ~stand~ soggy pre-packed sandwiches. Even as a kid, I couldn’t stomach them. I remember puking after trying to force down a pbj in second grade. I do like sandwiches with leftover roast beef, chicken, etc., though. I do like you do and bring the ingredients and assemble at work.

  17. Money Reasons

    I’ve had soggy sandwiches before! I’ll have to try your trick for some of my sandwiches!

    I was packng for a while, but then fell off the bandwagon and started going fast food. It’s good to read so many others are still hanging in there. It’s given me motivation to do so too.

  18. Patti

    I try to pack lunch the night before. I’ll group everything in a little corner of the fridge – meal, snack, dressing, sauce, etc. It makes it easier to put everything in my lunch bag in the morning since I don’t have to look for everything, it’s all right there. When I make food, I usually make 2-3 servings so I have something I can take to work the next day and maybe have for dinner again. I keep jars of peanut butter and strawberry preserves at work and bring the bread from home on days I don’t have leftovers. I also keep cans of soup in my drawer as another back-up plan. I like the frozen soup suggestion and I pack my soggy ingredients separately. Good to know I’m not the only one! My favorite leftovers are pasta and Greek salads.
    .-= Patti´s lastest post ..Big Yarn Stash, Little Closet Space =-.

  19. Jeff

    The lunch issue! Working as a middle school administrator I do not have the option to leave work for lunch. So I two choices, eat in the cafeteria NOT!! Or bring a lunch, keep stuff in the fridge!
    I keep a bag of frozen berries in the freezer, a container of protien powder and a hand mixer, milk if free! I do a shake for a mid morning snack nearly everyday. And its great when I get stuck and have to stay late.
    Every Sunday nite I make a stir fry with lots of veggies, tofu and chicken or shrimp. I make an entire wok full. On monday morning I take two containers, one for mon. and tues!
    I’m not a big sandwhich person. I take a turkey burger, chicken breast, or burrito fixings on a regulare basis. I fill a container with salad stuff twice per week. Not much leafy stuff, but carrots, cabbages, broccoli, cucumbers etc. salad dressing keep at work.
    For emergencies I always keep a couple “healthier” frozen meals. I also keep oranges and apples in fridge at work

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