How can I get into the habit of taking packed lunches?

Today we’re putting a spin our usual “how can I reduce this…” question after an email from Martine:

I hate having to buy sandwiches every day but I can’t get into the habit of making lunch in the morning. I do it for a couple of days then stop. I hate spending all that money and making so much waste!! Do you or your readers have any have tips on how I could get into the habit of making them?

Don’t limit yourself to thinking that lunch == sandwiches. When I worked away from home, I wasn’t very good at making sandwiches but I was pretty good at taking leftovers. I think I found my homemade sandwiches pretty uninspiring but a portion of pasta salad or curry & rice to warm up in the microwave, mmm. I think it helped that I could prepare those the night before and not worry about the bread going hard/soggy etc – I’m not at my best in the mornings.

I have a friend who, for weight maintenance and frugal reasons, eats porridge for lunch most days – once a fortnight, he’ll weigh out all the dry ingredients (including some dried fruit) into portions into individual containers so he can just grab one on the way out of the door each day. (He makes some with powdered milk in case he doesn’t have access to fresh milk some days.)

These days, since both John and I work from home, we eat lunch at home but on Wednesday evenings, I teach drama so am out of the house at dinner time. I usually eat when I get back but try to take a snack with me to save me having to buy biscuits or chocolate as a pick-me-up when I’m out – something like flavoured crackers which doesn’t need refrigeration and won’t go off if left in my bag until the following week.

What do the rest of you do? Do you make your sandwiches or lunches every day? Any suggestions on how to get someone into the habit of doing it? Or alternatives to sandwiches?

(Photo by t_trace)

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14 Responses to “How can I get into the habit of taking packed lunches?”

  1. Not all food needs packaging, and not all packaging is wastefull. This morning I went to work with two bananas – the only packaging was the banana skins which of course are bio-degradable.

  2. Marti says:

    Packing a lunch can be a lot of fun. Look up some “bento” web sites & blogs for inspiration. Another fun thing is to plan an office lunch. Either have everyone bring something to share, then eat together, OR, find two or three pals & set up a schedule. You bring lunch for all three this Friday, then the next person, then the next. Adds a lot of variety, & you will be challenged to make something fun to share with friends. Good luck!

  3. Bellen says:

    Having packed lunches for 3 boys for 12 years each and 20 years of packing a dinner for hubby here are some suggestions:
    Lunch to go should contain protein, starch and fruit or veggie, dessert is optional
    Make meat/fowl sandwiches and freeze them – separately pack lettuce, tomato, onion etc. Sandwich will be defrosted by lunch, and fresh.
    Do same thing for desserts of cookies, cupcakes, etc.
    Always have fresh fruit or veggies available in a correct portion size – medium to small for kids and most women, larger for most men
    Make frozen meals out of planned overs – pack in something that is micro safe and resuable – we used plastic containers but have since switched to glass
    Most meat/fowl needs some moisture to reheat well – add spoonful of gravy, broth, etc. Don’t overly season, take seasonings with you – containers of mixed seasonings, we use Mrs Dash’s salt free variety, make planned overs better. Add rice, which I think reheats better than potato, barley, quinoa and a veggie. Anything that mixed together, like stir fry, does really well reheated.
    As mentioned in the blog – cereal, either cooked or cold, does well – just bring milk.
    Anything eaten ‘out of hand’ makes an acceptable meal at work or travel – nut & fruit mixes, some energy bars, cheese and crax, pb and crax. Look at some of the prepacked cold meals sold for kids to get ideas.
    Yoghurt with something crunchy is good as is cottage cheese and fruit.

    Some non-food ideas: pack/plan the lunch the night before; Have an insulated bag to use just for to go meals; have containers to put food in; have napkins, utensils, s&p and other seasonings at work so you’re never caught short; make it fun, not drudgery by adding dessert, or a special food you wouldn’t normally have at home – for my kids it was chips once a week and for my husband it was a Snickers bar. Chips and candy were otherwise banned from the house mainly because I would eat them. And don’t get in a rut of the same thing every day – variety is key.

  4. cmdweb says:

    I like to get out of bed, shower, dress and leave for work. I don’t do breakfast and the idea of getting a lunch together at 6am is abhorrent. What I’ve found really works for me is to do it the night before.
    The last thing I do before I go to bed is make my sandwiches or prepare a tub or two with whatever I need. That way my morning automaton routine is not interrupted.
    …I do occasionally forget to lift it out of the fridge though.

  5. Alice says:

    Once a week, make a big pot of curry, soup etc and freeze it in plastic takeaway boxes or old margerine tubs. Then take one out of the freezer each day to take to work, where hopefully you have a microwave to heat it up in?

  6. Karmae says:

    If there are two or more of you making lunches, make each others meal.
    It’s always nice to have a surprise when you open your lunch sack!
    Decorated hard-boiled eggs, notes or sandwich combinations that you wouldn’t expect are fun even for most adults.

  7. Alexis says:

    simplicity & variety – if you’re replacing a shop sandwich with one you made at home thats not a “motivating factor” for continuing to take your lunch.

    Make your own fruit leather – its easily transportable, takes up no space, and you can make it months in advance.

    a mix of raisins, peanuts, & a really good dark chocolate is a handy snack/lunch piece. Again you can make it in bulk, in advance, and either keep a supply at work, or take as much as you want.

    Home-made peanut butter and fresh veggies (fruit too – especially apple) – don’t know how to make peanut butter – check out my vid here – it takes about 10 min. and blows store bought out of the water.

    Home made chicken salad – slow cook 4-6 chicken breasts in honey & mustard in a “crock” – it falls apart on its own – mix it with mayo, cornichons, and whatever else you like (I add celery to mine) it’ll supply you for at least a week – and can be eaten on its own, with crackers, or some nice bread.

    The trick – it seems to me – is A) make interesting stuff that you look forward to eating. and B) make stuff thats easy to make in quantity in advance. So putting your lunck together takes all of five minutes and beause you have bits & pieces you can have variety throughout the week.

  8. Bobbie says:

    Lunches are the perfect way to eat up leftovers and clean out the fridge at the same time. No need to make a big deal out of making lunch, do it the night before.

  9. carol says:

    I make soup and chili once a month, place them in freezer bags and freeze flat. When they are frozen, I stand them up, like books. Less space and you can see what you are grabbing. It thaws by lunch, and I keep a large cup in my locker to heat in the microwave at lunch. Could not be easier, and even if I am in a rush I still have time to grab lunch. Works pretty well for a quick dinner too.

  10. louisa says:

    You guys have all made me hungry! Thanks for all the ace suggestions so far – very interesting and useful ideas!

    -louisa :)

  11. I make pasta, noodles, vegetarian casserole or a rice casserole on Sunday nights and divide them into 5 portions. I put them into freezable, microwavable containers and put them in the freezer. Each morning before work, I heat up a container of food, throw in a container of fresh veggies (cherry tomatoes, alfalfa, celery sticks and carrot sticks) and some fruit, and I’m good to go.
    I have photos of some of my packed lunches here:

  12. Anni says:

    I just make a little extra dinner and portion out a serving for lunch the next day before I start eating. I also keep a few things at the office in case I forget to pack my lunch:crackers, canned tuna, cans of V8 and a can of almonds.

  13. Stacey says:

    I make large batches of meals on a Sunday and freeze the extras. Like cannellonies or fried rice.

    I take a small zip lock bag each of almonds, cashews and sultanas for snacks. I buy them in larger bags and top up the smaller bags when they get low.

    I also keep a few individual packets of rice noodles and a covered bowl at my desk at work in case I forget my lunch, just add boiling water and cover for 3 minutes and it’s ready.

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