Get out the old Number 2 pencil and give the lead a lick. It’s time to figure how much lunch costs. And it does add up. Say you buy a sandwich for $4, an iced tea is a couple of bucks, a bag of chips sets you back a dollar. You’re at $7. Without the cookie. That’s another $1.50. Do this five days a week and you’ve spent a considerable amount of cash: $42.50. Or $170 a month. That’s half a car payment.
Let’s get real about lunch at work. You can’t afford to fritter this amount away just to save time in the morning. If it takes you 30 minutes to make something you have paid yourself $17 an hour. Tax free. But you have to make a few plans and do a little preparation to make this work. Designate half a shelf in the fridge for lunch fixins.
Figure out what you want to have and buy it, based on what’s on sale at the supermarket. If whole wheat bread is on sale and Swiss cheese is also at a good price, there’s a sandwich. Check the cold cuts and get a few slices. You don’t need a pound. A quarter-pound will make two nice sandwiches. Same with the cheese. If you skimp just a little on the meat and cheese individually you can have a meat and cheese sandwich.
Keep it Interesting with Sale Items
But plain cheese can be boring. Spread the bread with a little mayo and add a layer of thin cucumber slices. The mayo keeps the bread from sopping up the cucumber juice. Or take the cucumber separately and add it at the last minute. Substitute thin zucchini slices or grated carrot for the cukes. If salad greens are BOGO use some of those instead of head lettuce.
Honey mustard or Dijon mustard add a new dimension at a fraction of the calories of mayonnaise. You know those little sandwich rounds that are on BOGO about once every six weeks? Grab a couple of packs and put them up, two to a bag, and stick them in the freezer. Use one of those instead of bread for controlled portions.
When drug stores have big cans of tea on sale for 50 cents, buy a bunch in different flavors and keep some of them in the fridge to take for lunch.
If eggs cost $2.40 a dozen, then that’s only 20 cents each and, when hard cooked and sliced, one is ample for a sandwich. If you see an egg slicer on sale, get it. Get one to slice and core apples, too. Use it for pears as well as apples. Wrap them tightly, with the core in, and the fruit won’t get brown by lunch time.
Keep it Interesting with Leftovers
There is a book in my library that used to be a running joke with my mother-in-law. Many dishes were “Good cold for lunch the next day.” Keep lunch in mind when you make dinner. An extra slice of meatloaf gussied up with coarse mustard and salad greens is great. Meatballs are just as good cold as hot and make a fine sandwich. A roasted chicken leg is a controlled portion.
Keep it Interesting with Spreads
If you haven’t tried hummus as a spread, do it now. It comes in a raft of flavors and is often on BOGO. Spread some on a flour tortilla and roll it around blanched asparagus or raw zucchini. That’s finger food you can be proud of.
Wholly Guacamole comes in large pouches, one to a box, or small pouches, three to a box. The three-packs cost a little more because you get a little less product but you don’t waste much. Use that as a spread on a tortilla with cold refried beans and cheese. Take salsa in a small container for dipping. It’s just you, so double dip.
Save your lunch money and once in a while splurge on a fancy coffee.
by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor