How to Eat Cheap Lunches at Work
Meals out can mean another meal "in"!
Save your wallet on workplace meals.
Many people have discovered that nothing drains their wallet faster during the week than eating lunch at work. Considering that an average meal at a restaurant if you include drink, tax and tip can run you close to $10, it makes sense that the cost can really add up over time. If you eat out for your lunch break 4-5 days a week, you might be spending on average anywhere between $30 to over $50 each week! That can really take a bite out of your monthly budget! But what if you could save that money and still have interesting, satisfying meals while at work? Cost cutting doesn't have to mean carrot sticks and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!
One of the best ways to cut costs on break time meals is...LEFTOVERS! Do you eat out on the weekends? If you are like me and finishing a large restaurant meal is too much to eat in one sitting, make sure you always take your leftovers home! For one thing, leaving them to be thrown out is a waste (especially since you paid for it already!), and saving them for the coming week means at least one day of free lunch! It is also a great way to make going out for dinner more cost effective. I have found that even a small amount of leftovers winds up being more than enough for lunch on Monday. Ordered fajitas at the Mexican place Saturday night? Setting aside one tortilla and enough filling for it can make a very satisfying lunch. Even a few bites of steak and part of a baked potato or a small remainder of a pasta dish can be filling enough for the rest of the work day.
Leftovers from home work very nicely as well for lunch at work. Whatever you cooked the previous evening for yourself or your family can be great the next day. You can even set a single serving portion aside when you put away your leftovers after dinner so that you can just grab it and go the next morning. Or, make a large dinner at home and then eat on the leftovers at work for 2 or 3 days. This works especially well if you live alone and cook only for yourself as it solves the problem of trying to cook "dinner for one"; you can cook a regular sized meal and then have your dinner that night and most of your lunches that week taken care of!
If you don't have access to a fridge and microwave at work, or just don't like leftovers much, there are ways of getting take-out food that won't break your budget. Let's start with Chinese. Many Chinese restaurants have low price menu items a la carte that are not part of the main menu. A serving of fried rice is often quite a generous quantity and more than enough to fill you up for at least one meal. Soups like wonton, hot and sour and egg drop are also filling and quite cheap. A lot of Chinese restaurants also serve great lunch specials that can be just under $5.00 and come in very generous portions that you can often get two meals out of. Plus, some places are MSG free and can substitute brown rice for white or fried rice, which when combined with many of the vegetable rich dishes served can make Chinese a healthier alternative to fast food (I've sometimes ordered a pint of brown rice at Chinese take-out and used this with leftovers from home for 2-3 days!). Mexican food is another great way to save money at lunch. Many Mexican restaurants (not Taco Bell!) have an a la carte menu that provides some very hearty items that make a great, quick lunch. A single tamal, tostada, bean burrito or a couple of tacos may run you only $3-4.00 and really fill you up. Plus, if you dine in, you can just order water to drink to have the complimentary chips and salsa.
Salad and Sandwich tricks
Another great dine out option are the sub sandwich places. Restaurants like Subway and Mr. Goodcents often offer several subs for $5 in the footlong size. Eating one half and then saving the other half for the next day makes your lunch under $3 each day! Grocery stores also can be a great place to eat if they offer a salad bar. Even though they often charge by weight, you can build a very large salad with lots of fresh vegetables and side items and eat this over the course of two days. Many even have a small dine in area where you can get a free water cup; so you can pay for your salad and then have a leisurely lunch in the deli with no tip to leave or extra cost for drinks. Even though the large salad you make might wind up being close to $10, by eating half of it the next day, you've cut the daily cost of your meal in half and added some healthy food to your diet. Another great thing about these grocery salad bars is they often have a "salad club" where your number of salads purchased are tracked on a rewards card and then when you reach a certain number, say 10, your next salad is free! This will reduce the cost overall of all your salads purchased. Tip: skip the dressing packets which often cost extra and use the house provided dressings or the oil and vinegar. Also, don't over load on heavier items that offer less nutritional value, like pasta salads. Make the weight count with fruits, veggies and lean protein like chicken or boiled eggs.
The fact is if you use your head and get creative, you can find a lot of cost saving options available to you at mealtimes. Being resourceful with little things like lunch at work can really add up to big savings for your monthly budget and not really be that difficult. You might even find it is fun to see how little you can pay for a delicious, healthy and filling meal during your short lunch period. Some of the best ways to eat a little cheaper can be very simple, such as choosing half portion sizes (or ordering full portions and saving half for later), ordering water instead of a regular drink or ordering the vegetarian options for certain dishes. Saving money on meals can be rewarding and it will make those times when you do splurge on something fancier seem even more special.