I used to pick up lunch at work. You know, a cheapo sandwich from Safeway, a burger from the cool indie burger place across the street, takeout teriyaki from the stand that seemed to have new owners every week.
Back in the day, four years or so ago, I used to budget $6 a day for this. Most of the time it worked out, unless I got in to the market and lost control of myself to the tune of $12 or so worth of sushi.We’ve all seen food prices go up over the past few years and now I find it is hard to get in and out with lunch for much less than $10. And that loss-of-control binge into 2nd rate raw fish would easily set me back $20 now.Ouch.
Yesterday Erica talked about leftovers, maximizing the work you get out of every bit of food you cook. This post is about leftovers’ life partner, the bag lunch.If I can bring in a bag lunch just four days a week (I’ll spot myself one day for not having my shit together or going out with co-workers) for the roughly 48 working weeks in a year, that’s 192 lunches.
At ten bucks each I’m saving myself from shelling out $1,920 to the Safeway, the Starbucks, the drive through. Granted, ingredients are going in to each one of those lunches, but trust me, even if I was paying $20 per meal, the quality wouldn’t be anything like what I can bring in from the garden.Over the past few years I’ve found that there are a few things that make it easier for me – and for Erica – to keep these negabucks flowing.
Homebrew Husband’s Top Seven Bag Lunch Tips.
1. Pack it the night before. At 5:00 AM, packing lunch isn’t a big priority. I’m fidgeting and waiting for the coffee pot to huff and gurgle and indicate that I can pour a cup for Erica (and sneak it up to her night stand) and then pour a cup for myself and run to catch my train. So if the day’s lunch isn’t there, waiting for me in a Tupperware, odds are I’ll succumb to the siren of convenience and throwing money at the problem.So instead of deferring the problem until the morning, pack lunch the night before. Make it part of post-dinner cleanup, while you’ve already got everything out in the kitchen, just set aside a container or two that are already proportioned for the following day. Then it’ll be there waiting when you need it.
2. Bring in a bunch at once.I take public transportation a lot, riding the train and the bus to work. Schlepping a cooler or some food containers isn’t the easiest thing to do, wedged in a bench seat next to a perspiring middle aged man with a too-tight Katy Perry t-shirt. Much like the effort to cook a few meals at once isn’t that much more than the effort to cook one meal, the effort to haul around two or even three meals isn’t that much more than the effort to haul around one.Use a picnic sized cooler or a reusable market bag or some swag bag you got at a trade show. Toss a few containers in there at once, two or even three days worth of lunch, and call it good. I’m on day two of a hotwing feast, with no extra effort today. Tomorrow I’ll bring home a collection of empties to set aside for next week. Works great with chili, soup, anything that comes in bulk.
3. Mix and match.While you are bringing in a couple of days’ worth of food, why not bring in some variety. Instead of two or three containers, each for one day, bring in a container of rice, one with some salmon, one with some veggies. Then you can mix up your lunches to fit the mood of the day. Or if the salmon runs out, bring in some leftover tri tip and a tortilla and you can have a sort of ad-hoc fajita with the rest.
4. Stockpile condimentsAt various times, I’ve kept all of the following at work: kosher salt, pepper, mustard, salad dressing, ketchup, soy sauce, and Frank’s Red Hot. Really this is just another step on the mix-and-match road. With a collection of condiments, I can hot up (sometimes literally) anything I grab out of the fridge. Once I grabbed a large tupperware full of rice. I thought it had rice and salmon and veggies, but I grabbed the wrong container. Well, warm rice isn’t exactly balanced or particularly tasty, but with the additional of some condiments, it got me through the day. Even if you don’t get caught in such straights, being able tweak your food adds fun and variety.
5. Stockpile snacks.The office gig can be fatiguing, in its own odd way. Often I find myself munching just to stay awake. On a long conference call when I just might suddenly need to pay attention, at a team meeting when I don’t want to be caught yawning in front of my manager’s manager. The all-too-easy solution is the vending machine or little deli-mart downstairs for a bag of chips or a power bar.What I strive for, but frankly don’t often achieve, is having a drawer full of my own snacks. Energy bars, granola, apples, raisins, nuts, jerky, etc: it doesn’t matter if they are store bought or home made – having them there for a quick wake-up or boost is far better to giving in to vending machine temptation (or being caught napping).
6. Pre-position breakfast.Everyone agrees that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (or at least that is what I always read). But no one ever eats it. Again, at 5:00 AM I’m inclined to give in to the short term view of coffee and a dash out the door. But starting off right really does help the day go better. So while you are loading up on snacks and putting them away in your desk drawer, load up on some good breakfast food as well. Yogurt, stashed in the office fridge (I hate yogurt, so you feel free to take this advice even if I refuse to) is good. Frozen waffles or pancakes and some nut butter and jam is good. But, best of all:
7. Hardboiled eggs.Two days ago, we had our first five-egg day. Yesterday we got six. Today, five again. So it is safe to say that the hens are finally up to full speed. And that means plentiful eggs and something I’ve long awaited: hardboiled eggs at work. Cooked, peeled and kept cold in water, a hardboiled egg will last for several days. Cook up a batch, take them in, and stash them in a fridge. Two or three will make an excellent breakfast, one or two will help get through an afternoon dry spot or recover from a bad meeting. Season them with your pepper or kosher salt, eat them with some of that bread or yogurt or granola!
I cook my eggs per Alton Brown – this method has never failed to produce a great hardboiled egg:Lay eggs in a single layer at the bottom of a cooking pot. Fill the pot with cold water to about an inch above the topmost egg. Your pot should be big enough that you have at least an inch of margin.
Heat the water, uncovered, on high until the water is JUST starting to simmer. Then immediately cut the heat off and put a lid on the pot. Let stand for ELEVEN minutes. While you wait, prep an ice bath. After the eleven minutes have passed, fish the eggs out with a slotted spoon and dunk them in the ice bath for a few minutes.Peel. Any that you do not eat immediately should go into a closed container, covered in water. They will keep for several days.The older an egg is the easier it will peel (but the more pungent it will be) so this is a good way to use up the older eggs in your inventory.
Those of you who also work off the homestead – what tips have you got for bringing the bounty and savings in to work?