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Lunch Money

Edmund Marsh

WE ALL HAVE GOOD habits and bad habits. One of my best habits: bringing my lunch to work.

I save both money and calories by brown-bagging it rather than buying lunch at a restaurant. My lunch of leftovers, along with a few pieces of fruit and a bottle of water, cost less than even a fast-food meal deal, and it’s healthier. What about the long-term savings from avoiding those additional calories? Researchers have found that excess body weight adds thousands of dollars to our annual health care expenses.

My meals at home are also reasonably healthy, mostly lean meats and fresh vegetables. The leftovers find their way into my lunchbox the next morning. A typical midday meal for me is two to three ounces of meat, one cup of steamed vegetables and two or three pieces of in-season fruit. The cost is less than $3.

By contrast, a McDonald’s Big Mac combo meal runs to more than $8. A Chipotle grilled chicken burrito with rice, black beans and a drink is $11 to $12. Lunch at LongHorn Steakhouse starts at $8.

The calorie count for my lunch is also lower. The total usually runs about 400. By contrast, the Big Mac combo boasts 1,080 calories, the Chipotle meal can total around 820, and a LongHorn crispy chicken combo has 1,200 calories if you choose a salad and diet drink.

Those extra calories don’t automatically mean extra weight. But experience tells me that fast food lunches and a few restaurant dinners add pounds to my frame. Toss in a latte, instead of my preferred home-brewed black coffee at breakfast, and I could be headed toward a body mass index, or BMI, that’s dangerous to my health and my wallet.

BMI is a measure of total body fat calculated from the height and weight of adult men and women. The higher the number, the more body fat a person is carrying around. An individual with normal weight has a BMI between 18.5 and 25.

Researchers from Harvard and George Washington University, drawing on data from 2011-16, estimate that a moderately obese person with a BMI of 30 to 35 spends about $1,800 more on health care each year than a person of normal body weight. Someone with a BMI over 35 can spend more than $3,000 extra.

If bringing lunch to work is one of my good habits, what are my bad habits? Wow, is that the time? Got to go.

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AnthonyClan
AnthonyClan
10 days ago

Agree 100%, but don’t let bagging lunch be lead you to eating alone (i.e. you don’t want to be the odd man out by brown bagging it with your co-workers at McDonalds). Having lunch with others has tremendous social and employment benefits. A fellow wrote a book about this very subject “Never Eat Alone.” These benefits may even outweigh financial savings of brown bagging. Personal finance can get very complex when one considers all of the factors, especially not financial factors. Likely some happy medium is the ideal solution.

DrLefty
DrLefty
11 days ago

I started consistently bringing my lunch from home a few years ago to manage both calories and time better. I have a combo of dinner leftovers (I’ll package up individual servings after dinner and freeze them) or make a pot of soup or chili that I then freeze in one-cup portions. Add a can of low-salt V8 and a piece of fruit, and I’m good to go.

I’ve purchased an insulated lunch bag and a Crockpot lunch warmer ($21 on Amazon). You put your lunch in the warmer when you get to the office, plug it in, and by lunchtime, it’s perfectly heated. I had a microwave in my office, but I like my lunch warmer so much better that I gave the microwave to my daughter for her apartment.

Another purchase that facilitates my lunch prep is called Souper Cubes. Nifty product that makes it easy to freeze food and then pop the frozen cubes out and put them into ziploc bags.

Cammer Michael
Cammer Michael
11 days ago

I often bring lunch to work, but also buy at the cafeteria. It’s reasonably priced. It has an excellent salad station. The premade sandwiches are reasonable (and from a healthy standpoint, no different than if I brown bagged). The market table has excellent vegetable side dishes to complement the grilled salmon or roast beef and the pricing is great at $3 for a large serving of sugar snap peas, sauteed brussel sprouts, swiss chard, roasted carrots, or whatever else is in season. Often, I order two or three sides and have a huge well prepared vegetarian meal. And we have a refrigerator and microwave oven in the office for leftovers.
I may be underpaid, but the restaurant quality cafeteria with healthy a la carte ordering and employee discount is an awesome perk.

Michael1
Michael1
12 days ago

I always said eating my lunch broughty from home was the best part of my day.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
13 days ago

I was fortunate in my career and my father was as well , that our companies had cafeterias with plenty of healthy choices for breakfast and lunch. Not only that, our companies subsidized it so the cost was reasonable . There were always people who brownbagged it but it wasn’t worth it to me. As an aside, being a woman in the 1970s entering a male dominated profession, I was actually advised that buying lunch would impart a professional image.

R Quinn
R Quinn
13 days ago

Never brought lunch, but we had cafeteria with salads and plenty of healthy choices. Even oatmeal for breakfast

Edmund Marsh
Edmund Marsh
13 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I hope we all make healthy choices most of time, wherever we find them.

George Counihan
George Counihan
13 days ago

Your health is everything … Always mindful of my mantra – “A healthy person has a thousand wishes, a sick person only one”!

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
13 days ago

Good article. Back when I was working I used to buy my lunches. Then I started brown bagging it for the 2 reasons you stated above (costs & calories). Over time, I found myself simply preferring my brown bag lunches and lightly resenting it when out-of-town visiting colleagues “required” me to go to lunch. In my case this was an instance of the old saying “people form habits and then the habits form the people”.

Edmund Marsh
Edmund Marsh
13 days ago
Reply to  OldITGuy

It’s the same for me, OldITGuy. I like my lunch from home.

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