When I decided to do a "No spend on anything but essentials" month (have a look here at the Cheapskates website for more detail) I knew I was going to have get my lunches sorted for once and for all.
Here's what I did...
I got out all the containers needed for the main part of my four lunches.
These are washed takeaway containers and the little pots come from the ginger at the sushi places! The blue and yellow ones came in a pack of six from Woollies for a few dollars.
I was going to buy a cute bento box with all these little compartments to fill but when I looked in the cupboard, I realised I had four free "de-constructed" Bento boxes already! (and it was a no spend month after all!)
I make up four salads with their own little salad dressings with whatever is in the fridge that week...
The advantage of using containers and not a bento box is that I can make up four salads on the same day instead of one salad everyday.
The dressing can be stored in the corner of the container. If they spill in transit, its not a big deal. I find that if I dress the salads just before I eat them, its much nicer. They go all soggy if I do it when I make them, and on Fridays, that salad is not worth eating...
While I'm making the salads up, I pop a batch or two of "chuck anything in" muffins in the oven as well.
Five of these go into a container in the freezer marked "Husband" for his lunches, four into containers for mine and the rest in the cookie jars to be devoured on sight by the young-lings! I freeze the muffins in old ice cream containers once they have cooled and have had no problems with freezer burn or them sticking together.
When I bake, I do cakes in a square tin and then I can cut them to fit in these wee blue boxes and pop them in the freezer in an ice cream container as well. I don't usually ice the ones I freeze.
I open a big can of Tuna Chunks in Brine, give the brine to the cat (or a pot plant), mash the tuna up with some homemade mayo (and anything else that appeals at the time) and then decant it into the four small containers. Use the flavours that those small tins of tuna come in for inspiration (Tomato and onion, smoked, red curry, mustard seed, etc - they are all good and able to be made at home) Tip for Tuna lovers: This is MUCH cheaper than buying those small cans and you also get a lot more tuna for your dollar! There is no reason why you couldn't do this with salmon, sardines or indeed cooked chicken...
The salads are a great way to use up left over bits of roast veges from the night before and you can mix things up a bit with different dressings, nuts, veges and even dried fruit each week if you like.
To the basic salad and tuna for lunch, I add a frozen muffin, a piece of fruit, a container of nuts, another of olives and cheese and my new metal water bottle and I'm ready for the day.
I can also choose some yoghurt, left overs from the night before, a frozen sandwich (see below) the odd bit of cake, fetta and sundried tomatoes, any antipasto that gets left over, dried fruit, hunks of frozen Christmas ham, cut up fruit salad, etc etc. When I making the salads, I usually put out all the containers I need for the week and fill them up with whatever is in the cupboards and fridge and then store them back in the cupboard or fridge but labelled - Don't Eat!. When I heading out the door, I grab a salad, a tuna, a box of something from the fridge, one from the cupboard, one from the freezer and pile them into my lunchbox with my water bottle.
I found a small soft esky bag to put it all in and find that it stays cold enough for lunch and the nuts and fruit make a good afternoon tea - especially on those long, hot days that you think will never end.
Because the salads are made fresh and sealed in an airtight container, I am finding that Fridays salad is still pretty fresh. If I buy the lettuce at the farmers markets on Sunday, wash it and pop it in the fridge straight away, I'm finding that when I make up the lunches on a Monday, Fridays salads are fine to eat - not perfect, but in no way inedible. It really comes down to an air tight container and whatelse you put on them. Over-ripe tomatoes do get a bit soggy in a salad by the end of the week though. Carrots need to be peeled or they go brown, as does avocado - although popping a bit of lemon juice on them before they go into the salad can help.
For the husbands lunches, I do a loaf of bread into sandwiches with fillings that freeze well (vegemite, peanut butter, jam, cheese and chutney, honey, cold meats, tuna) and pop them back in the bread bag and freeze them whole. I make the whole loaf up at once and make them with random fillings so each day is different for him.
When he makes up his lunch, he gets a random frozen sandwich or two, a muffin (sweet and/or savoury), a piece of frozen cake or slice out of the freezer, a piece of fruit or two out of the bowl and a bottle of frozen iced coffee that I decant into smaller bottles and freeze so that the younger members of the household don't find it and drink it all on a Monday leaving nothing for the rest of the week. His is a very carb rich lunch but he has a very fast metabolism and gets the low sugar shakes if he doesn't eat every few hours. (He doesn't need the caffeine - he just likes it and this is a cheap way to drink it!) He does have fruit with his breakfast and plenty of meat and veges for dinner. Although his lunches are carb rich, his diet isn't over the week.
He has been known to raid my stash of bits and bobs when he is bored with his lunches on occasion!
We are saving a small fortune and a lot of time and anguish (especially anguish) in the mornings. I can see this as a permanent way to how we deal with our lunches, not just for my month of no spend, but for the rest of the year as it is working so well. I have "lunches" on my list of Monday jobs, along with watering the pot plants, cleaning the bathroom, washing sheets and vacuuming the rugs!
In winter when salads aren't so attractive, I will have to come up with some new ideas for the main part of my lunch - maybe a homemade vege soup...
Green-ness: 5/5 for recycling and not supporting large corporations!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending money on food when there is plenty in the house.
Time cost: 20 minutes for the basics. Maybe forty five minutes if I'm doing a double batch of muffins or a cake as well.
Skill level: Planning and organisation!
Fun-ness: Great fun knowing you can spend an extra few minutes reading, having a cuppa with the chickens or chatting to the neighbour in the mornings and still save money and eat well!