May 26, 2010

How Much Does Your Lunch Cost? (Janssen)

The other night at dinner, I was telling Bart about the teacher lunches that are provided at the two elementary schools I work at. This is a new program this year, so many of the teachers were really excited because you could buy a non-chicken nugget lunch for only $3. I commented to Bart that $15 a week for lunches still seemed quite expensive to me, since if we both spent that, it would be 60% of our weekly budget.

Last year, in an effort to be healthy, Bart and I gave up fast food. The on-campus Wendy's had been an easy option if we were too tired or too rushed or simply didn't feel like making lunches on a school day. With the dollar menu, it felt like a pretty cheap way to go ($3 or $4 for a full lunch). When Wendy's was no longer an option for us, we were extremely committed to making sure we had a lunch every single day.

As we discussed this, we wondered how much we actually were spending every day on lunch now. Our main priorities when it comes to lunch are as follows: easy (no way are we assembling 7 part sandwiches in the morning when we're rushing to catch the T and beat traffic), cheap, and nutritious.

Here's what lunch looks like for us at the moment:
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches on homemade wheat bread ($0.30 - ten cents for two slices of bread, ten cents of peanut butter and ten cents of jelly)
  • One yogurt ($0.25 cents each since I have become a rabid yogurt coupon collector and I wait for them to go on sale and buy many at once because in my experience it takes yogurt AGES to go bad). 
  • One apple ($0.38)
  • One banana ($0.27)
This puts the total for one lunch at $1.20, for a grand total of $12 a week for the two of us. Not bad - here in Massachusetts where Wendy's doesn't have a dollar menu, but instead a VALUE menu where everything runs about $1.29, you couldn't even get one carton of chicken nuggets for that cost.

We have experimented with a ton of different lunch options - string cheese, granola bars (both store bought and homemade), cookies, muffins, vegetables, pretzels, etc - over the last 18 months since we devoted ourselves wholeheartedly to homemade lunches. Some are too expensive, some are too unhealthy, some are too much effort to make in advance.

Our current combination though appears to be just the right amount of food for us - we eat it all, rather than leaving the apples uneaten while devouring the chocolate chip granola bars moments after arriving in the office.

What do you eat for lunch? Any idea how much it costs?


Bart said...

Maybe I chose a bad day to have made my pb&j on a croissant? Either way, I like the break down. Not a bad deal for lunches!

Stacy said...

My husband works for SAP and they give all employees $4 for lunch on-site everyday - it's a use it or lose it kind of thing. Anything over $4 you have to pay yourself, of course. He's even been making an effort to eat less so he hasn't been buying extra food.

I think it's great! Because I've always hated making his lunches - and it's free!

The girls and I however, well, our lunches are pretty unstructured.

Saskia said...

I imagine my lunchbill is about the same as yours. I make two simple sandwiches (though not PB&J, since Dutchies think combining those ingredients is weird and I can't eat my lunch in peace. PB&J is best enjoyed in the peace and quiet of my own home) and have some yogurt as an afternoon snack. My exception are the days I stay at the library until 5 and go to the university gym before heading home - I need an extra sandwich to get me through my workout then.

But then again, one reason I make simple lunches is that when I'm at the library the entire day, I tend to need some coffee and although I always bring my first cup of the day from home, I'll end up spending anywhere from 65 cents to 2 euros on coffee. So I'm frugal on the lunches, but not so much on the whole coffee thing..

Mary said...

Right now me and my hubby eat leftovers for lunch which I love because as soon as I clean up dinner and put it into individual tupperwares then our lunch for the next day is made! If there aren't any leftovers then we usually do pb&j or a cheese sandwich with a banana or apple. We're pretty frugal when it comes to our breakfasts (it doesn't get much better than 0.60 for a big box of cereal) and lunches, it's dinner, namely eating out, that we need to work on! But we are doing better!

Jeanelle said...

I used to always buy lunch(big surprise, I know.) Since I started trying to be healthy, I have been bringing a lunch. For awhile it was just a lean cuisine (only bought on sale - less than $3) but lately it's been a sandwich thin (Costco) and a couple slices of turkey breast (also Costco.) When I was standing in line and figuring out that each sandwich would cost me about $.75 a day, I was SO happy. Sandwiches or salads at my office cost about $6 each. And they are awful.

Tara said...

I have been trying to loose weight so unually only eat an apple, banana, or yogurt. I've been doing this for a couple of months. My husband on the other hand usally eats at the school cafeteria m-f and spends around $2-3. So together our average is pretty good.

The Liddells said...

Man, this is what we are terrible at! I used to be good at making Josh a lunch in the morning, but lately have been slacking. I eat lunch at home, but he eats almost everyday out at lunch and it's NOT cheap. We were actually just talking about this the other day and starting this Monday (not this week because I just had surgery) I'm going to be making lunches in the morning again. I don't even want to mention how much eating lunch out costs us each month. It's depressing.

Sarah said...

We just always make a little more at dinner time and pack leftovers during dinner cleanup for lunch the next day. Luckily, we've always been somewhere where a microwave has been provided.

Erin said...

We're a leftovers family. I try to throw in a morning and afternoon snack (banana, yogurt, carrot sticks, granola bar - these days all of the above plus maybe some saltines and peanut butter).

I have 2 "never" lunch rules. First, never bring a treat (cookies, too-yummy granola bars) because the fruit/yogurt won't get eaten. Second, never pack Abe's lunch. I tried this the first week we were married and always got upset when he brought half of it home uneaten. I stopped making it, he started making it, and we've lived in relative peace since.

Jenna said...

Have you ever tried making your own yogurt? I bought a used yogurt maker off of craigslist for 5 dollars and I'll never go back to store bought. I've never broken it down, and it may not be as cheap as .25 each, but the quality is the same as the expensive stuff without the additives. Plus the effort it takes is pretty minimal. I can make 42 ounces in 10 minutes plus the processing time.

the Danosaur said...

Ditto to Mary on the lunches. One of the questions I ask during my weekly meal plan is whether what I'm making will translate well to toting along for lunch later in the week (lasagna--excellent; fajitas--not so much). Then, when putting dinner away, I put everything in serving-size tupperware. It doesn't get easier than grabbing a one of those, an apple or banana, and a yogurt.

Stephanie T said...

This is a wonderful exercise to do. I do it every few months or after I find a new recipe because I love food and to cook, and I am the type of person who buys a fresh pineapple every week. I know food is my weakness:-)

We do alot of PB&J around here. Another thing we love is bean and chicken burritos.
Tortilla: $.07 (I buy in bulk and they are something that last forever in the fridge too)
Beans: $.06
Shredded Chicken: $.11
Baggie: $.01
Total: $.24

It really isn’t fast for a one day thing, it takes about an hour to prepare (really it’s only about 15 minutes of you in the kitchen though) and freeze in snack size plastic baggies, the perfect portion size, makes about 18-20 portions. Then it’s purely grab and go for lunch, you don’t even have to defrost.

I cook a bag of dry pinto beans, drain, smash with a potato smasher, season with garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, mix in about ½- 1 cup of water and a chicken bouillon cube.

For the chicken, buy the cheapest on sale chicken with skin, on the bone. The skin and bone really make it tender and juicy. Usually can find at least one that is around $1 a lb if not less, I did my calculations off of 2 lbs.
Place chicken on cookie sheet, drizzle with oil. Season with garlic powder, salt, pepper. Roast uncovered in the oven for 30-45 minutes (perfect while the beans cook). Let it cool. I throw away all the skin and bones and shred the chicken, save the pan juices though. Then mix in about 3 tbsp of salsa to taste, and maybe ½ a cup of water and bouillon cube if it is dry. I like mine juicy.

I freeze the beans and chicken together for up to 3 months. The options are pretty endless. Add some chips and cheese and you have nachos, add some lettuce and tomatoes and you have taco salad! It’s just a really great base to have quickly available.
Or don’t freeze, and serve my family of 6 dinner on two nights all for a grand total of $4.24

Sherry said...

I love sandwiches for lunch. I actually prefer PB and honey to PBJs, on whole wheat bread, of course. I also like to take a handful of wheat saltines and slice up some cheese to snack on during the day. I find this to be a lot cheaper than string cheese, although we do get string cheese occasionally. I usually take a piece of fruit. Whether or not I eat it is another story. Sometimes Eric brings my lunch to me (seriously, he is perfect), and if he does, he'll peel my orange for me which means that I'll actually eat it.

More than anything, though, I take leftovers for lunch. I have ready access to a fridge and microwave, so this is a great option for me.