Brown Bag or Lunch Out?

42-17304023What do you do, bring your lunch to work (or school) or eat out? Or do you do a mix of both?

I’ve brought my lunch to work for years, allowing myself an occasional lunch out, maybe once every two weeks or so. For me, it was not only the more economical option, but also the healthier one. If I bring my lunch, I know exactly what nutrients and calories are in my food.

But I’ve been spoiled in the past. At every other place I’ve worked, I’ve had access to a refrigerator and a microwave, making the range of my lunches pretty much endless. I also didn’t have to invest in fancy “brown bag” supplies. I’d just use leftover grocery bags to carry my lunch to work.

Sure, I’d get into a rut and day after day bring in Lean Cuisines, a piece of fruit, and some baby carrots. But other times I’d bring leftovers from home and heat them up. In general, not much thought or time involved in the preparation. All that changed a few months ago when I began working in a new location.

Much to my surprise, my new office facility doesn’t have a microwave, and doesn’t have a refrigerator. Oh no! For the first few days I went out to lunch. There are lots of great choices, so that was fun. Unfortunately, it was also costly, and something that had to stop quickly.

For a few more days I brought in things that didn’t need to be refrigerated in my usual bags. The main things that came to mind were  peanut butter sandwiches and a piece of fruit and good bread and cheese with fruit. Now these were relatively tasty, but not something I wanted to do on a regular basis.

So, I consulted some friends, and made a shopping trip to pick up supplies for better brown bag lunches, chief among them a thermal lunch bag and all kinds of small ice packs. Armed with these new supplies I began making slightly more creative lunches. I’ve made a variety of cheese and veggie sandwiches as well as salads. I’ve had to experiment a bit with just how many ice packs I need to keep everything as cold as I want, but finally seem to have that down pat.

However, it also started turning cooler here this week, and I’m starting to crave warm soups at lunch.  On my list for the weekend is a trip back to the store to invest in a thermos or two to carry homemade soup into work.

All this sounds very efficient and nice, but there’s a problem. It’s also taking more thought and work than being able to count on a refrigerator and microwave. I didn’t have to think when I knew I could just pull a Lean Cuisine out of the freezer. Now, I need to plan ahead, and I’ve hit a block this week. For the last two days I’ve just stuck a couple pieces of string cheese, grapes, and a nectarine in my thermal bag and have called it lunch. While I like all of those things, they weren’t exactly satisfying.

I plan to do some web surfing this weekend looking for suggestions for brown bag lunches, because I’m clearly in need of more ideas. Any suggestions?

9 thoughts on “Brown Bag or Lunch Out?

  1. Sandy AAR

    A fridge and a microwave are office essentials. Is it worth trying to get them to provide this basic (and really inexpensive) worker convenience? I think you’re adapting when you really shouldn’t have to.

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  2. Tee

    When I first began working eons ago, the girls in the office would bring their lunches, so I began to do so. But I didn’t like it. There was one other girl who enjoyed going out, so that’s how it all began for me and I never changed. I looked forward to getting away from whatever building I was in at the time. It felt good to physically leave the place, even though all my locations were wonderful to work in. An outside break along with the fresh air does wonders for the mind and body. Not having to take the time in the morning to put together something was fantastic too. Eventually, I learned to order the things that worked for me in good ways (and bad, too). I enjoy them both, but know how I need to order food if I really want to be serious about weight and nutrition. It can be done.

    I no longer work outside of the home, but my husband and I still enjoy going out to eat for dinner. Yes, it can be expensive, but it’s fun. I’ve done my share of cooking thru the years for the family and I would rather be working outside in the garden or reading or anything else that doesn’t involve cooking or baking. What can I say? It’s another gene that bypassed me on my way to earth. I know I can cook well enough when I do it occasionally or for the holidays now, even though I am out of practice.

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  3. Tee

    Sorry, LinnieGayl, after I posted (and unable to change my message), I realized that I gave way too much information in regard to your original question. Just ignore that entire last paragraph. LOL

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  4. LinnieGayl AAR Post author

    Sandy, I’ve always thought of them as essentials, so may just start asking.

    Tee, I enjoyed the last paragraph :)) I do agree with your point about trying to get out. Whether permitting, I almost always try to go for about a 30 minute walk during “lunch hour,” and then eat my lunch at my desk while working. Even if I’m incredibly busy, I try to go out for at least 15 minutes. It really does help!

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  5. Blythe

    Confession: I almost NEVER bring my lunch, and even when I do I usually buy something else too. Nothing depresses me so much as a lean cuisine in the office refrigerator. Or worse: a “Smart One”.

    Part of my reason is that, like Tee, I have a huge need to physically leave the place during my break. I leave and I read, so I can write reviews for you fine people. ;)

    But I also hate frozen dinners and can’t make myself eat left-overs. That said, it’s not like I am eating at an expensive place every time. On Thursday, “eating out” meant a muffin and a jamba juice. Often I will grab something quick and sit outside the whole time, reading. In the winter I sit at Barnes and Noble, also reading.

    But I agree that all offices should have a fridge and microwave for those who do bring their lunch – or, like me, put the leftovers from Tokyo Joe’s in it.

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  6. LeeB.

    I bring my lunch most of the time too though I will go out to eat every so often with co-workers as there are lots of restaurants nearby. But my office does have a kitchen/break room with two refrigerators, two microwaves and a toaster oven. A lot of people bring their lunches (Lean Cuisines are popular) but some people eat out every day.

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  7. Rosario

    I work in a huge government office which has a subsidised canteen, so eating “out” (it is inside the building, technically, but still) is pretty convenient and not costly. I got really excited when I first started working there, but unfortunately, I soon realised that the vegetarian option is usually absolute crap. It’s vegetarian food for people who don’t actually like vegetables; stodgy, most often smothered in cheese, any vegetables boiled until they look like sludge. There is a salad bar, but again, it’s for people who don’t like salad: 7 out of 8 options are mostly pasta, rice or potatoes (the 8th is wilted lettuce). Really eating out is not much of an option, as the office is located out of the city centre, in one of the most deprived areas of England, so the restaurant choices are limited to a tired sandwich shop and a McDonald’s.

    I end up brown-bagging it most days, usually leftovers or a ready meal. I don’t often have the energy to prepare something specially. Fortunately we have microwaves and fridges, otherwise I’d live on sandwiches.

    The absolute best used to be in my first full-time job, working for a bank when I still lived in Uruguay. We used to get, as part of our salaries, something called “ticket restaurant”, which were basically vouchers to be used in local restaurants (it was a big, national scheme, so most of the restaurants in the area participated). No excuse not to go out for lunch in that case, and that office was right in the city centre, so I had more options than I knew what to do with!

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  8. JulieR

    I used to bring my lunch every day, and used a thermal bag with ice packs to keep it cold. (There was a refrigerator, but it was usually pretty disgusting so I skipped it.) We did have a microwave, which made things much easier. One time the microwave died about 10:30 a.m. and OMG — the panic in that office was incredible. The office manager ran off the the store and was back within an hour with a new microwave, barely staving off a mass mutiny!

    Microwaves are cheap and don’t take up a lot of space, so I’d push for that first and not worry about a refrigerator as you’ve already discovered the thermal bag/ice pack trick.

    In the meanwhile, some pasta dishes can make for good left overs (pretend it’s pasta salad). Crackers and cheese can be reasonably healthy and fast to put together, plus if you surf the web you’ll find some very creative sandwich ideas. Also, don’t limit yourself to soup in the thermos; other left overs, like casseroles, spaghetti, etc. can be heated and put in the thermos to stay warm.

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