How To Pack A Healthy, Filling Office Lunch

I’ve always been a frugal person. My mother would study the sales section of our town newspaper at the beginning of every week and put together a carefully budgeted grocery list. Our family mainly went to second-hand stores to stock up on clothing. Me and my brother ate off-brand ramen noodles for lunch, and we didn’t think anything of it. These habits helped me grow up into a pennywise adult, loathe to pay full price for any item that I could reasonably obtain at a discount. Economizing was a reflex. That was, however, until I started working at an office job in downtown Toronto.

Don’t get me wrong, living it up a little comes with the territory of being in your twenties. Being young and independent, it’s not wrong to put whatever small amount of disposable income you have to use. I love to huddle over drinks with friends, or plan lunch dates with contacts I haven’t seen in a long time. Unfortunately, this joie de vivre attitude had bled over into my daily life in a way that was excessive and unnecessary. I was buying my lunch nearly every workday, sometimes from a food court, sometimes from a salad bar, sometimes from fancy coffee shops. I became fearful of looking at my bank account balance. I was earning enough income to cover my basic living expenses, but not enough to cover lavish lunches five days a week. I was literally eating away at my savings account.

This was the kind of thing my mother had taught me was wasteful. Eating out, she said, was multiples more expensive than making a homemade meal. What’s more, it was the lazy option. There was no valid reason not to prepare the bulk of your food at home. Getting a takeaway lunch, my mother held, was reserved for emergencies only.

I decided to listen to the gnawing guilt that whispered in my ear everytime I grabbed lunch near the office. No more, I told myself. From now on I’ll be cooking in bulk, packing my lunch, and resisting the urge to “treat myself” in a way that was actually holding me back from my long-term goals.

It’s difficult to change our habits. Chances are, if we’ve found ourselves entrenched in a negative habit, there’s actually some positive outcome we’re receiving from it. In my case, getting lunch everyday was convenient. It allowed me to leave the office and get some fresh hair and clear my headspace. Not to mention, the prepared food I bought was delicious. There was no denying that on some level I was enjoying my little lunch vice.

I had to get clear with myself on the reasons that buying lunch so regularly had to change. It wasn’t hard to come up with a pretty compelling list:

  1. If I’m paying $10 per lunch every day I work downtown, that’s easily $50 per week. I’m spending $200 per month on lunch. Shockingly, that's more than my monthly grocery bill.
  2. My pants no longer fit me. I work out, and I eat healthfully at home. The contributing factor to my weight gain seems to be the prepared lunches.
  3. I’ve always been a health-conscious individual. Ordering lunch from shops and restaurants throws a wrench into my healthy lifestyle. I’ve worked in restaurants before, and I know how much oil and salt the chefs use to make the food taste delicious. They want you to come back, and that’s how they hook you.
  4. I need to face the reasons why I really feel the need to go outside. Grabbing lunch is a distraction, a breather. If I need to take a moment to refresh myself, there are other ways I can accomplish that.

Part one of fixing my situation was complete: facing the truth. Now, I had to implement phase the second. Changing a habit is a process of hacking the motivational and pleasure centres of our own brains. In a sense, we have to train ourselves like we might do for a dog. Give a command, reward good behaviour. Here’s how I went about doing that...

1. Make It Pleasurable

2. Make Sure You're Not Still Hungry

3. Make It Healthy

4. Make It Convenient

5. Track Positive Progress

6. Find A Mental Outlet

7. Give Yourself A Reward

By getting into the habit of packing my own lunch, I found I saved over one hundred dollars per month, and my pants resumed their normal fit. Best of all, I felt more in control of my own life. It wasn’t that I wanted to buy my lunch all the time, it was that I was failing to forecast my upcoming week and make appropriate plans. I also found my skin cleared up; I’m the type of person who’s sensitive to certain ingredients, and that usually manifests as skin problems. Because I was packing lunches with whole foods and healthy ingredients, my body was a lot happier inside and out.

Packing your lunch may be the last thing you want to do in the morning, but trust me, it’s worth it. And, it’s not as annoying as you’d think it might be. Figure out what works for you, try some of my tips, and give this new habit an honest shot. For what it’s worth, my mom will be proud of you.