Day 5 of NCN’s 33 Days and 33 Ways series is to eat out less. Eating out can be a huge money drain, but as NCN points out, not just for dinner. Lunches out at work can very very quickly add up too, especially as a regular occurrence. My spouse goes to work every weekday, and only very rarely for a special occasion does he eat out for lunch. In fact, I can only recall once in the past year, for a goodbye luncheon for a coworker. We have incorporated steps in our nightly routine to make his “brown-bagging” it as easy and tasty as possible. If it isn’t easy and doesn’t taste good, no one will do it, so we worked out a system that makes a homemade lunch even better than going out to eat!
1) Make tasty meals for dinner that are easy to reheat in the microwave, and then make twice what you need for dinner. I incorporate a lot of “one-dish” or casserole meals that are easy to reheat in one step at a later date. You don’t need to do this every single night, but at least 2-3 nights a week is ideal at first.
2) While dinner’s cooking, prepare your tupperware. Put a label on each lid (I use medical tape that is easy to peel off later) with the name of the meal (“Cheesy beef, broccoli and rice” for example, it doesn’t have to be terribly creative, just descriptive) and the date. Match labels to containers, usually we have 2-3 for each meal. As you do this more often you’ll get a feel for how many lunches a particular meal will provide.
3) When you’re dishing out dinner, dish some into tupperware. At the same time you’re filling everyone’s plates, have the pre-labeled tupperware dishes out to dish a lunch-sized leftover (I call them lunch-overs) into.
4) Stow some in the fridge and some to freeze. I look at how many lunch-overs are in the refrigerator already, and if there are already two, I pop the new ones into the freezer.
5) Nights you don’t make a dinner with lunch-overs, check the fridge and defrost if necessary. On nights we have a meal that isn’t lunch-over friendly, I look in the fridge and make sure there is a lunch-over ready for the next day. If not, I pop the oldest out of the freezer and into the fridge overnight to thaw. You can take them to work right from the freezer, but my spouse has found they don’t microwave as well that way.
6) If you build up too big a stash, have a lunch-over dinner night. If we get too many in the freezer (some weeks one-dish things are all I cook, my spouse likes them so much), I’ll defrost two and make them into a dinner with a new veggie or starch side to liven it up. Makes a really cheap dinner which saves money as well!
I hope some of these ideas help you to be able to incorporate brown-bagging lunch an easy and yummy part of your routine! This takes almost no work in the morning, simply pop the lunch-over into your bag with a granola bar or piece of fruit, and go!