Reader Suggestions: What To Pack For Lunch (And How To Remember It)!

Food, glorious food! This month’s Reader Suggestions is devoted to none other than the very favorite, the preeminent, the most-discussed, most-loved/hated aspect of frugality: FOOD! Specifically, bringing food with you wherever you go. We all know it’s expensive and (often) unhealthy to buy our lunches out while at work, or run through the drive-through while running errands, or stop off for coffee in the afternoon.

Mr. FW’s homemade bread alongside some homegrown VT apples

And yet… I hear from many of you that this is the #1 challenge you face in bringing yourselves to the next level of savings every month. We just did the Uber Frugal Month Challenge together as a group in January and many of you cited food–specifically food purchased while at work or out-n-about–as the biggest hurdle you overcame.

People were busting their previous savings rates JUST by being more mindful about what they ate! Not only is this the epitomization of frugality, it’s also healthier! Wins all around. Since I know that the whole “planning ahead with food thing” dogs many of you, this post should give you ample inspiration, motivation, and guidance to NEVER unintentionally buy food out again.

I say “unintentionally” because it’s not like buying food out is evil–it’s just that it’s a silly way to overspend when it’s unplanned. Mr. FW and I eat one dinner out a month and we love it! This restaurant meal is planned for in advance, intentional, kind of expensive, and thoroughly enjoyable. That’s a vast departure from accidentally forgetting your lunch (every day) and buying a salad from your office’s mediocre salad bar. It’s all about spending in service of your goals and spending mindfully.

Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions!

Plan Ahead

Above all else, you must plan ahead. For some, this means preparing all meals for the week on Sundays. For others, it’s a question of packing lunches the night before. Still others prefer to stock their offices with a veritable smorgasbord of delectable delights to feast on while desk-bound.

Buy groceries with a plan ahead mentality

In many respects (not just food), planning ahead is one of your greatest weapons in the war on consumerism. I feel so strongly about this, I have an entire post dedicated to the noble topic: How Planning Ahead Saves Us Serious Money.

This seems like common sense, but how often have you found yourself running errands and positively overcome with hunger/thirst and no homemade snack in sight? How often have you wound up at work somehow sans your lunch sack? How often has your child become a despairing puddle on the floor of the grocery store/library/playgroup because they desperately need the snack that you do not have with you?

Planning ahead, and enshrining the habit of always, always, always having food with you will alleviate all of these–and more–heartaches.


Pack a lunch! Always!

I never leave home without food. That’s a solid fact. My purse always has a ziplock baggie of almonds and two granola bars inside of it. Always. No matter what. And I always take a water bottle (and usually my coffee thermos) as well. This is not a massively exciting or filling snack, but it’s always enough to see me through whatever errand I’m on. When I have Babywoods with me, her backpack always has a bag of snacks I’ve pre-packed. Every single time.

If we’ll be gone all day, I pack up a lunch for the whole fam: usually peanut butter on homemade bread, carrot sticks, cheese sticks, almonds, bananas, dried apples… whatever else I find to throw in! If we eat lunch at a restaurant, it’s the result of a deliberate decision to do so, not an accidental starvation episode.

You too can prevent accidental eating out, I promise! In the summer, I’ll throw this menagerie into a cooler and in the winter, I stick it in a canvas tote bag. It’s not exactly a glamorous meal, but it can be easily packed up and eaten on the go (usually in our car or, back when we lived in the city, on the bus/subway or on a park bench). This is not rocket science, people, but it is a methodology that’ll save you boatloads of money. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, it’s… the joy of planning ahead!

Back In Our Office Days

Our infamous rice-n-beans

Back when Mr. Frugalwoods and I both worked in offices, we both took all of our lunches, snacks, and drinks with us to work every single day. Since Mr. FW commuted by bike to his office, we found that these glass food storage containers–with tight lids–were a must. He would throw those puppies into his backpack, cycle off, and never once did one spill on him.

Our luncheon strategy was this rice-n-beans recipe, which is spicy, zesty, and delicious. Mr. FW would cook up a gigantic vat every Sunday and then portion out ten lunches into those aforementioned glass containers and place them in the fridge. Voila! Lunches for a week. I also took a salad with me every day along with an apple, a banana, almonds, and a hard boiled egg (I’d boil five eggs on Sundays and pre-portion them for the week). Thanks to this rote, some might say boring, regimen, our workday meals were on lockdown.

I also maintained what’s known in the frugal business as a “desk stash” of snacks. If you work in an office, this is a must. I kept almonds, granola bars, and several cans of soup in my desk at all times in case of emergency. If I had to unexpectedly work late, or if I somehow forgot my lunch, or was just really hungry, I had these tidbits to fall back on. I had zero excuses to buy food at work and so, I didn’t. Give yourself the gift of a belt-and-suspenders food plan: be doubly covered and you’ll be doubly glad.

While Traveling! Even On Airplanes!

Our packed food on an airplane

We don’t buy food in airports either and have a pretty good system for ensuring we don’t: we pack snacks! Even traveling with Babywoods–and on cross country flights with layovers–we’re always able to pack enough food to wholly avoid the temptation of last minute airport snack purchases (they’re expensive and gross anyway). It’s actually pretty boring and straightforward, but hey, if you’re still reading, I shall spill my secrets!

Here’s what we typically pack in our carry-on (I put it all into gallon-sized Ziplocks to prevent spillage):

  • Peanut butter sandwiches (cut into quarters so that they can easily be shared among all family members and none go to waste)
  • Cheese sticks
  • Almonds
  • Granola bars
  • Veggies and fruits (whatever happens to be in the house)
  • Dried apples (from our apple trees)
  • Veggie pouches for Babywoods. These are those ludicrously expensive pouches of pureed vegetables that are perfect for traveling because toddlers seem to think they’re pure gold. They are raw, pureed vegetables with nothing added. They taste terrible (I’ve tried them), but my daughter thinks they are a dream come true and BEGS for “edgie pouch!!!!” They are a liquid and security will scan them carefully, but we’ve never had a problem getting them through since baby food and breastmilk are allowed  through airport security in any quantity.
  • Crackers and pretzel sticks. We don’t eat these normally, so Babywoods thinks they are magic incarnate. She spent circa 25 minutes on our last flight taking pretzels in and out of the bag… so, a snack and a toy! Then she spilled all of them on the floor and we got to clean them up mid-flight, so hey, exercise for parents too.
  • In-flight snacks. We always take whatever the in-flight snack is mostly because the packaging is very entertaining to Babywoods, who is unaccustomed to food that comes in a wrapper. These are not the tastiest or healthiest things on earth, but they are massively fascinating to a toddler.
  • Water bottles. We take them empty to get through security and then fill ’em up from a drinking fountain once we’re gate-side.

A lot of these items are prepackaged and thus, not what we normally purchase, but they are ideal for travel. It’s a lot cheaper to buy your own snacks at the grocery store in advance of a trip than to buy snacks along the way at either airports or gas stations.

Back in our pre-child days when Mr. FW and I would go on lengthy day-trips to hike mountains, we’d bring sodas and chips purchased from the grocery store to munch on while driving home since it was so much cheaper than grabbing them from a gas station. Nothing tastes better than chips after climbing a mountain! Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some frugality and buy packaged veggie pouches and pretzels in order to stave off far costlier purchases later on.

Know Thyself

I know that I need more than this for snack

A number of readers commented to this effect: know your own food needs!!! Do not be thinking you’ll be OK for eight hours a day at work with one cup of yogurt. Unless you really will be (I most certainly would not)! Pack ample food to see you through, lest you fall victim to the grim reaper of the 3pm vending machine/Starbucks/cafeteria run.

Oh yes, I know all about the 3pm snack run… that “I won’t do it today, I swear,” that “it was only one time!” and “but those $5 chocolate chip muffins are divine!” Oh yes, I see you 3pm snack run and you are why I used to take half the pantry with me to work every day. I KNOW I must eat multiple snacks a day, so rather than fight it, I planned ahead and took healthy, filling options with me.

Same goes for running errands or taking day trips. Don’t delude yourself into thinking your trek to the DMV will only take 30 minutes and don’t pretend you won’t be hungry while cruising your third grocery store of the day. Accept and acknowledge the frequency with which you need to eat and then plan for it. This, by the way, is quadruply true if you have kids. Never assume a kid can make it, like, anywhere without a snack… just bring snacks and be done with it. Upside is that I only pack healthy snacks for Babywoods, so carrot sticks and green pepper it is!

How Frugalwoods Readers Pack Their Food!

You all nearly broke the internet with how many ideas, suggestions, and tips you proffered in response to this month’s question and sadly, as I didn’t want this post to be longer than Infinite Jest, I couldn’t include everyone’s response. However, you are in luck because if you are insatiably curious, you can peruse the full conversation on our Frugalwoods Facebook page. And if you’d like to weigh in on next month’s topic, join the Frugalwoods Facebook page.

Due to the breadth of topics covered, I divided your suggestions into several categories, which I hope will illuminate the many different ways to plan ahead as it relates to food. TLDR: pack food, do it ahead of time, don’t be dumb and forget it at home.

When Going To Work:

Kristen wrote, “I pack leftover dinner to take the next day for lunch for myself and my husband. I meal plan similar things each week. When I make a batch of something I usually double it and freeze half (pasta sauce) then I have a quick easy meal for busy nights.”

Avocado toast on the go!

Anna shared, “Eating at work used to be a huge money suck for me, so I had to get really smart about planning ahead. Breakfast – I am on the move most of the morning and also am not motivated enough to get up early to eat at home, so I pre-make 5 smoothie cups on Sunday to blend in the morning with oatmeal for my cold breakfast-to-go. These include oats, banana, pea protein, maca powder, vitamin c powder, chia seeds, flax seeds, spinach, peanut butter, and frozen fruits. I add almond milk and yogurt in the morning, and am ready to go in less than 5 minutes (same thing at work costs $4.50!) Lunch – My husband and I cook at home during the week, so instead of making 2 portions we make 4 portions for our next-day lunch. I add to this some chips in a ziplock, some hummus, and an apple. Same thing every week helps me not forget to buy these things at the store. Afternoon tea – I’m not a morning coffee drinker, but I am an afternoon tea drinker. While the smoothie is blending in the morning, I heat hot water and add it to my 12hr thermos with my tea of choice and soy milk or lemon. Still hot and ready to enjoy in the afternoon (or cold in the summer!). I found that simple investments in good hot/cold beverage containers and Tupperware make meal prep more enjoyable and easy to clean!”

Sarah relayed, ” I batch cook 5 weeks worth of my favourite beans on rice (I am completely fine eating the same meal continuously, dinner is always different however) I portion them out and store them in the freezer. At the beginning of the week I meal prep fresh raw vegetables as a side dish, and then store them in the fridge at work. Each night (or morning of) I take one portion of beans out of the freezer to defrost. I don’t get tempted to buy other food at work because I make sure I have enough of my own food to fill me up. I have never forgotten to take my lunch, but if I were worried I might I would put my keys on top of my lunch.”

Reader Kristine’s impressive desk food stash!!

Kristine wrote, “Every Monday morning, I bring in 5 bananas and 5 apples. I eat a banana every morning and an apple with peanut butter every afternoon. Once a month, I fill up my stock of soup and crackers, and I eat soup when I don’t have leftovers to bring in my lunchbox. I also keep chewy bars and other snacks for when I need them. I usually drink water from the cooler, but I do have a box of tea. I occasionally get teased for my grocery store (photo at right!), but it’s far more efficient and takes far less planning.” I’ll add that the people who are teasing her likely have not read The Simple Path To Wealth, which I spy up there on her bookcase. If they had, they’d be like “you are a superhero!”

Erin explained, “I cook larger meals on Sunday and Wednesday–this week I made spaghetti on Sunday, took this with chopped veggies and hummus M-W. I made chicken and vegetable sausage rolls Weds night–will take these with chopped veg and a sweet potato dip for Thurs-Fri. Always take my big water bottle, and usually a muesli bar too in case I feel extra snacky.”

Laura shared, “I take my lunch every day, soup of the week or leftovers. I pack four lunches for hubby, me, and 2 boys every morning. I also keep at work, and carry in my purse, packets of organic vegan instant soup mix (purchased in bulk from Taste Adventure), raw almonds, and my Teecino tea bags for emergency meal of comfort food and hot beverage when the work day or errands run longer than expected. I can find hot water just about anywhere.”

Helene wrote, “I keep peanut butter at my desk. I usually buy a large pack of ham at the beginning of the month ($6.00), and a loaf of bread every week for a buck. I make a ham sandwich every morning. I also buy a container of hummus once a week and take that to work on Monday, and leave it in the fridge. I take a pack of carrots also. So, I have hummus, carrots, ham sandwich, and peanut butter. It is repetitious but filling, and I have enough for lunch and for snacks. I occasionally will boil eggs the night before and take an egg along with my sandwich.”

Mary shared, “I stock my mini-fridge at work with yogurts and other snacks. I have a water bottle with me everywhere and keep a cup at work.”

A simple quinoa-and-veggie lunch

Leah relayed, “I work nights and there’s a vending machine at work. Despite trying to be really healthy I often fancy a can of coke which in the vending machine are 80p each. I now buy an 8 pack beforehand for £2 (25p each) and keep it in my car just in case. Otherwise I take a bottle of water with some lemon and ginger inside and drink lots of water! For snacks I will take nuts and dates and fruit. As they’re dried you can buy them in bigger bags that are cheaper per unit and take a few in a jar to work. For meals I will either cook something in bulk and freeze it or make too much for tea and take left overs to eat. It’s part of my routine now to pack everything in the half an hour before I go to work so I never forget to do it.”

Mhairi shared, “I cook some rice or quinoa on a Sunday and roast veggies in winter. I chop up whatever veggies I have, add some greens or herbs and make a dressing and take it in a separate jar. I always have some almonds and take whatever fruit I have, current fav is melon. Work has coffee and lots of teas.”

Susan relayed, “I take leftovers, baked potatoes, sandwiches , yogurt or bagels. Pair it with some fruit and baby carrots. I keep a can of soup, applesauce, instant oatmeal and bag of pretzels in my desk. I prep my breakfast and lunch the night before when cleaning up after dinner.”

Jackie said, “We sourced a secondhand mini freezer that we fill with leftovers and bulk cooked meals especially for lunch. So every morning, I grab something from the Lunch Freezer. Healthy and also easier–no searching through other frozen goods looking for something lunch-worthy, and we can see at a glance if lunches are running low.”

Babywoods chowing down on the snack I brought for her during a grocery trip last year

Katharine wrote, “I’m another one that has the lunch habit and the drawer of emergency snacks (dried apples I make in season, toasted pumpkin seeds, also homemade, and usually almonds and rice cakes). And like many here, I mostly bring pre-packaged leftovers from dinner the night before… but I also have to rave about the usefulness of all the food originally packed for the offspring, which was scorned and arrived back home, unloved and unwanted, yet already carefully packed up!! Breakfast (at work for me) is often a quarter of a leftover PB&J, or neglected cheese cubes. My veggies are often castoff cucumber slices and the two uneaten baby carrots from my son’s lunch the day before- why waste food?!? I choose to be grateful that it’s already prepackaged and ready to go instead of thinking of it as castoffs!”

Lisa shared, “If you like a hot lunch and want to avoid the microwave, try one of these. You can purchase extra inserts, so it’s great for meal-preppers. It’s about $20, but will quickly pay for itself when you don’t go out for lunch a few times.”

Nancy wrote, “I shop at BJs once a month for chicken breast, ground turkey, and veggie staples like carrots, broccoli, and sweet potatoes. I cook the ground turkey and freeze it, one bag per week of lunches. The chicken I trim and cut into cubes but leave raw and freeze into weekly portions. I cut, blanche and freeze veggies like carrots and broccoli, and store other veggies like sweet potatoes and squash as-is. Every Sunday I do my meal prep, usually sheet pan, crock pot, or otherwise one-pot meals of veggies, lean meat, and seasonings. I keep my pantry/fridge stocked with a variety of staples such as onions, garlic, and spices.

I have a dozen identical 3-cup glass containers with plastic lids, and pack my prepped lunches into that. Thursday and Friday meals go in the freezer to make sure they keep. Every morning I pack a lunch box with my meal and an apple. On the mornings I go to the gym, I also pack a prepped breakfast of scrambled eggs with various add-ins, or overnight oats.

Before I did my meal prep routine, I wasted so much money ordering unhealthy takeout and trying to get an energy boost from the vending machine. Now, I don’t stress about food and I have energy throughout the day from my high-protein, high-fiber lunches.”

Babywoods modeling some of our bulk, raw ingredients

Christina shared, “Lately I take a chicken salad (chicken, spinach and lemon wedges to squeeze for flavour/dressing). I cook a chicken overnight in the slow cooker and eat it for a few days. Basically, it takes 3-5 mins to make my lunch each day (so no excuses) and I love the taste! It also makes grocery shopping a breeze!”

Brian wrote, “I usually make my main dish for lunch on Sundays, usually in my crockpot. Sometimes its beef stew, sometimes just chicken and broccoli cooked in chicken broth. It’s pretty easy, since you put in all the ingredients and come back in a few hours to a perfectly cooked meal. Some weeks its just smoked sausage and sauerkraut (the real stuff, with probiotics, which is unfortunately expensive in the states). I pair this with a small container of almonds and peanuts, and an apple. I also bring along a banana and an Atkins bar for late afternoon, which carries me over until late (I often don’t get home until 7-8 pm). I’ve designed it so that it takes me about 2 minutes to assemble everything, and zip out the door. There are times I struggle, however; if I have really late meetings, sometimes I do end up eating somewhere like the mall (though being on a keto diet helps eliminate a lot of expensive options). We have a store called Downtown Grocery which has a deli, including a broccoli/cauliflower salad for about $4. It helps in a pinch!”

Renee wrote, “I make a whole loaf of sandwiches at a time and freeze them. This has totally changed my husbands ability to bring lunch every day. I meal prep breakfasts and I plan easy meals–and we eat out a lot less.”

Danielle said, “My meal planning for work consisted of rice and teriyaki mushrooms that I would make every Sunday. I would bring all of it to work every Monday in a giant Tupperware because I was a chronic forgetter of lunches. Having it all at work helped also for days I’d have to stay late so I could have some dinner. I kept boxes of granola bars I would get on sale and with coupons in my drawers if I didn’t eat breakfast at home for whatever reason or if I needed a pick me up snack.”

Grillin’ a mess of chicken that’ll make a TON of leftovers

Lorra shared, “I like to graze at my desk at work and luckily have a mini fridge next to my desk. On Monday morning I run by the grocery on the way in to work and get lunch meat, hard cheese, Triscuits, applesauce cups, nuts, and 2-3 cans of soup. That usually covers me for the week. Hubby likes microwaved leftovers so he portions out after dinner his lunch for next day. If there are no leftovers he keeps bread and pb & j in his office. I also am lucky that we have a water cooler in our office so I only drink water and hot tea at work.”

Melissa gave a good summary, “I think everyone covered all my secrets- good containers, good water bottle (insulated really helps so I can have ice all day long in my water!), leftovers for lunch, etc. the only other thing I’d add is looking for food where you are. I work at an adult day health program and assisted living. At the assisted living once the residence are fed, staff is free to eat leftovers. I sometimes supplement the leftovers there with a salad from home or perhaps some carrot sticks, but all in all, one or two days a week I can save my home packed lunch for the next day. Huge saver and the variety is fun. (The food that is fresh cooked at this ALF is phenomenal!)”

Jeannine wrote, “I think the thought of ‘meal planning’ for the entire week is too overwhelming, so I do just a lazy-person’s version of it! On Sundays I portion out 5 ziplock baggies of raw veggies, 5 ziplock baggies of raw almonds (with a bit of dark chocolate), and I bring 5 fruits. I pack it all in a bag and put in the fridge at my work on Monday so I am set for the week. That way, I only have to figure out a little extra something to put with it each day to have a full lunch. I find great satisfaction eating through my healthy stash throughout the week, knowing that I put all that good stuff into my body.”

Homemade scones from scratch

Caroline offered sage advice, “The first thing is to be realistic about how much you need. Thinking ”I’ll just have a tiny salad, an apple and a fat-free yoghurt” when you know very well that you will have eaten that by 10am and be elbows deep into a Family Bag of Chips by 12 is self-defeating.

Once you have established required quantity, then the world is your oyster! I work at home, so am very rarely tempted, but for my (large, hungry and active) husband, 2 sandwiches, 2 pieces of fruit and a couple of snacks / treats (small) is on the menu at least 3 days a week. To shake things up, he might get a decent portion of left overs in a microwave-container, plus the fruit and snacks, or a big part-baked potato and toppings to ”finish” microwave baking at work. Of course the treats and fruit/side snacks do vary quite a lot, so it doesn’t get boring. He or I will quite often get it prepared or half-prepared the night before, and he has an insulated lunch bag. It’s such a habit now that it is extremely rare for it to not happen or to get forgotten. Of course it does very occasionally happen, but every so often I’ll send a stockpile of noodles, instant-soups and snacks of the non-tempting variety, just in case! It must become habit, totally ingrained.”

Kate wrote, “On Sundays I make a giant batch of something for lunch that week, I usually decide based on what comes in my Imperfect Produce box. I store it in a large container in the fridge, and then I pack it into a smaller container each night and leave that + my breakfast together on the top shelf of my fridge so it’s the first thing I see. Then I grab them both when I leave in the AM. The thing that helped the most with avoiding the temptation to eat at work was learning how to cook all my favorite foods (as opposed to like trying to force myself to bring a salad every day). I work on a college campus and all of the food here is expensive and not that great, so I find that I usually prefer eating the yummy stuff I brought from home rather than spending $10 and waiting in line at Panda Express haha.”

How Not To Forget The Food You Packed:

Coleen says, “If your consequence is going without lunch if you forget it… probably won’t happen again!”

Me eating leftovers out of a bag in an airport. I am so classy.

Susan’s tactic, “I keep my empty lunch bag next to my purse.”

Mary says, “If I make my lunch the night before, I put my car keys with it in the fridge so I don’t forget it.”

Christina wrote, “I remember because it’s become a habit (but to make that habit I got a container and lunch bag I loved!). I bring a coffee everywhere and I have one portable mug I love, and since I only have one, it means I don’t lose it, and I clean it daily.”

Lauren said, “I’ve also found that a lunch bag on the door handle to leave is the best bet to make sure it goes with me.”

Melissa shared, “To ensure I don’t forget the lunch/snack/coffee after it has been made, I put it on the table located by my front door and next to my purse.”

Audrey wrote, “I leave my lunch box on the counter the night before so I remember to pack it (although it is so ingrained this is not really needed for me). I keep no cash on me, so the vending machine is not tempting.”

Jessica relayed, “My empty lunch box sits beside the door so I don’t forget it. If I do forget it, I have grits and almonds at work. I keep a bottle of water with me all the time and can usually make it through errands until I get back home with just the water and a lifesaver in my purse.”

When Going Out And About:

Marisa uses a, “Giant knockoff Yeti cooler: Way cheaper than the real thing, and it has paid for itself by keeping food-from-home available for 2 kids plus me. It’s big enough that I don’t have to play Tetris with Tupperware, and legitimately keeps things cold even when it’s left in a car on a hot summer day. If we don’t eat everything we pack that’s ok – the food can go back in the fridge because it stayed cold all day. And, it’s great for getting ice cream home from the grocery store.”

Erin wrote, ” I share the love of leftovers. For ’emergency’ snacks I keep a granola bar in my bag BUT I purposefully buy a kind I don’t love (ie no chocolate) so I am not tempted to eat it until an actual snack emergency. Know thyself…”

Cook a large batch and freeze it!

Christa wrote, “I don’t think I have left the house without a snack/plan in 20 years! I keep a Nalgene bottle in my car at all times which can be filled with water anywhere. I have a box of granola bars and some nuts in my drawer at work to hold me over if I forget breakfast or lunch. As a family we pack snack and drinks on every road trip (cheese and crackers, fruit, nuts, chocolate). This has saved us thousands of dollars. We also invested in a percolator and some good travel mugs so no more drive through coffee at Dunkin Donuts!”

Anna shared, “Whenever we get out for errands I pack water and a banana for my toddler, cause the moments she leaves house she gets thirsty and/or hungry. I add cookies if it will take longer than usual. Every night I pack my tap water bottles and tupperware with lunch snacks for my work. Lunch is something I have cooked for the whole family to eat and I simply portion mine in a tupperware. Snacks are usually fruits (bananas, tangerines apples or whatever we have in our fridge) and perhaps a cheese-turkey toast or some leftover pizza or pie.”

Laronda shared, “When out and about, hard-boiled eggs and almonds plus whatever fruits and/or veggies we have available are generally what we pack. I almost always have my youngest child in tow, so luckily leaving home without food just does not happen. Well, maybe once or twice, years ago with my first or second child, but the agony of listening to a hangry child whine cured me quick! We have a crazy assortment of lunch and snack containers (my husband and two school-age kids pack a lunch every day) and we have all kinds of bags in which to put them.

An excessive amount of watermelon

If we’re headed out for a long playdate, we bring an insulated bag with a cold pack. If headed to the park after school, a large tote bag that will hold enough snacks and water for about 8 kids (I have 3, but between occasionally needing extras for friends and those days when everyone has a hollow leg, I just plan on packing half the pantry). And *every* time I leave the house, I bring my small blue hiking bag with water bottle and, if solo, almonds and a granola bar, if with my near-constant little companion, the addition of the ever-popular Goldfish or Pirates Booty. They may not be healthy or cheap, but the judicious use of a cheesy, crunchy snack has often saved the day.

And as far as resisting the urge to buy lunch or snacks while out, if I’m by myself, I’m a total pushover. Luckily, since I’m almost never alone and there is a dearth of remotely healthy options with a drive-thru, added to the fact that I’m far too lazy to unload and load a child or three to grab food, plus the very great danger of setting a precedent that a preschooler will beg for repeatedly, we’re generally safe on that one.”

Jill wrote, “To combat choosing an expensive (in terms of time and money both) fast food options AND also making poor food choices, I keep a snack bar (currently Larabars I picked up for 31 cents each at a grocery liquidator) in my car at all times. I have to be fairly diligent about replacing them, so I usually take out 2 at a time to be on the safe side. A major consideration in choosing a snack bar is making sure that it is not crumbly and, in the summer, that it doesn’t have ingredients that melt (I’m looking at you chocolate!). This has been a game changer for the health of my wallet and body!”

Erin says, ” I ALWAYS keep an emergency snack in my car, plus one in whatever bag I’m using (backpack, crossbody, etc). It’s an automated, non-negotiable decision.”

Coffee and Tea Tips:

Jayde says, “I make my coffee in my Keepcup and then take it on our office walk to the local cafe. There’s no temptation because I’m already holding my hot coffee and don’t miss out on getting out of the office for a walk!”

Mrs. Frugalwoods shares, “Mr. FW and I exclusively use these thermoses for our coffees every single day (even when we aren’t going anywhere) so that on mornings when we do go out and about, our coffee is ready to be toted! Bonus is that with a toddler bouncing around us, we don’t spill our precious, precious coffee.”

When Traveling:

Our airport snack food. Whole lot cheaper to bring our own!

Kelly shared, “I make dinner every night pretty much and put leftovers in pyrex to take to work the next day, out and about I try and ear before I do errands if possible otherwise bring almonds, banana or sandwich. Last week at airport I bought a sandwich, apple and cut up veggies. In my hotel room I had stuff for sandwiches, since I had a fridge I bought a rotisserie chicken and salad kit for a few meals, great when I had a full day of exploring and didn’t feel like going anywhere. The sandwiches were perfect since I hiked most days.”

Danielle wrote, “For trips, me and my boyfriend created a ham sandwich rule. When we arrive at our destination we go grocery shopping for deli meat, cheese and bread and make ham sandwiches to take with us. This works for almost everywhere you can go. Last week I had one in the Cincinnati Museum of Art. Many museums will let you eat your own food in the cafeteria. We also take them hiking, we have a flat pack cooler we bring with us on trips in our luggage. To combat the dry sandwich problem we found many deli counter will have packets of mayo or mustard you can take for free but we have also bought boxes of packets from Amazon. Less mess and less to carry versus a bottle of condiments that may need to be refrigerated after opening.”

Jill shared, “We just returned from a two week trip to Hawaii and I can’t believe how incredibly useful our flat pack lunch size cooler was! We were able to buy various items for breakfasts and lunches and keep them cool on the beach or between our many stops. We make it a point to hit local grocery stores while traveling and try new things. Plus if you are in a different time zone, sometimes you are hungry when it isn’t a meal time, so it’s nice to have food around.”

Mr. FW’s split pea soup. Yum.

Kellie relayed, “We’re long haul travellers…and food is a big budget killer…But doesn’t need to be. We make hotel picnics wherever we go. So when we book a hotel we look for one that’s not only handy to transport and sights but close to supermarkets and local markets. We then stock up on things to eat that can be made in hotels like wraps and sandwiches, falafel, pastries, salads, olives etc. We take our everyday frugal eating habits at home on the road and always pack lunch and snacks for travel and sightseeing days instead of having to fork out top dollar at tourist trap cafes!! We take frugal food ways on tour!!”

We All Need To Eat

What I take away from this is that no matter our age, gender, geographic region, financial situation, diet or lifestyle, we all need to eat (surprise!) and if we don’t take food with us, we will fall victim to buying food that we hadn’t planned to buy. This sounds stupid when I frame it like that, but I’m being serious, people!

I used to go around without snacks and wonder why I ended up buying a latte and scone and being $11 poorer… it’s because I was hungry! It’s hard to avoid temptation when we’re hungry and by ensuring you have a rock solid plan for your lunches and snacks, you’ll no longer be at the whims of your tummy. Plan ahead, pack ahead, and don’t forget to bring it with you!

P.S. I WROTE A BOOK! I’m a little bit excited, can you tell?!? My book is now available to be pre-ordered, for which I will mail you a signed bookplate. Check out this post for all the details.

P.P.S. I’m going to be on NPR’s live call-in show, On Point, on March 6, 2018 at 11am EST to discuss my book. Tune into NPR during the program and, if you’re so inclined, call 1-800-423-8255 to chat with me live on air!

How do you pack your lunches and snacks?

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