Whether you’re trying to eat healthier, spend less on food, or are just sick of getting panicked around noon at work every day when you realize you don’t know what you are doing for lunch, there are many reasons to get into the habit of packing.

Eating out for lunch costs on average $10 a day while bringing averages out to about $4 a day. In a year you could easily save over $1,000.

If done right, with a little thinking ahead, packed lunches can be quick, easy, healthy, cheaper than eating out, filling and not boring! If you’re a person who is used to buying every day, this may sound scary, but have some grace for yourself. You don’t need to pack every day to achieve these benefits, you can start with a small goal of packing a few days a week and build from there. If any these benefits sound appealing to you, check out the tips below!

Plan ahead

Have a prep day

Everyone knows it’s hard to pack a lunch in the morning on the way out the door. If you designate a day to do most of the prep once a week, it will become less daunting to pack lunches every day. It might even be helpful to do the prep right when you get home from the store so you can put items away already portioned.

Pack at night

When it comes time to actually assemble the lunch, do it the night before. That way in the morning you don’t get forced into buying a lunch if you’ve slightly over-slept or spilled coffee on your shirt during breakfast.

Create categories for items in your lunch box

By having categories of lunch items you can pack without thinking and also without getting bored if you are switching up the items each day. Here are some examples:

  • Salty snack (pretzels, Goldfish, crackers with peanut butter)
  • Assorted types of granola bars (Nutrigrain style cereal bars, Nature Valley style, Quaker style, Cliff Bar style)
  • Fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, fruit cup, fruit strips, applesauce pouches)
  • Veggie (carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber, grape tomatoes, celery sticks, small salad)
  • Dairy (yogurt, cheese sticks)
  • Protein (jerky, mixed nuts)

Have a designated bin or area for lunch items

By keeping all of the non-refrigerated items ready for lunch in one spot it makes lunch packing fast and easy. Then when you go to pack your lunch you can just take out the bin, grab items from different categories to pair with a portion of leftovers or a sandwich and you’re done.

Money-saving tips

Buying full size

By purchasing full-size veggies and snacks then portioning yourself, you can save money. When you buy pre packed snacks and pre cut veggies you tend to spend a lot on packaging.

Buying seasonal items belated

When you buy seasonal themed snacks after the holiday has passed you can save a lot. Most grocery stores sell items that have packaging decorated for holidays, such as Halloween pretzels or Valentine’s Day applesauce pouches. Then, once the holiday passes, stores will discount the items to sell them quickly when the food is still totally good. By looking out for these deals and stocking up you can save money.

Shopping sales

If your grocery store is having a deal on Cheese-Its this week, buy a few boxes. Even though it will take a while to go through them, pantry items keep and you’ll save money in the long run by buying what’s on sale rather than what looks the best in the moment.

Drink water

Juice pouches, Gatorade, and pop can get expensive and are pretty unhealthy. Pack a reusable water bottle to drink all day instead. If water bores you, go the natural route and buy lemons, fruit or cucumbers to flavor it. Even easier is to buy drink mix powders to add to your water. These are packed with sugar and not the most natural ingredients but they are way cheaper than buying bottled drinks.

Don’t overbuy

If you’re a family who cooks dinner every night, don’t buy enough deli meat for 5 sandwiches. Anticipate some leftovers and, if you run out before Friday, just keep tuna fish or PB&J on hand for when you’re in a pinch. Buying a little less than you think you need avoids wasting food, and you can always buy a little more the following week. It will take a while to figure out how much of each item you’ll go through each week. And while you figure that out, err on the side of less when it comes to items that can go bad.

If all else fails look online for ideas, there are so many recipes out there just search “easy packed lunch” for help.

Good luck and happy packing!