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How Much I’m Really Saving By Packing My Lunch Vs. Buying It Out

I’ll admit it. My go-to lunches are extremely bougie. Quinoa? Avocados? I may live in a coastal bubble, but I know ingredients like that aren’t on the grocery lists of many of my fellow Americans.

Because last time I checked, avocados cost at least $1.50 EACH, at least where I live. And that’s with the Amazon Whole Foods takeover. Avocados are sneaky. Remember when I was horrified my husband and I bought four avocados in one weekendBye, money.

For a while, I was meal prepping the same thing for lunch every week. Cooking isn’t my bag, and I didn’t want to spend my time coming up with a new recipe every week. Let’s face it — I’m not Blue Apron over here. So, each week, I would make four quinoa bowls with sliced eggs, arugula, grape tomatoes, edamame, and sliced chicken nuggets to make it more filling. Then every morning I’d add the avocados, salt and pepper, lime juice, and olive oil.

I copied the recipe from Pret a Manger, a ubiquitous cafe for healthy fast food in the city. (Although the chicken nuggets were added by Chef Luxe :)) After paying $3.99 for a yogurt-sized (seriously, ugh) pot of quinoa for the fifth time in a row, I thought, why can’t I just make this at home?

You know, to save money. And it’s a lot healthier than the greasy $0.99 pizza slice I’d grab from around the corner from work.

But after weighing the cost of the ingredients and the time investment to make said lunches, I wondered: am I really saving much money by packing my own lunch?

So I thought it would be fun to do a little teardown comparing the costs of three of my work lunch options.

Option 1: Buying Out Every Weekday — $118 Monthly

I usually buy my lunches from Pret a Manger. (I was validated by my choice when I read that an award-winning chef loves their sandwiches.)

Half a tuna sandwich and a bag of chips there set me back a little over $5. I know I could buy chips elsewhere, but I really, really love their chips. Sometimes I’ll buy other things there, too; looking at my last couple of transactions, I’m averaging about $5.90 per lunch.

Per meal cost: $5.90
Total monthly cost: $118

Option 2: Making Bougie Quinoa Bowls + 1 Day of Eating Out — $64.48 Monthly

The seven ingredients I need for my quinoa bowls:

  • Quinoa
  • Edamame
  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Grape Tomatoes
  • Arugula
  • Chicken Nuggets

I buy mostly everything from Trader Joe’s:

Aside from the cost of the ingredients, there’s also the time factor. I have to spend about two hours on the weekend passively cooking and assembling everything. That’s definitely two hours I’d rather be doing something else.

Things I Need to Cook Separately:

  • Quinoa
  • Edamame
  • Eggs
  • Chicken nuggets

Then, the avocado and the sauces need to be prepped every morning for optimal freshness. Final prepped meals in their tupperwares:

Since I buy two avocados, this makes four meals. I’ll also bring a piece of fruit every day, adding an extra $1. Then I eat my last weekly meal out, which costs about $5.90.

These are the weekly costs of each item:

  • Quinoa: $1.80
  • Edamame: $0.50
  • Avocados: $4.00
  • Eggs: $1.00
  • Arugula: $0.25
  • Chicken nuggets: $1.00
  • Grape tomatoes: $0.67
  • Fruit: $1.00
  • Eating out: $5.90

Quinoa salad per meal cost: $2.30
Fruit: $1.00
Eating out: $5.90
Total weekly cost: $16.12
Total monthly cost: $64.48

Option 3: Salad Kits + 1 Day of Eating Out – $65.92

Recently, I’ve discovered these pre-made salad kits from Trader Joe’s:

At first, I was skeptical: they look kind of sad in the bag. But damn, they are surprisingly tasty! Each bag costs $3.29, and I buy one of each for variety, making up four meals. All I do is bring the bag to work, then assemble it in the kitchen. Since salads are kind of light, I’ll add chicken nuggets (are you surprised, still?) to make them more filling. Plus, I’ll bring a bag of pita chips ($1.99) to snack on for the week, and some hand fruit, which costs about $1.00 total. Then, of course, eating out on Friday, which averages $5.90.

Salad kit per meal cost: $1.65
Pita chips: $1.99

Fruit: $1.00
Eating Out: $5.90
Total monthly cost: $65.92

Lessons Learned

  • The avocado in the quinoa bowls accounts for 40% of the cost!
  • Buying the salad kits is only costing me a few dollars more than making the quinoa bowls from scratch.
  • By not eating out every day, I’m saving a little over $50 a month.
  • But when I DO bring my own lunch, that one day I buy out really ADDS UP…


The Verdict

For now, I’m going to stick with the salad kits, because they’re a good compromise between saving money, valuing my time, and eating healthy.

But in the meantime, I’m still going to troll for some more cost-effective lunches I can make myself and see if I can bring a lunch for all FIVE DAYS. For me, it’s also so important to use lunch as an easy opportunity to get in my daily greens. Otherwise, I’d be eating mostly carbs, and I’d feel tired all the time. But sometimes it feels like the cheapest lunch options are all based on rice and beans.

Or am I just unimaginative?

So friends, help me out.

Are there any healthy, tasty, and EASY recipes that don’t involve crockpots, lentils, rice, or pasta? How much are you spending on work lunches? Any good recipes to share?

The Luxe Strategist is a New Yorker saving half of her income. She chronicles her money-saving strategies on her blog.

Image via Unsplash

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