11/17/08 Hartford Courant
Saving Some Bread By Packing Lunch by Susan Campbell
That's not just a lunch bag you're stuffing into the office refrigerator. It's part of a growing trend.
A survey from NPD Group says that adult Americans ate 8.5 billion brown-bag lunches last year. That figure, according to a series of surveys from organizations including the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Food, is expected to spike this year.
As many as two-thirds of employees bring their lunch more than once a week, and (lower-paid) young American workers (between ages 25 and 34) are most likely to bring their lunches. The biggest motivation for brown-bagging it, says the survey, is saving money (93 percent). About half of American workers bring their lunch for convenience, or because they prefer their own food. Leftovers are the lunch of choice in a brown bag, followed by sandwiches, soup, salads and frozen meals, the survey says.
And along gender lines, nearly two-thirds of women bring a meal to work, 39 percent at least once a week. That number, too, is expected to grow, according to a Harris Interactive survey.
Why wouldn't you bring your lunch? Brown-bagging it is economical and environmentally sound, says Brenda J. Ponichtera, author of "Quick & Healthy Recipes and Ideas." There -- and at www.quickandhealthy.net -- she offers cheap and easy-to-make sandwich and soup recipes.
"My favorite recommendation is 'cook once and serve twice (or more)'," Ponichtera says. "An example is to make a large pot of soup, have for dinner, and then freeze the leftovers in lunch-size containers."
Internet savings guru Karen Hoxmeier started searching for online bargains in 1999, and turned her hobby into a popular and comprehensive website, www.mybargainbuddy.com. She says the economic downturn moves people away from restaurants and into their own kitchens, but even when the economy is chugging along, lunches out are a quick way to eat up a budget.
"Even if you spend $5 a day -- and that's modest -- for lunch, that's $1,200 a year," she says. "The same with those $3 coffees a day. You can make your own coffee and your own lunches and save a lot."
Don't have time to pack a lunch? Hoxmeier suggests making lunches the night before, not in the rush-and-grab mornings. Such careful belt-tightening can teach families necessary lessons in frugality, she says.
"People don't snap out of things like this as quickly as the economy snaps out of it," she says. "When things start to fall back into place, people aren't going to go out and buy new cars, or other high-ticket items. I think they'll stick with this, continue to cut corners. Or they'll take the money they save and buy themselves a vacation. It really does add up."
Some tips for packing a lunch, from Hoxmeier and others:
If you eat potato chips, individual bags are far more expensive than the big family-sized bags. Invest in sandwich bags, and save money. Consider starting a lunch pool, says Hoxmeier.
Take turns packing lunches for three or four colleagues. It's faster to make five of the same lunches for a day than to make five lunches over five different days. And besides, "a sandwich made by somebody else always tastes better," says Hoxmeier. "With any luck, there will be one person who wants to outdo the other and you end up with great lunches."
Bring your own soda or water with your lunch. Buying out of vending machines costs roughly three or more times that of buying, say, 12-packs or six-packs of soda.
As much as possible, buy fruit and vegetables in season.
To cut down on boredom, check out online recipe sites (such as www.alanskitchen.com) for sandwiches. You don't have to restrict yourself to a lifetime of PBJ or tuna salad.
If you're paying attention to the environment, there are eco-friendly alternatives to brown bags. RuMe Bags ( www.rumebags.com) can be used again and again, as can Eco-Bags ( www.ecobags.com).