Monday, May 22, 2006


I find it difficult to bring lunches to work and even more difficult to eat them once I've brought them. I much prefer eating out. But since around January, when the coworker I was eating out with joined Weight Watchers with me, I've very consistently brought and eaten lunch four days a week. (We go out one day every week.)

I try to accomplish lunches as cheaply and easily as possible. Lately I've been bringing a main dish of around 300-350 calories and a side dish of around 150-200, so that the total is around 500 calories. Sometimes I bring cheap frozen meals for the main dish (I mean the kind that are $2 each or less), and other times I cook something myself. The side dish is always some kind of a vegetable - either frozen vegetables that I put some margarine or olive oil into, or frozen vegetables that come with some kind of a sauce. (Kroger has a line of vegetables with sauce that are about 150-200 calories per box; they are $1 on sale periodically and I stock up.)

This week I cooked a very simple main dish that was less than $5 for all four servings, and that I think will be pretty tasty. It's slightly more volumetric (fewer calories per ounce) than normal frozen dinners, and about equally healthy. And it was extremely simple to prepare.

I started by preparing a box of Pasta Roni (the parmesan flavor) according to its directions. Meanwhile, I cooked 2 cups of frozen peas in another pot. When the pasta roni was cooked, I stirred in the peas, plus a cup of frozen chopped onions (I usually chop my own, but I wanted tiny pieces for this), and let it sit for a few minutes as you are supposed to. I dished it up into four two-cup disposable tuppers.

Then I took about a pound of tilapia* fillets, which we get frozen at Walmart for $2/lb in the big box, and cooked them (still frozen) in a smidgeon of water in a pan with a lid, which is how I generally handle frozen fish. When those were cooked, I put them on top of the pasta.

And that will be lunch! I have those Kroger vegetables boxes for sides. Altogether, my lunches for the week are costing me less than $9, or $2.25 per lunch, which compares very favorably even to fast food.

(* Tilapia is a great fish. The Monterey Bay Acquarium's Seafood Watch Program, which ranks various fish based on how ecologically sound they are, has tilapia in their "best" category. They are cheap and plentiful, contain no mercury, and taste just like catfish - my favorite fish - but are not fatty like catfish.)


Anonymous said...

My solution to the lunch dilemma is to buy a loaf of extra extra thin Pepperidge Farm Bread and a package of soy ham, turkey, or bologna. On Sunday night I make 5 sandwiches that have 2 grams of fat and less than 200 calories each. I also have an Honest Tea which is expensive (1.50) but about 1/2 the sugar of the other bottled teas and very tasty. I especially love the mango flavored one. This is a very satisfying lunc to me and if I do end up going out one day the dogs are very willing to eat the leftover sandwich. My other favorite thing is rice and black beans. Incredibly low in calories and fat and really, really cheap.
Tam's momm

sally said...

I tend not to eat a lot of sandwiches for lunch, but I really like thin Pepperidge Farm bread for those occasions when I do. I'm totally crazy for the Orowheat Oatnut bread but was very favorably impressed with trying the thinner, lower-calorie oat bread from PF. I would generally rather not eat bread than eat store-bought whole wheat bread; I don't know if it's just that it compares so poorly to the homemade whole wheat bread I grew up on or if it legitimately is rather dry and cardboard like.

I agree with the the black beans and rice thing. I make a recipe for what they call "Gallo pinto" (or is it the other way round?) from a Dr. Weil cookbook that is really flavorful, filling, low in calories (<250 for a good serving), and cheap. It works very well on top of greens, served with cheese and salsa as a salad. In general, I like to have a bean-based lunch due to its volumetric nature.

Tam and I have a very similar general approach to lunch, though we differ in our trade-offs and I am a little less focused on food being easy to prepare because I have the time to spend in the kitchen. (I also rely on making extra roasted vegetables to bring for lunch rather than eating them from frozen. Roasted veg is like the vegetables of the gods.)

Having something prepped ahead of time is a critical factor for me also. I prep not only lunch, but usually dinner in advance. I guess I live on leftovers.

I'm lucky, I suppose, in that my agency's cafeteria is not appealing and there are no restaurants close enough for me to eat at even with a full 1 hour lunch (I usually take 30 mins) so I'm basically stuck with bringing my own lunch and eating what I've got.

I know that Tam & I both use pre-washed bagged greens, even though they are much more expensive, because they're so easy to use. And even a cheapskate like me is happy to have the really good fruit from the farmers market, even when it's more expensive (which it isn't always, surprisingly). When you can find something that really yums up your otherwise inexpensive lunch from home and makes for a satisfying experience and sustainable habit, I think it's worth it; it keeps you from being drawn to the much more costly and unhealthy restaurant alternative.

On a semi-related note: I buy bags with mini-boxes of raisins to have at work for snacks and they're crazy expensive compared to a normal box of raisins on a per-raisin basis, but it's really worth it for the portion control and to keep me away from the evils of the vending machines. Now if I can only create a smell barrier around my cube to protect myself from the aroma of a co-worker's butter-flavored microwave popcorn...

Tam's momm said...

This week I'm having 2 oz. of wheat roast everyday. In case anyone doesn't know what wheat roast is, it's made from wheat gluten, peanut butter, tamari, and some other spices and is yummy. It's a really good meat substitute and nice cut up in small pieces and put in a salad.
One nice thing about not working at Rice is not having access to the Faculty Club everyday for lunch. It was just so easy to go over there everyday and didn't require any money. There is nothing around here which is good for my diet.