Tuesday, January 11, 2011

lunch box woes.

so i feed a fairly hungry husband every day for lunch. i don't feed him here, in my house, where it would be infinitely easier to find inexpensive, (relatively) healthy things to feed him. 

nope, i'm confined to a proverbial lunch box (which often takes the shape of a plastic grocery bag--don't judge me, that's my way of recycling) because of his schedule.  as we are trying to cut our grocery budget AND i'm trying to keep his health as awesome as possible (he's pretty great--i'd like to keep him around as long as possible, thankyouverymuch), it's been a challenge the past week or so for me to try to think of things that will be filling and not break my bank.

see, he's a guy. and not to cast aspersions on the guys out there, but they like the food that's not so much with the healthy. my husband would love nothing better than to kill a bag of potato chips in one sitting. while his metabolism may allow this now (though, occasionally, i do play the ticking time clock card--"oh just wait until you hit 30, babe..."), our food budget won't.

i remember days of yore, when i was a young one getting lunches packed for me, and chips were such a novelty that i was NOT ALLOWED to go near them for any other purpose. those things were like gold, it seemed, and though i didn't always love it (afterschool seemed to just need some fritos, you know?), i now completely understand it.

so, because my husband often eats on the run and doesn't refrigerate his lunch, i am operating under a few restrictions:
  • must be easily eaten while driving or moving, as he eats between classes and on the way to work
  • must be in pieces that can be broken up across the day, providing both a breakfast (he leaves around 7 or 8 every morning and doesn't eat breakfast before he goes--believe me, i've tried), lunch, and mid-afternoon snack (especially if he is working late, which he does several times a week, until about 8 or 9)
  • should contain at least a sandwich, some sort of starchy side (chips are his preference, though he deals with pretzels), fruit (he loves it, so i could get away with putting in multiple pieces, though they have to conform to the above requirements), some sort of other lunchbox item (sometimes fruit snacks, sometimes granola bar, usually something that can be a "snack"), and a treat of some kind (since we got copious amounts of chocolate, he gets one thing of santa chocolate a day*)
  • should not break the bank
  • should provide some sort of health benefits
  • should keep him satisfied (and energized) throughout the day
the last three are mine, with all of them providing me my biggest challenge of this past week.  for me, since i'm home, i can eat leftovers or soup or whatever i want because i can heat it up or pull it out of the fridge. though i am dealing with the beginnings of third trimester nausea, i am comparatively a cakewalk for lunches.

i believe i've cracked the breakfast/snack problem by making two batches of homemade (healthy! low calorie!) muffins and putting a few of them in his lunch. that's cheap and (relatively) easy, with the added benefit of allowing me to bake.  i use peanut butter on wheat as my go-to sandwich option, simply because it's easy, he doesn't complain about getting it every day, and i know there are healthy fats and good fiber in that combination.

but the sides. oh the sides. and even the fruit! the fruit makes me nuts. for example, he likes the little fruit cups with diced whatever in juice.  great. they go on sale once in a blue moon (this week, hallelujah!).  chips? if there's a party event coming up, we're golden. i can stock up.  but if there's not? it's a desert.  an expensive desert.

but beyond that, these are not great options for health or for money.  so here i am, trying to figure out if tangerines, because they have to be peeled (and are therefore difficult to do on the run) are the best option, even though they are insanely on sale. 

so i appeal to you, wonderful readers, especially those of you with kids or husband on the go: what do you put in lunches that makes you feel a little less guilty about killing your loved ones slowly with preservatives? any ideas for budget-conscious lunch box additions?

i feel like i am stuck thinking inside a box that doesn't include a wide variety of awesome, cheap foods that are healthy.

or else lunches are just the devil, in which case i'll just keep fighting it back with the occasional bag of baby carrots and double portions of fruit.

oy vey.


*i would just like to say, to toot my own horn, that after Christmas, i put all of these treats in a storage box and up on the pantry shelf. and i have not yet eaten one thing out of it. when we first got them, i ate all of the Hershey's kisses (not going to lie to you), but since i made that resolution to keep my sticky fingers out, i've done it. anyone who knows me, and the siren song of both Hershey bars and Sour Patch Kids (which was my gift from Santa), knows that's a triumph of the highest order.

i also say this to tell you that YOU CAN DO IT TOO! keep up with those resolutions. you're doing great!


  1. I do all of our grocery shopping and tend to have to think of the same ideas for my husband! Here are some of the less expensive items that I buy for his lunch:

    I started buying him packages of bagels and cream cheese and he enjoys these. Not sure if your husband would as well, but just an idea.

    I think you could get away with making him a turkey sandwich with mustard, and it would keep without being refrigerated.

    Popcorn - Kernals are insanely cheap, and if you don't have an air popper you can pop them on the stove in a little bit of oil.
    Frozen fruit - Trader Joe's sells delicious frozen fruit fairly cheaply, and you can defrost them in individual small tupperware and make a "fruit cup" with them.
    Cereal bars - Again, Trader Joe's sells inexpensive cereal bars. I believe a box of 6 is $2 or less. Also, Whole Foods' brand of cereal bars are less than $2 a box as well.
    Apple Sauce - a box of 4 individual apple sauce containers is $1.99 at Whole Foods, and I think a box of 6 is about the same price at Trader Joes.
    Kashi Cheese crackers. My husband LOVES cheez its and these make me feel a little better than serving him cheez-its. One box usually lasts an entire week, and is less than $3.

    Whole foods and trader joes make delicious trail mixes that have chocolate in them and could last an entire week if portioned to sandwich bags. Trader joes makes one with miniature peanut butter cups, almonds, cashews, and dried cherries, and Whole Foods makes one with peanuts, almonds, dried cherries and pieces of white and dark chocolate. The chocolate and the cherries make these sweet. My husband loves them.

    Hope this helps!

  2. Here's my two errrr.. ten cents. haha

    Sandwich.. he needs protein to keep him full. Add 3 - 4 slices of turkey with some cheese, mustard and some lettuce. This can stay interesting because you can change up the lettuce for spinach (save a couple of leaves that you use for a salad); sub roast beef for turkey occasionally; sub different types of cheeses.

    Fruit: Easy on-the-go fruits are grapes, berries, strawberries, pears, plums, bananas, apples; pre-sliced kiwi, pineapple, oranges, etc. Remember that the bulk stuff is cheaper, so when you buy the pre-sliced apples, pineapple, etc it's going to be more expensive. And the stuff that is in-season is always cheaper too.

    Treats: Make your own bars/ mixes with nuts, oats, berries, pb, etc. It's less expensive than pre-packaged stuff, plus you know what't in it!

    This is what my boyfriend always takes with him to work:
    We cook tons and tons of chicken every week. He takes 2 tupperware of chicken with him a day. It's just baked chicken strips with seasoning and/or hot sauce. I eat mine with my fingers if I'm driving, but usually with a fork. We also slice 8 sweet potatoes each week (mad cheap) and bake them with cinnamon. Those are our "chips."