A modest repast

September 8, 2008

Lunches are a rich source of savings for the frugal worker.

I went through a long period of buying my lunch and morning and afternoon snacks. I regarded it as a minor extravagance I could well afford. But you know, when you’re a man with a reasonable appetite, and standards, you can’t get by in the Wellington CBD on less than $10 per day. (Prove me wrong, frugal lunch-purchasers). And worse than that, cafe food and cheap noodles and takeaways are very calorie-dense, so as my bank balance shrank my waistline expanded.

Earlier this year, I embarked on a modest (and successful) weight reduction programme, and as part of it I made it my mission to make my own lunch every day. It was good for several kilos, and it saved a ton of money. Consider a lunch:

Small handful of nuts: 50c
Apple, banana, mandarin: $1
6 slices bread and butter: $1 (if shop-bought), 25 c if home-made
Spreads: too small to measure.
50g cheese: 50c
SPCA-approved egg: 45c
Feelings of smug virtue: priceless

In a previous workplace that did not provide coffee, I brought my own (home-roasted) grounds to work and made coffee in a plunger-mug.

This has already come up in comments. Janet says:

Do you have any advice/ideas on what to take for lunches? Buying’s expensive, but the same old sandwiches every day gets a bit stale.

That’s a question I throw to the floor. My lunches are stolidly routine, I’m afraid. That’s what the weight loss folks recommend; you eat more if the food is novel. Also, because I have a routine, I can assemble lunch very quickly indeed, which deals with one of the main objections to preparing your own.

George suggests:

I eat whatever deliciousness I cooked for dinner the previous night, with a bit of baking or fruit (or indeed sandwiches) thrown in from time to time.

This has never worked well for me. Unless I get the leftovers packed away promptly, I am likely to eat them later in the evening. I suffer from hollow legs. Also, if I prepare more than one serving each, it’s hard not to dish up too much for dinner and leave too little for lunch. That’s the trouble with enjoying your own cooking: you can enjoy it a bit too much. When hacking oneself, it’s best to take advantage of your nature, not fight it, so I just can’t plan on this strategy. But if you can make it work, go to it.

My lunches consist pretty regularly of sandwiches with home-made bread, which seems to be more filling somehow; nuts and seeds; two or three bits of fruit; a hard-boiled egg; and something else, like a carrot or a gherkin or a bit of cold chicken. If a lunch-sized portion of leftovers is around, I’ll take it, but that doesn’t happen too often. I’m sorry, Janet.

I do have a few tricks up my sleeve, though.

One of the appeals of buying your lunch is it gets you out of the building. If the weather makes it possible, taking your lunch down to the water or the park or wherever is much nicer than hunching over your desk.

If your office has a microwave, you can nuke a potato or a kumara in a few minutes. Delicious with or without condiments, good for you, and cheap as. Perhaps you should have a bag of kumara in your desk drawer.

Kathy is a vegetarian, so I often roast a small chook just for me on Sunday night, then eat chicken sandwiches from the leftovers for several days into the week. The remaining carcass can be used for stock.

If caught short, I’m in striking range of the New World Metro on Willis St, where you can get a couple of rolls from the bakery, cold meat, and a piece of fruit for cheaper than a less nutritious lunch in a cafe.

One of my old bosses had an emergency stash of instant noodles, pretty cheap as a 10-pack, which I wouldn’t recommend on nutritional grounds but which is certainly cheap.

My workplace has a couple of toasted sandwich makers. Your own cheese, your own bread: cheap as. And the boss pays for electricity.

But I’m afraid I will never be cheap enough to give up Cheese Puff Wednesday.



  1. I make my partner’s and childrens lunch every day. “Leftovers” for my partner because he likes having a larger midday meal and eats lightly at night. I cook enough to allow for this. My 5 year old gets a sandwich and 3 portions of fruit and/or veg (carrots sticks a fav right now) and a muesli bar or piece of baking. After school snacks are a challenge right now but popcorn seems to fill a gap without ruining dinner.

    When I worked in the CBD, the array of cafe food was soooo tempting. A coffee cart parked right outside my building was the toughest thing to walk by (and I often didn’t). Its probably still a big flaw in my attempts in frugality

  2. You are a good cook, i like you at least for caring for the entire household. Thanks, nice blog.

  3. toasted sandwiches = yummy goodness

    I use creamed corn+cheese. And usually take toasted sandwiches plus fruit plus yoghurt.

    But there’s only so many toasted sandwiches I can have in a week before I get bored and want some more nutritional variety.

    Leftovers have never worked for me, for the reasons you outline above.

    Hmmm….maybe I should get some of those books of lunch ideas from the library…

  4. my own trick for lunch is to vary the mix as much as poss.

    one week i take ham, the next chicken, the next a meat of of sort. you can also change the bread, and the other ingredients.

    but… at the end of the day it’s just a sandwich…

    so on some days i buy sushi, or subway. the savings from the home-made days easily cover $9 of delicious smoked eel

  5. Just to add, this week I got fed up with sandwiches for lunch so I’ve been eating salads. Mostly I’ve make them but I bought a couple of small salads from the supermarket as well which did nicely. $3.50 for smoked chicken and pasta I thought was really good value. Of course now I can replicate it at home for a summer family meal in larger more economic quanities

  6. Dear Frugal ones,

    While on the subject of food, you and your readers may be interested in a little post I’ve put together on frugalling your vitamin supplements. I think it just might tickle the interest of you all.


    Loving your work,
    Anna @ LovePlantLife

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