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Smart Shopping Tips from Ellie Kay: Part 1–Brown-Bag It


Oscar Mayer recently contacted me and asked me if I'd consider taking their two-week Smart Saving Value Challenge by implementing Ellie Kay's Smart Shopping Tips for two weeks to see how much I'd save on my grocery bill. In looking over the tips, I realized that I already have implemented almost all of them into my grocery shopping–which is probably one reason our grocery bill is consistently $40 per week!

Since we have a number of new readers here, though, I thought it might be helpful for me to go through a few of Ellie Kay's tips in a two-part series over the next two days to give some ideas and inspiration to those of you who are just getting started on your journey towards being a better home economist–especially when it comes to your grocery budget.

For those who might not be familiar with Ellie Kay, she is a mother to eight, author of six books, and well-known "America's Family Financial Expert. I've especially enjoyed her book, Shop, Save, Share and would recommend it to you if you are just getting started with saving money at the grocery store.

Here are some of her tips (in bold) on cutting your food budget by brown-bagging it. I've included a few of my own thoughts along with her points:

Bag-up More Variety –“Brown bagging it” can be a great way to save time and money, but make sure you mix it up. You can save an average of $3 per person per day by taking a lunch to work or school, that can add up to as much as $260 per month for a family of four! The key to reaping those rewards? Choose a variety of lunch options your family enjoys—this will keep them brown bagging and keep you saving. –Ellie Kay

Since we've been married, we've saved thousands of dollars alone just by packing sack lunches. While Jesse was in law school and we were living on a beans-and-rice budget, brown-bagging it was a must as there was no way we could afford even eating off the dollar menu on a regular occurrence.

It's often the little things like this that can add up to big savings and doing the math by figuring out just how much money you are saving by taking a little time to pack a lunch can be a huge motivator in encouraging you to follow through with it.

“Big to Little” Brown Bag Tips –Any time you can divide menu items from a larger quantity to a lunch bag size, you will save BIG! For example, I buy a two pound bag of mini-carrots, then divide them into snack size plastic bags ahead of time. In the morning, I just grab and go, knowing that I’ve saved as much as 40% off buying prepackaged, smaller baggies of carrots. Do this for fruit snacks, raisins, grapes, sweet snap peas, celery, cherries, and anything else your family enjoys! –Ellie Kay

One thing which has helped me in packing lunches is to divvy up serving-size portions of muffins and cookies in baggies and stick them in the freezer. Then, when I'm packing lunches, I can just pull a few of these baggies out to add to the lunch and round things out. Baggies of healthful muffins and cookies are also great to have on hand for when we'll be out and about running errands. Being prepared with our own food means we divert the urge to make a quick stop through the drive thru! 

Brown Bag Assembly Line –With the number of kids in our house, the morning ritual of getting ready for school often felt like a three-ring circus, so I developed a system that saved my money and my mind. When watching TV at night with the family, I got out all the lunch bags and labeled them with the kids’ names, then filled them with non-perishables like drinks and pre-bagged snacks. Then all I had to do in the mornings was create a sandwich assembly line to complete lunch! This also kept me from saying “why don’t you just buy your lunch today?” if I was too tired in the morning to make their brown bagged lunches. –Ellie Kay

I've found that doing sack lunch prep the night before is a huge
time-saver. For some reason, I'm much more motivated and creative at
nighttime than I am most mornings. So I try to take a few minutes after
dinner to figure out what I'll be packing the next morning and even
getting as much as possible ready.

And now I'd love to hear from you: Do you brown-bag-it at your house? If so, what are some of your best tips for pulling it off simply, consistently, and efficiently?

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  • Andrea says:

    I have fond, fond memories of my lunchbox and being school-age. I still remember walking downstairs on my last full day of high school, my dad with tears in his eyes, and saying to him, “Oh Dad, don’t cry! Just because I’m graduating and going to college doesn’t mean I’m leaving you!” He responded that he was just “…sad that this is the last lunch I’ll pack for you!” I always had the BEST lunches, thanks to him!

    Anyway, yes, we brown bag it. Aaron only works 2 miles from home, and we don’t have many restaurant options in the town we live in – most are places like Burger King, McDonalds, Taco City, etc. Also, from January to March is their busy season at work, and at least a few times a week, management buys lunch for all the workers, so I only have to worry about lunches maybe once or twice a week during that time. 🙂

    Otherwise, he takes cans of soup, those Ronzoni bistro things, leftovers, and sandwiches to work. I usually send treats with him once or twice a week, and he’ll keep a bunch of bananas and other fruit in his drawer.

    When we vacation, we brown bag lunch often too – we have a travel cooler that plugs into the car to keep things cool (or warm!), so we have fruit, juice boxes, sandwiches, potato salad, and more all at our disposal. We still eat out for dinner (because really, Mom’s on vacation too!), but the places we often go to (Gettysburg) have some wonderful “taverns” (Springhouse Tavern or the Farnsworth House’s “tavern”) that have nice meals without the high prices.

    And FTR, I LOOOOOVE Ellie Kay. This will be a fun refresher series!

  • Becky says:

    I have “brown-bagged” for a long time! My husband stays home with our son, and I pack a lunch for myself every morning. We always have sandwich stuff around, so it’s either a sandwich, leftovers or a can of soup. I also have had potatoes in the microwave (“baked”, with some salt and butter, and sour cream if we have it on hand). It’s not the same as in the oven, but it is still pretty good and not very expensive at all!
    I have a insulated lunch bag that I use every day so I don’t have to buy paper bags. The night before I make sure that I have something I can throw in my bag – packaged leftovers or sandwich makings. I also divide up larger bags of veggies, fruit or potato chips into smaller grab and go portions. It’s really easy and so much cheaper than the $7-$10 lunches at my employee cafeteria!

  • MJ says:

    While I’m gradually working my way into full blown menu planning, I came up with a great way to at least help with lunch. I was growing tired of buying stuff and then both my roomie and I would be in such a hurry in the morning, that we wouldn’t remember half of our options for lunch, so we’d eat the same thing every day which lead to boredom (and eating out) or just forget lunch all together (and eat out!) So now I’ve started taking a few minutes on sunday evening and looking through cabinets, refridge, etc to come up with ideas for both of us for breakfast/lunch. I have an organizer in my kitchen that has a dry erase board, I just divide it into sections and label them Breakfast & Lunch for each of us, then fill in with the different options. I go ahead and bag up things like chips & pretzels, etc as well. It’s a small step, but it’s a visual reminder when I’m standing in the kitchen that keeps me from using the excuse that I didn’t have anything I could take! It’s helped tremendously!

  • Courtney says:

    We all brown-bag it to work and school. Our two boys’ school charges $3 per lunch per child. That’s $6/day…$30/week…$120/month that we’re saving, and that’s not even including my dh and me!! 😀

  • cheryl says:

    I have been bringing my lunch to work for over 5 years. I have an insulated bag. I have made many different lunches for me, veggie burgers, rice, egg sandwiches, and lots of snacks, animal crackers, dry cereal, yogurt, fruit.

  • Martha says:

    With just a 30-minute lunch break, it can be stressful to go out, wait in a drive-thru line, and eat in the car on the way back to stay within that time frame. So it’s really not too tempting, though I’ve done it in a pinch.

    I just have to prepare lunch for myself (my son is fed at daycare), so I usually just put leftovers from dinner in small containers that I can take to work. If there’s not much left, I’ll take yogurt and granola too.

  • Hannah Noel says:

    I like to make a double batch when I make things like soup, chili, ect and portion them out in single serving tupperwares. We store them in the freezer and they make great lunches, especially through out the winter! I do this with leftovers too!

  • zsera says:

    I started making my husbands lunch recently because he spends WAY too much eating out everyday. Plus it isnt good for him. It normally only takes me about 5 minutes to make his lunch so I just do it in the morning before I take our son to school. Sometimes I forget or dont have time though so doing some of the prep at night would be a good idea. When I do make my son’s lunch I get it together at night.

  • Rebekah W. says:

    This is kind of funny that this was posted today. My car is in the shop, so my husband was running home on his lunchbreak to get me & the kids so we could run to the post office. I fed the kids in advance (just to stop their whining!), but he said to make him two PB & J’s instead of driving through somewhere. Being a good wife, I also grabbed a bottle of milk.

    But, being the … we’ll just say resourceful wife … I was out, had blow money, and was heading to Taco Bell – only I took a wrong turn (because my Garmin was in my car), and ended up closer to home. So I decided to come home and eat – especially since we’re eating out tomorrow night.

    I plan three meals a day for two weeks at a time – if I’m not “in the mood” for something, I just grab something else off the menu. I frequently plan leftovers into our lunches – and yes, we take that along to play dates too!

  • Emily Stauch says:

    My husband and I both work (no kiddos yet!), and I insist on brown bag lunches. We are both fortunate enough to have refridgerators and microwaves at our offices. So we mostly eat leftovers for lunch. My huband gets tired of sandwiches very quickly, but he will eat leftover spaghetti day after day. As we all know, cooking for just one or two is difficult. So I always make dinner 4-6 people so there are plenty of leftovers for lunches and no fancy footwork to alter recipes.

  • Jenn says:

    My husband loves leftovers. He doesn’t like when I there aren’t any for his lunch! When we are finished with dinner we put the leftovers into a reheatable container. I always make his lunch right then with either the leftovers I just put in a container or one from the freezer. I put all lunch size containers in a special spot in my freezer, labeled, so I can easily pull one out and stick it in his lunch box. I add a piece of fresh fruit and a treat of some kind too. I also love having cookies in the freezer in the lunch size portions- so easy!

  • Jan says:

    I find it hard to believe there are people that don’t brown bag it for lunch. I just can’t see wasting money on fast food every day! My husband takes a lunch every day- sandwich, fruit, snack. My daughter and I eat leftovers for lunch.

  • Jessica says:

    Oh yes, we brown bag it every day unless we are getting a free lunch, which let me tell you, is a very rare occurance what with working in government!

    My husband is a very picky eater and so I pack him the same lunch most days: turkey and cheese sandwich, yogurt, applesauce, cheese stick, 2 slices of bread for him to toast for breakfast (he keeps a jar of pb at his desk), carrots or grapes, and sometimes a dessert if I have something baked.

    For myself, I usually bring dinner leftovers for my lunch, along with fruit or veggies and either yogurt or a granola bar.

    Our daughter now eats a school lunch at the Christian school daycare she attends. But from ages 6-18 months, I did have to send her food from home. As an infant I would just send a tiny portion of mashed fruit for her, but as she grew I would send a more balanced meal, usually leftovers or 1/4 of a sandwich with a little fruit.

  • Kassie says:

    I bring my lunch to work and my husband does too most of the time. We take things like tuna salad, sandwhiches and leftovers.

  • JC says:

    We’re all usually home for lunch, but when we’re not we bag it. I actually use different bags, reusable lunch bags, and plastic containers to save $ on bags and plastic bags as well. 🙂 We usually try to bring food for road trips, and usually plan to eat out either for lunch or dinner, which depends on how long our trip is.

  • Michele says:

    My daughter brown bags in to school. I make several of her lunches in the beginning of the week and freeze them. I might make 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cut up two lunches’ worth of pita bread. I also do what is suggested in the article, which is put away lunch-sized portions of snacks such as muffins, soft pretzels, or cookies. All of them go in the freezer.

    The night before school, everything comes out of the freezer and into the lunchbox along with a drink (poured in our own container, of course!) and any fruit or cheese that has been pre-packaged ahead of time in lunch size containers if at all possible. For pita bread, I add a separate container of hummus.

    To round out the week, she may take a bagel and cream cheese which is usually made the night before since I don’t know how well cream cheese freezes. I also sometimes giver her a hard-boiled egg. I just make an extra when I am making eggs during the week.

    School mornings are very easy since I’ve begun doing these time-saving tips!

  • Sarah says:

    My husband and I take lunches to work, but we don’t use brown bags. We invested a couple dollars in glass food storage containers that we can use to safely reheat food. Usually we’ll have leftovers or simple sandwiches (pb&j or grilled cheese). On sandwich days I might throw in a sliced carrot or piece of fruit.

    I’ve discovered that I can pack homemade soup in a zip lock and place it in my glass food storage container, then at lunch time dump the zip lock soup into my lunch container (or coffee mug) and voila – a homemade soup pouch at work.

    I don’t pack lunches the night before (dh does occasionally) since it takes me less than a couple minutes to slap some rice and beans into our lunch containers.

    Once a week my husband has Boy Scout meetings downtown after work. Those days I pack another tupperware with leftovers and we’ll eat in my office or at the church. I didn’t think it was unusual until my coworker who knew I stayed late for dh’s meetings, asked what restaurant we went to. When I told her I brought food from home, she paused and said, “well…now…that’s frugal.”

  • Beth says:

    I work as a lunch monitor in the school cafeteria and I was astonished to see how much food children throw away. I started telling my own kids to just zip up their lunch boxes and not throw away their trash so I could see if my kids were wasting their lunches. Guess what?? They were! I guess I was packing too much food for the little amount of time they had to eat. So we down sized the lunches and cut the grocery bill. We also portion out all of the dinner leftovers in single serving containers. My husband and I take them for lunch and my teenagers will heat them up for that meal that comes between school and dinner (it needs a name).

  • Anastasia-Jane says:

    My DH drives so does not have access to a microwave or fridge so what helped us a lot was an insulated thermos. He got burned out on sandwiches but the thermos is great. Today he had chicken stir-fry and rice from dinner last night. Yesterday was a can of pork n beans with a 2 leftover hotdogs from lunch Sunday cut up in it. Monday was leftover chicken and dumplings. And soup is always great. It has made a big difference in his lunches. Before, with just sandwiches he would end up not eating because it wasn’t something he wanted…

  • Brooke says:

    When we bought our condo my dh and I decided we needed to start brown bagging it. Neither of us are very big on sandwiches though so I just make enough of whatever we had for dinner to make lunches the next day. When we clean up dinner we pack our lunches with the leftovers and they are ready to go for the next day. Even though I don’t work any more its nice for me to have my lunch ready and saves me from eating unhealthy foods for lunch or skipping lunch all together. Dh can just warm his up in the microwave at work!

  • Marla says:

    I love packing my own lunch and lunches for my family – I do it bento-style, so the lunches are healthy and also, well, CUTE. My favorite lunchbox is from – it’s a great company and the Laptop Lunchbox is adorable and makes packing lunches so much fun (which is a great motivator). I sound like a commercial but I swear I am not affiliated with that company – I just love them!

  • Jen says:

    I pack breakfast, lunch and snacks for my husband every night while prepping dinner, or cleaning up. Breakfast is usually fresh fruit, yogurt, and a cereal bar or instant oatmeal. He has a bowl, spoon, measuing cup (for making oatmeal), and refrigerator and microwave access at work.

    Lunch is always leftovers. I cook dinner almost every night. I love to cook, and we have really good meals. He loves eating them. I always make 2 to 3 extra servings, so we both have leftovers for lunch, and sometimes extra for the freezer.

    Snacks are usually popcorn (popped on the stove), pretzels and homemade ranch dip, tortilla chips and homemade guacamole, etc. I try to make one or two snack items that he likes every week.

    He works in a hospital, and many people buy both meals at work every day… at about $5 to $10 per meal. Not to mention vending machine purchases for snacks. Crazy! He tells me that his co-workers are often envious of his well rounded and yummy looking lunches. He doesn’t get bored because he always has something different.

  • Vanessa says:

    We don’t brown bag our lunches we cloth bag them! We have made the investment in two lunch bags and storage containers that we use over and over and over again!

    We often pack leftovers – this works well for my husband who has a microwave outside of his office. I am a teacher with short lunch breaks, so I try to make my lunches ones that can be eaten quickly! Things like salads (this is a super cheap way to get lots of nutrients!), pastas, and fruits and veggies. Whenever I make cookies, crackers, etc I bag them and stick them in a basket in the pantry. I do the same with veggies and fruit. They are ready to be thrown into lunches with the “main course.” And the baggies can come home and be used again!

    This has saved us so much money-it’s amazing what a little bit of work and creativity can do!

  • Sarah says:

    We’ve been brown bagging it our entire married life (over 6 years). My husband is extremely content with just a half-sandwich, cucumber slices or celery sticks w/ ranch dressing, ritz crackers, and a homemade cookie. He actually prefers this routine than bringing leftovers. 🙂 I usually make his lunch the night before and keep it in the fridge – it’s also a great way to send a little love note with him every day!

  • Jackie says:

    My husband and I both bring our lunches to work/school. I think it helps to find people who also bring lunches, particularly for my husband (he is in law school and he says almost everyone goes out to lunch) because then you have people to eat with. I work in a school so it is not a problem for me, everyone stays at school all day. Also, after dinner each night we divide up leftovers so that we have multiple servings for lunches.

  • Vaishali says:

    We have always carried lunch to work.Infact,like my mom,I also pack fruits for 4 pm snacks.We stick to a typical Indian meal with Indian flatbread,cooked veggies and lentils.I cook two batches,the night before,as hubby leaves at 6:30 am.I love your tips for keeping the budget under check as now that I am a stay-at-home mom and its a big change.But,being a vegetarian,buying produce and lentils/beans under $40/wk is still a challenge for me.Your tips have not only helped me save on grocery but also clear out my house of unnecessary things.

  • ElizabethSue says:

    I have found that if I do not pack my husband’s lunch right after dinner, it’s just not getting done. So when dinner is over I immediately pack his lunch. Sometimes its leftovers and sometimes its PBJ & a banna. Either way, if I do it ASAP, he doesn’t end up eating Mc Donalds or worse holding out until dinner. Thanks for this article, I have slacked off lately in packing up Rob’s lunches. Great post Crystal!

  • Natalie says:

    My husband and I both brown bag as well. He used to buy his lunch somewhere every day and I FINALLY convinced him he needed to start taking his lunch. So on the weekends I make a batch of cookies or some kind of desert and make sure we have enough options for sandwiches during the week. I have a microwave at my office, but he works in the field and does not always have acces to one so he sticks with sandiwchs, where I take leftovers sometimes too.

  • Karen says:

    One of the things I would do when the kids were packing lunches was to take a whole loaf of bread and mass assemble sandwiches and then bag them up into baggies. Then I would slide them into the bread bag and the kids could grab a sandwich and run if they were running late,(which they usually were).Lettuce would be a bad for this idea. We would also prebag chips and carrots and other healthy snacks. Getting six people out the door in the morning was hard but premaking all those sandwiches sure did help.

  • Jenni Stearns says:

    I just want to encourage everyone, but especially military spouses to pick up Ellie’s book “Heroes at Home”. All of her books are great, but this one especially had great spiritual insight, wonderful stories for laughter and was so encouraging when my husband was deployed. A little off topic I know, but if it helps one person get through the holidays alone it’s worth it!

  • Trixie says:

    I enjoyed a delicious chicken & black bean burrito with a side of mexican rice for lunch today. Did I spend $5, $6 or $7 on dining out?


    I ate a homemade tv dinner. When we have leftovers that are not enough to make a second meal, I make homemade tv dinners. Today’s lunch was a burrito with rice, tomorrow’s could be meatloaf, mashed potatoes and broccoli.

    Over several weeks, I build up a great variety of tasty frozen meals.

    Making homemade tv dinner is so simple. Plus you have a variety of delicious, nutritious meals to grab on the way out the door. Knowing a delicous homemade lunch is readily available keeps you from wanting to pick up something.

    Want to read more about to make your own TV dinners and save a bundle? Here’s the link to a post I wrote.

    Take Care,


  • Amy says:

    Thanks to your help, learning the coupon game has really helped us! I’ve stocked up on canned soups (for cheap)for my husband so even in a rush he has something to grab on his way out the door. Both my girls take their lunch. I try to bag up a week’s worth pretzels or chips in small bags so lunch is quick to pack in the morning. I also have 2 oz. souffle cups leftover from something else that I fill with ranch dressing. Then I bag veggies and put the souffle cup in with the veggies. I keep them in the fridge and throw in their lunches in the morning. Very handy, and the girls love it!

  • I make sandwiches for the week on Sunday night , then stick them in the freezer. You can put the lunchmeat, cheese, mustard, and miracle whip on them without changing the texture ( but stay away from Mayo, it doesn’t freeze well) In the morning, I just toss one in the lunchbag, add a separate bag with lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon if you want (don’t freeze this part) and your sammie is perfect for lunch, and acts as an ice pack too!

  • Bet says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so forgive me if I repeat someone!

    My son has started taking his lunch to school more often than taking the hot lunch option. I love his wide mouth thermos for soup, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.

    One of our main reasons for having him take lunch more often is because the school lunch is very high in fat, calories, sodium, and preservatives. Until we can reform the lunch program a bit, we’ll continue to send lunch.

    Now, looking at what I mentioned that we send, I wanted to clarify. Yes, those things sound like junk food, BUT we choose healthier options: homemade mac and cheese, homemade soup, and chicken sausages and nitrate free/fat free hot dogs.

    I am so enjoying this blog. Thank you for all of your hard work!

  • Laura says:

    My sweetie only gets 20 minutes (paid) for his meal, and he’s not allowed to leave, so he has to brown bag, but we’d do it even if he didn’t have to. Generally, I make enough of one thing for us to have it as dinner, then the leftovers are packed for his lunch the next day (and some are for lunch for the kidlet and I the next day, too!) I also peel/cut/bag carrots early in the week (we raise our own, so they need to be ‘processed’, hee hee) and I keep some homemade muffins, cookies, etc. on hand too as well as fresh (on sale) fruits and veggies. I use extra brown rice or quinoa to round out where needed too.

    Over time I’ve picked up lots of wee containers from goodwill and yard sales. They really cut down on the number of baggies we use!

  • Honey says:

    We have gone through various seasons. I used to pack husbands lunch, then he would buy his stuff and make his own at work, then he would come home for lunch, and now I’m sad to say he eats out every day! He usually keeps it from $5-$8. But I know this is a huge waste of money and that it’s not good for him. I have brought up the subject a few times, but I am going to appeal to him again to try to do 4 sack lunches a week and only eat out on Mondays. They have a big meeting where everyone is in the office and the pull to go out to eat with everyone is greatest. The kiddies and I eat at home almost always since we homeschool. About 3-4 times a month we eat fast food for a change of pace, but thanks to this blog sometimes those are free!

  • Holly says:

    May be a repeat- I am not reading the other comments at the moment.
    I have 5 kids so like to have things easy for them to grab themselves. I freeze PB&J and ham and cheese sandwiches, hot pocket type sandwiches, bagel pizzas, and other items they can grab and go with. I also buy packages of peanut butter crackers and granola bars to add to the lunches. We make our own bags of chips or pretzels. Add some fruit and go.
    I like to package leftovers for my husband when we are cleaning the supper mess. It is ready to go.
    A great lunch is to make teriyaki chicken skewers. Break them down to the size of the thermos and add to the thermos (about 3) then fill the thermos with rice, fried rice if you have it. It will stay warm enough through lunch and is really a different choice. You could also do this with a hot dog and macaroni and cheese surrounding it. Just put the bun and condiment packages superately.

    You didn’t mention breakfast but I also prepare breakfasts by freezing pancakes/waffles/ cooked sausage patties, bagels with cream cheese, muffins.

    Great treats are mini candy bars, freeze cookies,brownies, cupcakes or jello cups.

  • My husband and I are teachers. After dinner each evening I go ahead and split up the leftovers into individual portions that we can just grab on the way out the door. It is easier to put it up right away and ready to take in the morning.

  • DarcyLee says:

    I remember brown-bagging it when I was in elementary school all the way through high school and learned some tricks from my mom and dad that I used for my own children and my husband. The first rule was to pack lunches at night. This has saved me so much in time, energy, and money. I hate rushing around in the mornings! When my children were in school (before we homeschooled) they each would make their own lunches, knowing that they had to have a well-balanced meal with at least one fruit or veggie included. My husband has a microwave available for use at work, so I almost always give him leftovers from dinner. When I taught first grade for 2 years, I remember all the little individualized snacks and junk food the students would bring, along with a sandwich and a sugary drink. No wonder I couldn’t get them to calm down after lunch. LOL

  • LANA says:

    I actually posted about this same topic: An example is:
    “For lunches and snacks, you will need a shelf in one of your cupboards to store everything for the week. This includes parts of lunches, snacks, napkins, juice boxes or anything else your child may need. I like to tape exact instructions of everything needed for lunches and snacks in case something comes up and I have family members helping. It is also good to have a list to double-check yourself so you do not forget anything if things get hectic. If you do not have a cupboard you can spare, a nice decorative basket or large bowl on the counter works too. Your list can be attached to the fridge or inside of a close cupboard.” You can check out more at:

  • Mrs. S says:

    I am at home now, and my hubby comes home for lunch everyday too. But when we both worked out of the home, and for a while when he was not self employed, we brown bagged everyday! After dinner we would box up our leftovers and put together anything else we wanted and stuck it in the fridge. Just grab and go the next day. It was so easy, cheap and we just felt better (eating out everyday can pack on the lb’s quick!!). We were fortunate to have access to a microwave at our jobs so that made leftovers easy to do.

  • Catherine says:

    Wow! I guess I have it easy compared to some of you! My husband loves soggy bread (soggy everything actually. . . nachos. . . cereal. . .) so I actually make his sandwiches for the whole week all at once. Then it’s easy to throw everything in the lunch bag the night before and put it in the fridge. I even make his coffee the night before and put it in the fridge since he loves cold coffee! Then in the morning he just gets a cold pack thing from the freezer and drops it in the bag and he’s off! It lets me sleep in if I want to since I don’t have to do anything in the morning.

  • Chiara says:

    It’s just me and my husband right now but when we first got married, he would go out to lunch as often as 3 times per week! I realized our “fun” and “food” budgets are too small to support the eating out for lunch habit. The hubbie never minded eating leftovers so I got cute Japanese style “bento” boxes, got some ideas on the internet (Building a Better Bento is a site I like) and started packing lunch for the two of us! We’ve saved so much money by brown-bagging Bento style 🙂 I find we eat much healthier too, because I can include veggies and fruits into the pack.

    I prep. lunch right after dinner because we both work in offices with microwaves. Plus, I like to squeeze in as much sleep as I can in the morning! 😀

  • Jackie says:

    My daughter takes her lunch to school 4 days a week and only gets milk at school (25 cents a day, so not horrible). After some whining, we decided to let her get hot lunch one day a week. 😉 They only get 20 minutes to eat, so she only wants a PB&J…any extras and she says it gives her a tummy ache. With great deals on the PB&J ingredients, I figure we can splurge the $2 once a week for hot lunch.

  • Lee says:

    Since we have been married we have been brown baggin it, except I no longer need to and well DH just sticks his in his work bag. We use re-usable containers and if we use baggies we recycle several times. My husband takes leftovers I always cook 4 adult portions for my family of 2 adults and 2 kids, so there is almost always enough for a full serving of leftovers. On days there isn’t my hubby eats PB&J’s. People think he is odd, but we both know how frugal we are being!

  • Heather says:

    I find it super easy since we ALWAYS have leftovers to divide it up into single servings after dinner. It makes packing my husbands lunch much easier since I don’t have to take out a big bowl of ‘whatever’ just to get out one serving. At our house, our ‘brown-bag’ lunches are usually made special as I typically write a note everyday on my husbans napkin, he will often do the same for me! It makes it all the more worthwhile!

  • Jackie says:

    Oh I totally agree about making lunch the night before!! I always do that them I am not rushed in the morning

  • Becky Dietz says:

    One thing I’ve done that’s kept it interesting and kept my family on track was to include notes, neat napkins, pictures, drawings on the brown bag, surprises, etc. in that brown bag. Not all the time, but enough to keep them wanting more!

  • Nikki says:

    I work from home, but my Mom’s husband drives an armored car so he is in a car all day…….very tempting for fast food. So we have devised a system for a brown bag, We got him a large insulated bag and fill it with druit, sandwich stuff, egg salad or tuna salad, sometimes potato salad if I made it for dinner the night before. He loves it. But the thing that was KILLING us was sodas! He would stop and get 3-4 sodas a day at convience stores. At $2.50 a piece that had to stop.
    Solution…We got him a HUGE insulated drink holder and make him a batch of ice tea or lemonade every night, then stick it in the fridge overnight…its cold the next morning and stays cold throughout the day.
    We save tons of money doing this!

  • Jill says:

    With four kids and one with a severe peanut allergy brown bagging is essential in our home. Although they do take up more room I try to put at least some of our repackaged item into reusable containers instead of baggies. I also make my own pudding, jello and fruit cups using reusable plastic freezer canning cups.

  • Suze says:

    I “brown bag” my lunch for work. 95% of the time I drink water with my lunch but there is an occasion that I drink soda. I do buy cans of soda at the grocery store because it costs less than using the vending machine.

    My girls buy lunch at school because we qualify for reduced lunches. My youngest loves the idea of buying lunch and feeling like a big kid. My oldest usually takes lunch from home at least 2x a week.
    A few years back I got 2 plastic thermoses and they have been wonderful. They can take hot foods in them such as spagetti or hot dogs. This year before school started their father bought them a metal thermos (for kids). I myself couldn’t fathom fitting those into my budget as they are very expensive but they have been wonderful. I use to spend alot of money on juice boxes for lunches but now I make my juice at home that I got for free with coupons and good deals and put that into the thermos for their drink. After she is done with her juice she will clean it out and put water in it. She loves it.

  • Arielle says:

    Costco! I spend under $1.50 a kid for their lunches. They eat a yogurt every day so I know they have protein and the good bacteria and such. Then they supplement with a bag of chips (yes, I know, but at Costso it is almost the same price as buying a big bag and putting them in baggies-PLUS portion control!) a granola bar, 100% juice box, and a 100% fruit leather. It is great, easy and they take care of themselves.

  • carol says:

    We brown bag every day! DD’s school does not serve lunch so her’s is a necessity anyway. I make mine and her lunch the night before and stick it in the fridge so we can just grab it in the morning.
    My husband takes ramen noodles or macaroni cups to work and heats them there when he gets to chance. Sometimes they don’t take breaks and his boss just buys him lunch and brings it to him.

  • Katie says:

    We always brown bag it! I try and pack away a lunch size portion of dinner before we eat, that way I’m guranteed leftovers for lunch and it keeps us from eating more just because its on the table!

  • Carrie B. says:

    I eat in at work four days a week. The only problem I have had to overcome is my memory, which on occasion is HORRID plus I perpetually am running behind in the morning, so remembering to grab the lunch I packed the night before rarely panned out for me. So I finally came up with a new strategy that works for me. I fortunately work in a small office. We have a refrigerator and a microwave as well as storage for stuff. I keep a steady stock of tuna, soup, rice, crackers, and drink mixes in my drawer. Then after I go to the store over the weekend I make up bags for work w/fruit, yogurt, boiled eggs, dry snacks, frozen foods, etc.

    When I get to work I have a drawer in the fridge for cold stuff, I stick my frozen stuff in the freezer and dry stuff goes in my drawer and I just pick and choose from it all week. I do eat out once a week, as a treat to myself. We rarely have leftovers from dinner because I usually only make enough to feed the two of us…occasionally there is a third portion, and if it doesn’t get eaten then one of us will take it to work.

  • Andrea says:

    Why not use reusable lunch bags and plastic containers to save $ and the environment as well?

  • Jenny M says:

    I pack mine and my hubby’s lunch everyday. Actuallly I used to do it every morning at 5:30 am, but it was such a hassle that early. Then my friend suggested I do it the night before, and wow what a difference it has made! This might sound weird, but my husband LOVES peanut butter and orange marmalade sandwiches every single day. So I make one for him every night, and put in bags of carrots, raisins, etc. that I have bagged up just like you suggested from a bigger bag. For myself, I usually buy those bags of steamable veggies (Bird’s Eye and Green Giant) when they are on sale and there’s coupons (sometimes I get them for about 75 cent each). Then I take a bag each day and use the microwave at work. I also took a hint from you (I think it was you anyway) and only buy fresh fruits/veggies when they are less than 99 cents a lb. So I try to include some fresh fruit in our lunches as well. Thanks again for all you do, you have made our lives so much more “fruitful”! : )

  • Jane says:

    I really enjoy making sack lunches for my family and I love saving money doing so! You can read a recent post I did in September about sack lunch ideas here:
    I am also sharing my notes and thoughts on Ellie Kay’s book 1/2 price living. I just started the series on my blog and I would love to have others join in and read it with me! In this book she talks a lot about living on one income and practical ways to make that happen. You can find my first post on this here:

  • Ann Marie says:

    We brown bag it–we take leftovers from the night before and supplement with carrots or fruit, pretzels, etc., all broken down from larger purchases. I do the same thing–pack it the night before–but I pack it ALL the night before and it ALL goes in the fridge. It doesn’t hurt the pretzels, etc., to be stashed there over night, and we can grab and go in the a.m.!

  • Jude says:

    I always pack my son’s lunch for school. I only make him a 1/2 sandwich because he told me he was not eating the whole one. (he was just throwing the other half away!) I also pack him water in a reusable cup to drink. Juice is a once a week “treat”. When the little things that make packing lunches easier go on sale, like apple sauce cups, cheese and crackers packs etc. I stock up! Most have very long expiration dates!! 🙂 I definitely don’t over pack him on food either, he would end up wasting it. 🙂

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