Friday, August 12, 2011

My Big Kid Lunch Box

Since I am kind of a dork, slightly lacking on fun things to post about at the moment, and sitting here bored at work...I figure I'd just take the opportunity to talk about food. I like food. It makes me happy.

Since me and the better half are trying really hard to watch our pennies and get completely out of debt, I have really been looking for ways to discipline myself and cut back expenses and stick to our budget. The past three months, we have successfully spent either the exact amount or less than we budgeted for in almost every category. One of the categories I did REALLY well on this month was my "Food: Dining Out" category. I originally budgeted for $120, then about halfway through the month I realized there was no way I was going to spend that much, so I changed it to $100 and moved the other $20 into the "Extra Truck Payments" category. I set up our monthly budget to run from the 15th of the month to the 14th of the next. It is just more convenient for our pay schedules and when the bulk of our bills are due, since he gets paid bimonthly, and I get paid monthly on the 3rd Friday of the month. Since we are approaching the 14th, I decided to look at our budget and put whatever left over money we had in any of the categories towards the truck. I ended up only spending $65 on restaurants this past month! Of the $65, only about $7 worth was spent at fast food restaurants...and those were times I was on the road. And my favorite part...we were able to make an extra payment of $195 today just from the leftovers in this and other categories! (I still left a little money in the food and gas category to get me through the weekend :) I am really excited, because that amount brings us to just over $3600 we were able to pay on the truck this month (including the regular monthly payment of $460).

Don't get me wrong, I like to go out to eat once in a's a good way to hang out with friends, or just give yourself a break when you just don't feel like cooking. But I have been trying really hard to only eat out a few times per month to keep costs down. Being away from home right now, sometimes I find it to be a little bit of a hassle to cook meals at home because I really don't love cooking just for myself. But this is where that whole discipline thing comes in...I suck it up and do it anyways. One of the major ways I have been able to save money is by taking my own lunch to work almost every day. I say almost because sometimes we have group lunches with people at work, so I feel like there are times that I need to go out with the group and not be a fuddy dud sitting at my desk. I also like bringing my lunch because I have been eating much healthier than I would if I went out to lunch every day.

All that to say...let's face it, sometimes you just get sick of sandwiches for lunch. There is really only so much PB&J (unless you're Walter) and turkey and cheese one can take. So I have been trying to come up with simple, healthy ideas that I can put together quickly in the mornings when I am getting ready for work. Here are a few things I've done so far:

Wheat tortilla wrap with turkey lunch meat, swiss cheese slice, lettuce and honey mustard. Raw baby carrots, triscuit crackers (I love the rosemary & olive oil flavor), and apple sauce. I also carry my water bottle around with me pretty much everywhere I go, so water is always what I have with lunch. It holds 24 oz., and I probably go through about 3 bottles full per day.
  I have really trying to be good about eating more fruit lately. It takes a little more prep, because you actually have to cut it...and you have to plan around when it gets ripe and cut it before it goes bad. I usually try to do this the night before to save on time in the mornings. Plus, a whole pineapple will last you at least a few days. I have also used watermelon :)

 Chicken salad: here I used romain lettuce (I also really like spinach leaves), cut up half a gala apple, added some walnuts and about 1/4 can of canned chicken, topped off with raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I came up with this salad all on my own one day, and it is one of my very favorite meals. An alternative to the canned chicken is grilling 1-2 chicken breast tenderloins (I use this as a dinner meal a lot, and marinate the chicken in balsamic vinegar before I cook it) and cutting it into bite-size pieces. Cut up pineapple, baby carrots and triscuit crackers.

Again with the pineapple...what can I say, it's my favorite fruit :) Turkey and swiss cheese on honey wheat sandwich thins, complete with honey mustard, of course :) And strawberry light and fit yogurt.
I have to be honest...I'm not a huge yogurt fan. I like it, don't get me wrong, but I have a really weird thing about textures. I really hate chunks of fruit in my yogurt. I'll eat it, but it's not my favorite. I don't know what it is...I like yogurt, I like fruit...I just don't like chunks of mushy fruit in my yogurt that's been sitting in a package for weeks....I also hate things like tapioca pudding. I just don't think the smooth texture of yogurt/pudding should have chunks of stuff in it.  Weird side note/random fact about Lauren. So...I found this alternative that I really enjoy :) I really like just plain vanilla yogurt. So instead of buying the individual packages, I decided to just buy a tub of the vanilla light & fit yogurt. While the little individual tubs might be more convenient, buying in bulk is always cheaper, and I have more control over how much of a serving I give myself.

Again with the turkey and cheese on sandwich thins, and the baby carrots (I am not much of a raw vegetable carrots are about all I do in lunches. I eat more vegetables for dinner when I'm at home and can actually cook them...I promise :) Some of my vanilla yogurt, topped with a few walnuts and fresh cut strawberries :) I love this! I get the yogurt that is good for me, and the fruit that is good for me, but without the soggy chunks mixed in my yogurt :) I also like this little packs of yogurt covered pretzels.
 *Disclaimer: I usually refuse to buy the 100 packs of things, simply because I think it is such a waste of packaging, they are usually more expensive this way, and thank you, but I am quite capable of counting out calories myself if I really wanted to only eat 100 calories worth. BUT, I can't seem to find these little guys in a bigger package so I CAN divide them up myself. If anyone knows where to get them, please let me know! They are a good snack when my sweet tooth takes over :)

A few other things I do that I don't have pictures of are actual sandwiches (sometimes I really do JUST want some PB&J), lean pockets - I really like the meatballs and mozzerella ones - and I feel like that's a good alternative because I almost never take anything beef for lunch when I pack my lunch myself. Those don't always fill me up, so I will usually take a snack or two of fruit or carrots or whatever to have with them too. And lately, I have been on a bit of a kick with the white cheddar cheez-its...I just take a small ziplock bag and portion those out myself....because trust me, there are times I could probably just sit and eat half a box at a time. haha. Leftovers are also really good...anytime I make something like spagetti, stir fry or tuna helper (not a huge fan of hamburger helper...think I ate it too much growing up, but I really do actually like tuna helper - plus it keeps well and it can feed me for at least 4-5 meals...haha) that will keep for a few days, I will take leftovers for lunch.

And sometimes, when I really just don't have time to make my lunch, or I just feel like something warm instead of something cold on a particular day (doesn't happen to often when it's 106 degrees outside, but hey, gotta be prepared when the urge hits ;) - I really like these steamer meals. They are generally around 280-350 calories each, and generally have some type of meat, pasta and veggies inside.

This is my favorite one by Healthy Choice (picture stolen from LOVE me some squish (zucchini and yellow squash for those of you that don't understand my slang).

I also just found out recently that Marie Callender's makes steamer meals too! I don't have a favorite yet of her's, but I have really enjoyed both the ones I've tried so far (honestly couldn't tell ya which flavors they were though...).
I don't usually love frozen meals, but these are actually remarkably good. They are just the right amount to fill me up without making me feel like I've eaten to much, and they actually taste good. I would definitely recommend trying them out sometime :)

Do you have any yummy "big kid" lunch ideas? I would love to get more tips on things I could take to keep some variety in my life :)

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