Brown bagging it

Over the last six months or so, I’ve noticed there is a lot less room in the refrigerator in our office’s lunch room.

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It’s not surprising many of us know the importance of saving money any way we can and bringing your own lunch to work versus eating out every day is sure cheaper, if not healthier for you.

I am not much of a cook so I usually rely on someone else’s cooking for possible leftovers instead of making the same old sandwich or salad every time I brown bag my lunch.

But I’ve found other things to make brown-bagging a little easier and my lunches more exciting.

FRUIT - I love fruit, but I admit I am lazy to cut my own fruit to make a fruit salad. I also won’t eat an apple unless it is cut up. And really sometimes there isn’t time to do it in the morning before dashing off into traffic. I have decided though to buy fruits that are easier to grab and go, no dicing or peeling necessary, like grapes, strawberries, bananas, blackberries, pears, nectarines… and on it goes.

I also found prepackaged, sliced apples are easier to find and buy at the supermarket. At first it may seem as you’re paying more, but really it’s not much compared to the bags of chips or cookies you’ll be digging in through your change to grab from the vending machine, and you pay a little more for convenience. Time is money.

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I have also recently found a great little farmer’s market in East L.A. that has a nice selection of fruit for great prices. I picked up bosc and Asian pears, and strawberries there a few weeks ago for less than $10.

NUTS – I know there is a salmonella scare with pistachios recently, but there are plenty of other good nuts you don’t have to worry about – unless you’re allergic that is.

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Nuts are a great source of a variety of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and good fat (those known to help lower your cholesterol.) And they are so filling, they make great in-between meal snacks or you can toss them into certain meals to feel full and satisfied faster.

Nuts are best in their natural state, but if you want to go with the roasted or salted kind, keep the portions small because of the salt content.

Keep a tight-sealed container in your desk drawer for a quick pick-me-up anytime.

FISH – Adding tuna to your salad or pasta, or even as a sandwich, is a good way to get more fish in your diet. But you don’t need a can opener and you don’t have to stick to tuna.

In sealed pouches and cups, tuna or salmon, can be a tasty lunch in minutes.

There is even smoked salmon found in pouches. Be careful with some pouches that still require a slight draining.

CHICKEN - Just like tuna, chicken can also be found in sealed pouches to easily toss into a salad or make a sandwich with.

My favorite way to have convenient quick chicken is the packaged, stripped or cubed, pieces of chicken in a resealable bag.

I like to warm up a few pieces in the microwave for a few seconds and toss them into a salad, or grab some salsa and tortillas and make your own little soft chicken tacos.

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If you want to save a little more money and have a little time, grab a whole roasted chicken from your local supermarket (Vons occasionally has sales on their chickens on Fridays), then take it apart yourself, getting rid of the bones and making pieces or shreds of chicken. Separate your chicken pieces into small portions in zippered bags or put it all in one bag to conveniently grab when preparing a lunch.

PACKAGED MEALS – Not all packaged meals are a great deal or healthy, but there are a lot more choices nowadays.

I like the new steamer meals like Healthy Choice’s Fresh Mixers that don’t require freezing or refrigeration - you add the water before microwaving – so you can toss some in your drawer or car for days you forgot to bring lunch.

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They have tastes such as rotini with zesty marinara sauce and sesame teriyaki chicken.

Supermarkets are always having sales on the frozen meals, rotating weekly through the different brands. Just wait for your favorite brand and stock up.

My new goal is to prepare staple items early in the week, such as rice, beans, vegetables, and refrigerate them so I can just add another item or two and have a nice lunch. For cheap.

Comment below with your suggestions and ways you save by bringing your brown bag lunch.

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