Brown Bagging It

Our household savings expert, Jeanette Pavini, always says one of the best ways to significantly cut household spending is to skip lunches out and start brown bagging it.

This week, she hit the road with Sacramento’s KOVR TV reporter Melissa Cabral to show viewers just how much can be saved by simply packing a lunch. Here are some examples:

  • The average deli price of a turkey and cheese sandwich is $7.13. We took that same sandwich, used a multi-grain bread, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and mustard. Homemade, it cost $2.68. But when we applied store sales and clipped coupons, we got that price down to $1.93 per sandwich. That’s a 73% savings from the deli.
  • For tuna with cheese, we saved 78% and on a veggie sandwich with all the fixings, 81%.
  • No sandwich is easier to make than a classic PB&J and it’s also one of the cheapest to make at home. Peanut butter goes on sale like clockwork around back to school season, so might as well stock up for the whole year. If unopened and stored in a cool, dry area, it can last for about two years. After opening, expect a three-month shelf life.

Pro tip: One of the best things about this kid favorite is you can actually make a loaf’s worth of PB&J sandwiches at a time, then bag and freeze them for the week. The trick to non-soggy sandwiches is to slather each slice with a thin layer of peanut butter and then add the jelly after.

Now you’re probably thinking, I don’t want to eat sandwiches every day. No worries, there are several other brown bag options.

  • Salads: A trip to the salad bar can quickly add up, but you can get creative at home. To get the most nutritional bang for your back, pack your salads with low fat, protein-rich foods. Beans, roasted chicken and water-packed tuna are all great ways to bulk up your salad and keep you feeling full. Avoid filler foods that drive up the price of your salad but don’t provide nutritional benefits. 

Pro tip: Pouring dressing on top can create a soggy salad at lunch. Instead, add it first to the bottom of the container and when you’re ready to eat, just shake it up.

  • Wraps:  Wraps are trendy, especially for people trying to cut back on their carbs. The trick is to choose a flavor profile, like Mediterranean—then load your wrap up with healthy stuff. Think hummus, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and roasted chicken. Or you could go Caribbean with mango, black beans, cilantro, roasted red peppers and mixed greens.
  • Leftovers: Many foods simply taste better the next day. And even if you just eat leftovers once a week, you’re saving a significant amount of time and money. Plus, there are ways you can give leftovers new life, like using last night’s roasted chicken in today’s salad and wraps or tossing leftover vegetables with a bag of microwaveable rice.

Pro tip: Have a back-up plan. Keep a few Lunchables type meals in the fridge (they make them for adults now). If you don’t have time to pack a lunch, this gives you a quick grab-and-go option. The savings are still going to be significant compared to going to a deli or restaurant.