Any New Yorker or big-city native knows that lunch hour isn’t exactly the most affordable. Though you can scrounge around for special deals, the average meal will cost you upwards of $12—and that’s not even including a bottle of water or a bag of chips, much less a cookie.
I consider myself a balanced person. In terms of money, I’m at the midway point between being frugal and enjoying myself. The same goes for my health and nutrition standards. So, when I decided to implement a BYOL (bring your own lunch) program into my life, I knew it would be an adjustment, but not an impossible one.
Here’s what happened when I took matters into my own hands and packed lunches to bring to work every day for two months:
The Good: Saved Money
First and foremost, I noticed a significant change in my bank account. I knew I would save money on lunch, but I didn’t know just how big of an impact it would make on my overall weekly spending budget. No longer was I spending exorbitant amounts on a salad. Instead, I allowed myself to spend that money on better, more useful things—or at least treat myself to a morning cup of joe outside the office.
And while I don’t have an exact dollar amount of how much I saved, I can say with full confidence that my paycheck didn’t deplete as quickly, and I certainly didn’t feel as guilty when going out for a steak dinner on a Saturday night.
The Good: Got Creative
Bringing my own lunch allowed me to put my culinary skills to the test. I was able to whip up warm quinoa bowls, eccentric salads, or filling soups with ease. (Just make sure your salad of choice isn’t secretly a calorie bomb.) It felt different than cooking a rushed, weeknight dinner. Making a batch of weekly lunches became a therapeutic process for me. On a week where I was truly on my A-game, I’d go to the grocery store early on a Sunday afternoon, and spend that evening making meals just how I’d want them, each in their own container for Monday to Friday. On other more busy weeks, I’d prepare lunches the night before. From time to time, I got bored of the same old meals, which was quickly solved with a little help from recipe blogs and cookbooks.
The Bad: Cooped Up
I did, however, notice that eating at my desk meant getting out of the office and away from my computer less. Going out for lunch is a good excuse for fresh air and a little bit of sun, so when I began eating at my desk, I noticed the clock would often strike 5 p.m., and I hadn’t been outside since the morning. (Find out what healthy people do on their lunch break.)
The Good: Felt Powerful
Oddly enough, packing lunches to bring to work gave me a sense of power and control that I didn’t have before. With each packed lunch, I felt empowered and healthy—as if I was taking back something that was previously taken from me. A little voice inside my head said, “You got this. You’re in control. You can do something good for yourself every single day.”
The Bad: Anti-Social
Lunchtime, especially in the city, is often the one time of day we get to socialize with co-workers or friends. I noticed that when bringing a homemade lunch, I was often left sitting at my desk by myself, with no one to engage in conversation with besides those I’m texting.
So, will I continue? Certainly, but I won’t make it a strict five-day a week eating plan. Instead, one day will be reserved for eating out with a friend, because after all, we need a little variety and balance now and again.
To kick start your own BYO-lunch plan, try these healthy, nutritionist-approved snacks for your next workday.