Monday, August 19, 2013

Meal Planning | At the office

I spend a lot of hours away from home. On most days I eat both breakfast and lunch in my office and occasionally I'll work late enough to have dinner here, too. Since I've had Max, I've noticed that my hunger is urgent and I need to eat good food at more regular intervals. On my most outrageous days I'm up around 5:00 am and I start my 10-hour workday (including commute) by 7:00 am. If I don't plan properly, I'll be famished by 9:00 am and angry at the world. When I'm hungry, I often make unhealthy choices...

I used to stop at Wawa on the way to work several days a week. (For those who aren't familiar, Wawa is an awesome Philadelphia-area convenience store with a cult following.) I enjoy their coffee and their breakfast sandwiches and it was the only place I passed during my 36 mile commute. Last year Wawa moved to the opposite side of the highway, thus making it a time suck to stop there for food, so it became clear that I needed to stop relying on a convenience store for emergency meals and start planning better. Between Wawa being inconvenient, the office vending machine malfunctioning one too many times, and my desire to eat better and save cash, I knew I had to do something else.

So I applied my meal planning techniques to my workday meals. I still end up eating out about twice a week, but that's nothing compared to the damage I used to do before Max was born. And I'm human, so some weeks I go out to lunch twice in a row, or I skip breakfast, or I do well all day and end up eaitng Chinese takeout for dinner.

Here are some tips that keep me on track with workday meals and snacks:

1. I always have breakfast at my desk. I usually don't have time to eat breakfast before I leave home, but I normally walk out of the house with a green smoothie (I need to share that recipe!) and a cup of coffee. When I get to my desk I have instant oatmeal ready (yes, I need to share that one, too!) or I have Greek yogurt in my lunch bag. That normally holds me until about 11:00 am.

2. I immediately pack dinner leftovers into lunch portions. I try to cook dinners that reheat well in the microwave (spaghetti vs. crab cakes) and I place single servings into clear, shallow containers so I can just grab them on my way out in the morning. We waste less food and there's no "what's for lunch?" discussions when the food is sitting front and center.

3. Make your own vending machine. I keep single-serve snacks at my desk. Single servings aren't always economical, but I like the portion control. Shop sales or shop in bulk. I like to keep trail mix, nuts, Sun Chips, and even a few cans of soda (for weak moments).

4. Buy an office refrigerator. Some offices have a refrigerator for employee use. If yours doesn't have one and if you have the space and it's permissible, put a refrigerator in your office. Sure, it may cost you close to $100, but think about what you'll save when you can have perishables on hand. You can keep yogurt, coffee creamer, fresh fruit and milk for cereal right at your desk.

5. Keep utensils and cups handy. I always have paper plates, paper towels, plastic utensils and a water bottle at my desk. I drink water from the water cooler throughout the day and I also use the water to make instant oatmeal. If you keep your work space well-stocked you won't end up eating  yogurt with a fork.

Since I've returned to work I've had problems grocery shopping, doing laundry and cooking at regular intervals like I used to. I use my iPhone's Reminder app to keep running grocery lists for ShopRite, Target and Costco and I also have Siri give me reminders, too. If I find myself buying an item from a convenience store or vending machine I always consider adding it to my shopping list. Why pay $1.00 for a banana when you can get four for that price? Why pay $1.20 for a ginger ale when you can purchase smaller cans in single-serve portions for much less?

Consider how much money you could save if you carried your own food to work. Even if my husband and I spend just $5 per day eating out, that's $50 per week or nearly $250 per month for the two of us. I'd rather spend that cash sitting down and enjoying a few real restaurant meals during date nights.

Do you plan out your meals? I know a lot of people are on the dinner planning bandwagon, and that's saved me a ton of frustration and money. But how about lunches? Are you prepared with healthy options for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon hunger attack? If not, why not try?


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