Do you ever find it hard to budget on food when you’re on campus all the time?
I have definitely been there. Especially since generally I have so much to get done that packing a lunch completely slips my mind. That was a huge problem for me my first year of school in particular. I was living about a 20 minute bus ride away from campus which isn’t bad, but meant I couldn’t go home for lunch. So I always had to pack one. Except usually I didn’t–I’d just go to subway, or get sushi or meet up with a friend.
And the receipts piled up.
Everything changed after lent my first year at university. I go to a Wesleyan church, but we take part in lent every year, which is a 40 day fast from something of your choice leading up to Easter. I had done lent quite a few times before, so I decided to go kind of crazy. I gave up all items with processed sugars. No bread, no candy, no chips, nothing. I pretty much ate rice, beans, vegetables, fruits, and I let myself have cheese because I knew that if I didn’t I’d really slip up quickly!
What it meant, though, was that it was virtually impossible for me to find anything that I could eat on campus. Suddenly, if I was going to go through with this lent promise I had made, I would have to a packed lunch with me every single day.
So I got into the habit of it, and honestly I haven’t really fallen out of it! It’s just been such a great change from the stress I had before about how much money I was spending. I calculated that I probably save about $10 a week by doing this vs. what I was doing first semester, which is about $500 a year! That’s a huge difference, and it hasn’t been at much inconvenience to myself.
There are so many benefits to packing a lunch. Here are some that I’ve found:
1. Health benefits
I eat better when I pack my own lunch. It’s as plan as that. Instead of grabbing a bagel and a donut from Tim Hortons, I’ll bring a wrap with baby carrots and hummus. You’re eating real food, and you know exactly what’s inside of it!
2. Financial benefits
Like I said before, this is a change that makes a difference of $500. What college student doesn’t need $500?!
3. Time benefits
You don’t have to wait in lines or waste time trying to figure out where to eat or what your options are, weighing how much things are going to cost, etc. You just pull out a lunch box and start eating, wherever you want!
Even though there are obvious benefits, though, it can still be overwhelming to have to make a whole extra meal every day. That does take time and effort, not going to lie. And sometimes I forget and Connor and I end up going to the Timmies on campus again. Also, if you do it wrong, you can end up spending a TON of money packing your own lunches! It’s scarily easy to do.
Over the last year, though, I’ve managed to get a system down where I average about $2 a day for lunches and snacks put together, which I’m very proud of! It means that over the week I spend less than $30 on food for each of us, and usually our grocery bill is only $40 for the two of us to eat for a week. I also only spend about 5 minutes a day worrying about lunches and snacks, which is less time than I used to spend standing in line waiting for my food!
Want to learn how to make lunches to save time and money? Read on!
1. Make a meal plan
This one is so over-said that I’m sure some of you groaned as soon as you read that. But it’s so true–if you know what you’re going to make, you know what food is in your fridge, what needs to be eaten, and what you’re supposed to be bringing so you have fewer excuses to not pack it! I generally tend to have one thing in the fridge that can be thrown together as a quick lunch if we eat all the leftovers too quickly like PB&J sandwiches or some deli meats to make wraps. But make lunches and snacks a part of your meal plan! Lunch and snacks are important for keeping productivity up and keeping you focused all day during school, so don’t neglect them!
2. Have a misc. leftovers day
The trick to saving money on food is not letting it go bad. Connor and I are really working on this one, since both of us are still used to shopping for houses with 4+ people in them! Something that really helps minimize food waste is having a miscellaneous food day. For each meal, you just eat whatever’s in the fridge. The meals don’t have to make sense–for pete’s sake, sometimes Connor and I just eat the last leftovers of about 6 different meals! Just don’t let anything go to waste. This actually works really well for lunches and snacks, because you just bring tons of veggies and fruits that will go bad and slowly munch on them all day!
Typically this should be the day before you go grocery shopping. The grocery stores have 10% off for students on Tuesdays, so this is Mondays for us!
Related: How to Budget as a College Student
3. Make enough at dinner for lunch the next day
This one is paramount for saving time. When I make dinners, I tend to make double what we need. It’s actually generally easier to save money buying in bulk anyway, so why not take advantage of it? Instead of making a tiny casserole for 2 people, why not make one that could feed 8? That way you have tons of servings for leftovers!
4. Cook in bulk and then freeze them in individual containers
I did this so much last year and it saved me! Every other week, I would take a Sunday afternoon and cook two huge meals, usually a soup (sweet potato green apple soup is my favourite) and something like chili, and then I would freeze them in individual-serving containers. Then, whenever I needed a lunch (or even dinner!) last-minute, I could just grab one, throw it in the microwave, and be good to go!
Bonus tip: the frozen containers can be used as ice packs for the rest of your food! They keep everything nice and cool until you’re ready to eat!
5. Make lunch the night before
I gotta say, this is my #1 tip for saving time. Every night, as you’re putting away dinner, just throw a bit inside a container for tomorrow! Then get your snacks together, a water bottle, and maybe make some coffee you can drink as iced-coffee in the morning, throw it all in your lunch box, shove it in the fridge, and then go to sleep knowing all you have to do in the morning is grab it and go!
On the same note, doing food prep once a week is so important! After I go grocery shopping, I tend to chop up a ton of veggies for snacks, separate fruit into individual containers, and get all of the dinners ready in one go (it only takes about an hour to do all of this!) It saves so much time to just be able to grab some chopped up peppers and carrots for some hummus as a snack!
So there you have it! Those are my top tips for making packed lunches to save time and money! What are some of your best tips? Do you tend to buy food on campus, or pack a lunch to go?