10 Reasons You’re Not Packing Your Lunch (and How to Fix Them)

updated May 1, 2019
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It seems so easy. Why would you wait in line to spend money on a sub-standard lunch near the office when you could bring your own well-prepared meal from home? Like so many other things that seem simple, the office lunch is anything but for some of us. I know because I spent my first few weeks at work eating out at lunch (after staying home with the kids and not eating at the office for 17 years in a row). It got old fast and emptied my wallet even faster.

Here are 10 reasons you aren’t packing your lunch, even though you know you should, and how you can make the switch.

1. Eating the same thing twice in 24 hours is boring.

The problem: Leftovers can be a no-fuss solution to tomorrow’s lunch, but maybe you don’t want to eat the same thing twice in 24 hours. (You clearly didn’t grow up in my house, where the race to eat last night’s leftovers starts as soon as they are packed away — but I digress.)

The solution: Instead of eating last night’s dinner the next day, freeze a single portion (or more than one). Wait until you’ve forgotten exactly how delicious it was, then take it with you one morning when you don’t have time to make a lunch. Make a list of recipes you like that will work. I’m a fan of slow-cooker stews, like this curried vegetable and chickpea stew.

2. You don’t want to be social during lunch.

The problem: You just want to eat! It’s bad enough that you have to chat with your office mates all day, but losing that hour of solo time might kill you. And you’re sick of the questions in the break room, “Oooh! Whatcha’ eatin’? Smells delish!”

The solution: You can be politely anti-social, but it takes practice. Bring a book or your laptop and smile when your coworker interrupts, but claim that you have to finish the book for book club, or return some personal emails, or make a dentist appointment online, or whatever. Be polite, but be busy.

3. You do want to be social at lunch.

The problem: You look forward to an hour of chit-chat, and eating at your desk can rob you of that.

The solution: If possible, keep working and eat at your desk, then use your lunch hour to take a walk with a friend. You’ll get your social time and some exercise.

4. You’re packing it wrong.

The problem: Your sandwich is soggy, or your sushi isn’t surviving the trip.

The solution: Treat yourself to a quality lunch box and some nice containers. Think before you pack and know that you’ll be saving so much money bringing your lunch that you can afford to splurge on the transport.

5. You’ve convinced yourself it takes too much time to pack a lunch.

The problem: This is a fake problem. See below.

The solution: Consider: Does it really take more time to pack a lunch than it takes to get in your car and drive to a restaurant? Or even to walk to the cafe next door, where you have to wait in line and wait again while your order is prepared? Once you get used to packing your lunch, you’ll be able to get it done quickly, in far less time than it takes to wait for someone else to make it. Love, Mom.

6. You fear the sad desk salad.

The problem: This is another problem that’s not really a problem.

The solution: Take your packed lunch and eat it somewhere prettier. Is there a park near your office? Take your lunch there. Getting out of the office in the middle of the day is a good thing, so make a list of nearby spots where you could eat. As it gets colder, explore indoor options, like a pretty hotel lobby or a nearby hipster food court (where they won’t notice or care that you brought your own meal).

7. You’re a grown-up, goshdarnit, and you deserve better!

The problem: Packed lunches are for kids! You make good money and you deserve lunch out in a restaurant, surrounded by other adults who also make good money!

The solution: You know what else is really mature? Putting extra money in your retirement account, so maybe do that instead.

8. You’re still hungry after you eat.

The problem: For many people, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. We’re too busy to eat much breakfast and a lot of us, as we get older, just aren’t as hungry at the end of the day.

The solution: Make sure you’re packing enough food to get you through the day so you won’t be tempted to grab a croissant at the cafe next door or a handful (or three, or five) of chocolates from the bowl on your coworker’s desk.

9. You’re still packing according to the formula.

The problem: When you were in third grade, your parents lovingly packed you a lunch — maybe a sandwich, an apple, and some pretzel sticks. Or maybe they sent you turkey and cheese roll-ups, a tangerine, and a granola bar.

The solution: It’s time to get out of that rut. What do you love to eat at lunch? What do you order in restaurants? And how can you make that happen when you pack your lunch? You may need specialty containers, or you may need to figure out how to make individual portions of your favorite things, but with a little planning, you can have the lunch you want. And if you want peanut butter and jelly, a banana, and two oatmeal cookies, you do you!

10. You’re not thinking ahead. (And, come on, you only need to think two days ahead.)

The problem: A good lunch takes good planning. If you work all day, the last thing you want to do is run to the grocery store every night.

The solution: When you shop for the week, keep lunch in mind. If you like leftovers, plan to make a little extra. If you like salads, make sure you have enough fresh greens and everything else you like to add. Once packing lunch becomes part of your regular food routine, it gets a lot easier.

Bringing meals from home can make you healthier, happier, and wealthier. So what keeps you from packing your best lunch every day? Or if you already do, how do you do it?