Things I am brown-bagging for lunch

It is not a secret that brown-bagging breakfast, lunch and snacks and taking them to work saves an average person approximately one million dollars annually. Especially if one lives in NYC, just like I do. Around the Upper East Side area where I work, one can easily spend $13-$17 on a silly lunch alone. I am literally refusing to do it unless in extreme emergency*.

*Extreme emergency:

  • Preparing the lunch and then forgetting to take it
  • Not preparing any lunches the night before in hopes of waking up early and then hitting the snooze button 10 times until literally having to run out of the door. Without lunch

So far, so good. Since June 20th, which marks the day of me starting my not so new anymore job, I purchased only 2 lunches out. 9 weeks and 2 lunches. Compared to my co-workers who buy 4 lunches out of 5 each week – I am an absolute super hero.

The only issue I have been having is that my lunches lack variety. I tend to stick to 3-4 proven recipes and keep making them for months. Until I literally cannot swallow another bite. We are currently completely burnt out on chili and everything that includes pasta sauce. This lack of variety is surely not caused by the lack of cookbooks around the house.

brown bag lunch

I definitely need to take it up a notch, which I think will be a lot easier in the fall when the temperature goes down and spending time by the oven will no longer feel like hell.

Till then I will bravely continue making my staple dishes. They all are hearty and nutritious, easy to make and make multiple servings. That’s a win-win-win. Below is a slightly boring but honest representation of what I am making on a daily basis. I am not a great cook but I do manage to put dinner on the table every single night. Leftovers make great lunches so I always cook more. For an average, busy household it is all that matters.

1. Turkey meatloaf / mashed potatoes

Turkey meatloaf

So easy and so good. I am skipping all the fancy schmancy recipes and follow a recipe from a breadcrumbs box. I exchange beef for turkey and I almost never have parsley on hand so just skip it. I usually put in more carrots and onions too, I just like it to taste less ‘meaty’. The pan provides us with one dinner and at least 3 days of lunches. If it seems like too much to eat every day, one can freeze half of it to use later, it freezes beautifully.

Brown bag lunch

2. Sweet potato / broccoli

You will always find a batch of mashed sweet potatoes in my fridge. It goes great with steamed broccoli (which I make a few servings each week as well), the above mentioned meatloaf or as a side dish to basically anything. I don’t follow any specific recipe, I just mashed freshly cooked sweet potatoes with butter, milk and cream (or sour cream, depending what I have on hand), salt and pepper and voilà. If I have a few minutes to spare I use my hand mixer to make it extra smooth. Simple and delicious. I am always making a lot as these potatoes make great leftovers.

Frugal lunches

3. Risotto

The brown-ish stuff in the photo above is butternut squash risotto. Not as much from absolute scratch but sort of. I buy a bag of Manitou Risotto and pretend to be a master chef in the kitchen. It’s absolutely delicious, just follow the instructions on the back of the bag. I get a 3 lb bag from Costco (which lasts me forever), but you can get get smaller ones through Amazon. Definitely SO much cheaper in Costco though. I think the 3lb bag is around $7.99.

Brown bag lunch

4. Pasta / pasta sauce

T. makes a batch at least every other week (currently on pause) and we have it with anything and everything. Easy dinner and lunch leftovers. I basically grab a few packages of stuffed pasta from Trader Joe’s or Costco or some Polish pierogis from a local Polish store and we just serve them with the pasta sauce, some basil leaves on top. We have some for dinner and pack the rest away for the next day’s lunch. 2 minutes in a microwave and you got yourself quite an awesome meal.

The secret of this sauce is that T. cooks it basically 12 hours until the whole tomatoes fall apart and blend with the rest of the sauce.

The secret of this sauce is that T. cooks it basically 12 hours until the whole tomatoes fall apart and blend with the rest of the sauce.

As you can see, most of my recipes come from the back of a box. I just improvise most of the time. I want to keep it simple and quick. Healthy and nutritious.

Basically, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. 🙂

Curious to hear what YOUR brown bag lunches look like?



  1. Renee says:

    Love this entry, Queens Neighbor!
    I have to try the butternut squash risotto–next time I head over to the Rego Center. I love my Crockpot and I get tons of inspiration from simple recipes online. But this is the recipe I make every other week for our lunches–her website is also awesome for budget friendly recipes. Check out my Slow Cooker Taco Chicken bowls that I bring to work with me:

    • SimpleIsGood4U says:

      🙂 I go to same Costco, of course.
      Honestly, I have not used my crockpot as much as I thought I would (just a few times since I got it last fall). I really need to get back to it. I know it saves on time and definitely $$ too. Thanks for the link to the taco chicken bowls. I will make it my next crockpot project 🙂 xx

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