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The Ripple Effect: How Packing A Lunch Can Change Your Life

Packed Lunches

This simple New Year’s resolution will help you save money, decrease your household’s food waste, and improve your health. Here are four tips to make it easy.

It is that magical time again when many of us make promises for the upcoming year that 8 percent of us will keep. If you are among the millions of Earthlings who have made New Year’s resolutions there is high probability your goals involve money and health. I’m with you, these issues have been in my resolution repertoire since 1996.

I work in an office. I sit at a desk 8 hours a day. I arrange and organize and account for other people’s time and money. At work I am highly organized and disciplined. At home I am quite a bit less so.  Probably because for the last 8 hours I have been organized and disciplined for other people and when I’m home I feel like being in sweat pants on the sofa munching whatever I grabbed on my way through with a glass or three of wine.

Like many professional workplaces mine is surrounded by restaurants and fast food eateries. In my neck of the woods a basic lunch costing between $8 – 10. Expensive, yes, but I’ve willingly put the hassle of lunch into the hands of the food industry. While there are healthier options to choose from – salads, wraps, spanakopita – the chances of me making one are pretty slim, primarily because anything eaten too often looses it sparkle. Even gravy French fries. And especially salad.

So naturally weight is an issue. Sitting for eight hours a day is an issue. Irresponsible culinary decision-making: issue. An absurd approach would be trying to fix these issues by making resolutions on New Year’s, which until recently was exactly my process: penning a long list of my shortcomings and crossing my fingers that this would be the year. Lose some weight. Eat healthier. Clean out the frig every once in a while. Failure was inevitable but at least I was in good company.

Because I’ve reached that point in my forties when I accept the fact that sometimes success is achieved by lowering expectations, last year I decided to ditch the list and make a single resolution. One. My idea felt sensibly unambitious: I resolved to save a few dollars by packing my lunch three times a week. Just that. No long-term commitments or cancellation fees.

A simple idea, perhaps superfluously fatalistic, but the result was that I learned to be a better cook, saved fifteen hundred dollars, and accidentally lost 30 pounds.

It was classic ripple effect. After a grim start involving hastily assembled peanut butter sandwiches in predawn hours it occurred to me that a wiser approach might be to pack leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. This, however, necessitated preparation of an actual ‘previous night’s dinner’. That required the forethought and planning of – dare I say it – a grocery list. Grocery lists are the result of a menu, which are best developed by familial consensus following discussion and tense negotiations. In a heartbeat my little resolution blossomed into an array of unanticipated life improvements. We implemented a family meal plan, shopped for grocery using a list like responsible adults, and consumed high quality food on a more regular basis. Preparing dinner with The Husband each night was not the additional after-work chore I thought it might be, but was instead a creative and relaxing outlet after a long day at the office. We used up more of the food we bought and saw our household food waste decrease dramatically. A year later we are self-proclaimed foodies and loyal card-carrying members of the packed lunch club.

Maybe the key to New Year’s Resolution-keeping is not tackling all of our shortcomings in one fell swoop, but making one tiny change and riding the ripples.

Every good meal deserves to be photographed (is that not the very purpose of Instagram?), thus I am posting pictures and descriptions of six weeks worth of my daily lunches below. My hope is that these ideas inspire your own meal planning and promote confidence in would-be dinner makers and lunch packers. Home made meals aren’t always glamorous or gourmet, but they are always better than what you get from a fast food takeout window. Happy home-cooked lunching this new year!

4 Tips for Lunch-packing Success

  1. Make a Realistic Menu. Start with a workable meal plan based on foods your family already enjoys and you can easily handle in the kitchen. When you need ideas and inspiration check out the growing list of real-world lunches below and work backward to the dinners that made many of them possible. Or check out FoodTube, my favorite internet rabbit hole, where I’ve learned to cook new and wonderful things.
  1. Pack Lunch First. Do not wait to see if there will be leftovers, set aside tomorrow’s lunch portion before sitting down at the dinner table.
  1. Prep Food in Advance. I promise you will not feel like washing and chopping food on a work morning or after a long day at the office, so lend your future self a hand by shopping on the weekend and prepping as much food as possible as soon as you get it home. Grill, cut, and freeze pre-measured servings of protein over the weekend to speed up the dinner-making process; do not permit any raw vegetable to enter your crisper without washing and cutting it first.
  1. Make it Tasty! Totally true fact: Once I packed a lunch I knew I would not eat because I didn’t care for the ingredients to begin with. Not sure why this seemed like a good idea, maybe I thought my preferences would magically change under the orange glow of workplace fluorescents? They didn’t.  If you experimented with dinner last night and did not care for the outcome, do not derail your resolution by packing it for lunch. Pack the lunch you cannot wait to eat!

Football Food for the Forty-Six Percenters

Like forty-six percent of women in the United States I love American Pro Football. Especially the Super Bowl. I love crowding with my peeps around a spread of tasty morsels. I love lively conversation straight through the big plays. Which is why I/we dislike watching ball with our guys. Their flailing elbows are a hazard, their flying mouth crumbs super gross. Plus they’re know-it-alls who think we don’t ‘get it’ and shush us during two point conversations. Fun fact: chatting during the play doesn’t impair anyone’s ability to SEE the  screen nor does it impact the outcome of the action.
We do get the game, btw. We get the blitz schemes. The trick plays. All mostly stupid. If the offense hadn’t mishandled the ball for the last six possessions an angel stunt wouldn’t be necessary. Kay? Kay.

Acorn Squash Soup

Ever sat at a Thanksgiving Day table and daydreamed about the potential for glorious leftover recipes? Yeah, me neither. So on a completely unrelated note, here is a beautifully simple leftover recipe that upcycles a classic squash dish.

Thyme Infused Dinner Rolls (with homemade cultured butter)

 
These herbed pull-apart dinner rolls, with their rustic crust and fluffy sweet interior, possess exactly the right density and flavor for sopping up pan drippings and gravies at Thanksgiving. The dough comes together like a velvet symphony when ingredients are allowed to reach room temperature and the mixing bowls warmed before combining. The secret to the light and fluffy interior is to add only as much flour as necessary and not a pinch more.

Carnivorous Contemplations: Beef

Byrne Black Angus Farm, Skaneateles NY

Byrne Black Angus Farm, Skaneateles NY

One of the pleasures of living in the vicinity of many small, in-dependently run, farms in Central New York is our ability as a community to build relationships with the people who produce our food and to see with our own eyes how crops and animals are cared for. A prominent figure in my own family’s local food network is Jean Byrne of Byrne Black Angus farm. The Husband and I met Jean two years ago when we began our biweekly trek to the Skaneateles Farmers Market; after visiting her farm and seeing for ourselves her family’s commitment to raising quality beef, Byrne Black Angus has systematically replaced store-bought beef on our dinner table.

Kisses on Byrne Black Angus Farm, Skaneateles NY

Kisses on Byrne Black Angus Farm, Skaneateles NY

Let’s face it folks, there are some seriously gnarly things lurking in the mega mart meat isle. For my family red meat is an occasional treat and when we do buy it we demand a few assurances: in the words of Joel Salatin, we want to know the farmer ‘embraced the cowness of the cow’ – meaning it was fed the kind of food it was designed to eat and it was allowed to move about in open air on properly-maintained pastures; we want to know the animal developed without the influence of artificial growth hormones that are so damaging to the animal, damaging to us, and damaging to the soil and ground water it leaches into; and we want to know the animal was treated humanely. Since these assurances are impossible for chain groceries to make, we’ve moved to Byrnes Black Angus farm.

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And oh, my carnivorous compadres, no commercially-raised steak – and nothing off a steakhouse menu – compares to the flavor of fresh, grass-fed, locally raised Angus prepared on your own back-yard grill. As a matter of fact, here is The Husband’s recipe for a delicious grilled Byrne-raised Black Angus hanger steak with blue cheese butter and French fried onions. The flavor of this dish is so divine when you eat it you’ll swear you hear the sweet music of Copeland’s Rodeo ringing in your ears.