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Take a packed lunch and save a bunch

September 22, 2013

Reading the latest Buffer blog post about the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs have made (and what they have learned from them) one comment really struck a chord. Tim Ferriss said “If you’re not 100% excited, say no”. As someone who hates confrontations and likes to be liked I have a very hard time saying no. I’m also an optimist and can often see a lot of potential in things that deep down I know I’m either really too busy for or will take me away from things I’d rather prioritise. As Tim’s post goes onto say:

If you’re not 100% excited, it should be a decline.

‘Kinda cool’ will fill up your calendar and leave you wondering where the last year – or 10 – went.

I’m printing off that bold sentence and pinning it above my desk to keep me on track, because of late I’ve made a real effort to say no to things that are not 100% exciting. But when approached me to contribute a week’s worth of packed lunch ideas for UAE Saves Week I knew I had to say yes. The whole initiative is well-organised, worthwhile and just that – 100% gets my pulse racing.

Most outsider views of Dubai give a very polarised snapshot – gleaming buildings, billionaires, fast cars, gold, shopping, and people paid a pittance to construct the place. There is a grain of truth in all of this but it’s so far from painting the whole picture. This bio from a Telegraph journalist and writer who lives here always puts a smile on my face:

Annabel Kantaria is a journalist who moved to Dubai long before most people knew where it was. She doesn’t ride a camel to work; has never seen a gold-plated golf buggy and only rarely has pink champagne for breakfast.

With local Emiratis making up less than 20% of the population this is a vibrant, multi-cultured and multi-faceted place feeling the influence of so many different expat cultures and income groups. While a very small elite group of the population may not have to budget, the majority of us have to watch our dirhams carefully. From the bag packer at the super market who gets paid 500 AED a month plus tips, to an expat like me reliant on my job and my husband’s small business to pay high rent for accommodation, school fees for two teens, healthcare and all the other expenses of life in Dubai.

Inevitably the first place to make savings is via the food bill. As my Mum always used to say “If we didn’t need to eat we’d be rich.”

An effective place to start is by cutting down ‘the latte effect’. If you add up how much you spend on drinks in one week while you are at work or on the move it can come as a surprise. Add in your expenditure on food and you can be looking at a sizeable amount. What other things could that money be used for? I’m sure you can think of many. So to get you inspired for UAE Saves week, here are:Top 10 tips for packed lunches

10 top tips for packed lunches

  1. Start the day with a good breakfast. If your tummy is rumbling and you are fading fast by 11am, you’ll soon start drifting to the vending machine or doughnut counter.
  2. Plan ahead. Every weekend, have an idea of what you are going to pack for lunch each day. If you have to scrabble around looking for things at 7am, you are more likely to give up. Always have some emergency items in the cupboard that you can grab when time is tight.
  3. Prepare as much as you can the night before. It’s then easy to grab and run – especially if you are not a morning person.
  4. Dedicate half a day every couple of weeks to make things specially for your lunch box that you can freeze.
  5. Use leftovers from your supper the night before as a tasty lunch. Or cook more than you need to eat and freeze the extra for later.
  6. Pack the kind of things you like to eat. If you eat a triple-pounder everyday you are not likely to be satisfied with a small salad and an apple. Make a lunch that’s similar, for instance try a roast beef sandwich with mustard instead.
  7. Invest in some nice containers to take your lunch to work in. Make it look attractive. Soon you won’t be envying everyone who is off to the takeaway; they’ll be looking longingly at your lunch.
  8. Get away from your desk. If you walk to the takeaway normally, spend that extra time walking to a shady place outside where you can eat your lunch (weather permitting). Or eat your lunch then go for a stroll with your headphones on and some favourite music, so you feel refreshed.
  9. Remember that it’s not just money you are saving. Budget and mid-range restaurants are notorious for using cheap ingredients with lots of hidden salt. You can make your lunches cheaper, better and healthier. Save money and you might lose weight too.
  10. Make use of your office microwave – this is where leftovers from the night before get a new lease of life. If you can, keep some useful items at work like cutlery, sauces (such as hot sauce), napkins, a sharp knife for cutting fruit, salt and pepper.

Lunch box

I’ll be posting recipes and ideas that are great for packed lunches this week – some are already up on the site if you want to plan ahead. If you can only spare one day to participate, Monday 23rd September in Pack your lunch Monday. There are other non-food related, practical activities every single day starting from tomorrow. Find out what’s on each day here and don’t forget to use #UAEsaves on your pics, posts and tweets.

Do you take lunches to work? Will you join me for the tastiest part of UAE Saves Week 2013?

  1. September 22, 2013 8:21 am

    Some good ideas Sally. I just started working full time and need to start taking lunches as it is getting a big $$$ plus I know I could make better food choices with a little bit of thought and planning.

    • September 22, 2013 8:29 am

      I work from home so it’s easy for me – but try to make sure that my family take packed lunches. Good luck with your new job.

  2. September 22, 2013 9:09 am

    I send my husband off each day with a packed lunch. Since it’s just the two of us at home now, I still cook for four and the leftovers become our lunch the next day. As you say in tip 10, he makes good use of the office microwave most days. Or if the leftovers are roast beef, for instance, he takes a sandwich. The benefits are three-fold: 1. less waste of leftover food 2. savings on restaurant or cafe meals and 3. he gets something tasty and usually healthy. His co-workers ARE envious, which I appreciate. 🙂

    This is a great initiative, Sally! Thanks for all the useful tips!

    • September 22, 2013 9:49 am

      I meant to caption the first pic – the Dennis the Menace lunch bag is KP’s (a hand me down from the teens). A sandwich is his last option – he would prefer leftovers any day (and it’s usually every day) 🙂 Thanks for the great comment.

  3. September 22, 2013 9:41 am

    Great ideas. Packed lunched save money and give you extra nutrients and flavors.
    I’ll try working on packing my lunch everyday.

  4. September 22, 2013 9:45 am

    We eat breakfast and lunch at work, and each meal is made fresh! Love the advice about being 100% enthusiastic 🙂

    • September 22, 2013 9:49 am

      Yes it’s so easy to get distracted by things that are ‘meh’ as my teens would say.

  5. September 22, 2013 9:46 am

    Fantastic ideas Sally. I always cook more so that we have leftovers for lunch the next day…it saves time and money and is especially good when you are crazily busy and don’t actually have time to pack a lunch in the morning. Thanks for sharing.

    • September 22, 2013 10:00 am

      That’s my preferred option too – it means you never have to throw anything away…and I hate food waste.

  6. September 22, 2013 10:17 am

    Great ideas! Our grocery bills are crazy – yep – definitely true – we’d be rich if we didn’t have to eat – ha. I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming ideas – I feel sorry for my kids because I definitely rotate the same things throughout the week for their lunches

  7. September 22, 2013 11:08 am

    So glad you’re supporting Nima’s brilliant Cashy initiative. If I did not work from home or eat out for a living I’d be doing the same! I should add though, it’s not easy for single women or men working full time and living by themselves to plan packed lunches every day. You need to allow time to get to the supermarket and prepare the night before which is easier said than done when you work long hours, weekends included and have corporate commitments in the evenings. To work towards once or twice a week is more realistic.

    • September 23, 2013 9:57 am

      Indeed. The willingness of restaurants to pack up what you don’t eat for take away is very handy for lunches though 🙂 Thanks for the comment and agree the UAE Saves week is a great initiative.

  8. September 22, 2013 12:33 pm

    Taking a lunch to work helps reduce grocery bills and is a much healthier option. Great tips!



    • September 22, 2013 4:38 pm

      It does indeed Rosa – Cheers

  9. September 22, 2013 1:50 pm

    this is immensely helpful! thanks for sharing

  10. ttholler permalink
    September 22, 2013 1:51 pm

    Good tips Sally. I always have my wee ones lunches ready along with a fresh smoothie for him, but I’m not so good with my own. I keep ryvita and dairylea at work, just in case.

    • September 22, 2013 4:37 pm

      That’s such a good idea. The dark rye Ryvita are always on hand in my kitchen- even working from home you can run out of lunch stuff.

  11. September 22, 2013 3:43 pm

    You’re very well organised. I’m impressed. I’ve never really done the packed lunch thing. As I was a food photographer for a great deal of my life, there was always plenty to eat in the studio, brought fresh that day by the clients! Not only did I eat their fresh food, they also paid me 🙂

    • September 22, 2013 4:37 pm

      Sounds like you had the right idea to me…

  12. September 22, 2013 6:51 pm

    These are all great tips, Sally! X

    • September 22, 2013 8:27 pm

      Sometimes you need reminded why you do the things you do 🙂

  13. glamorous glutton permalink
    September 22, 2013 7:12 pm

    Like you I now work from home but there’s no doubt, if you take your own lunch you’ll bith save money and eat better. There are some great ideas here. GG x

  14. September 22, 2013 11:13 pm

    Great tips! I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of these into my weekly routine not only for budget, but for my health too!

    • September 23, 2013 9:57 am

      The healthier aspect is compelling to me.

  15. September 23, 2013 8:36 am

    Absolutely agree Sally…The mornings are mayhem in my kitchen with lunch box packing for my son and hubby.. and yes most often it is leftovers that get turned into something for lunch the next day…No waste…of course there is the odd day when there’s nothing and my son lands up eating at the school Café…On another note…well done for supporting a fabulous initiative:))

    • September 23, 2013 8:57 am

      With teens, they vary between taking lunch money or packing their own lunch. Interesting that they pack a lunch when they are on a health drive.

  16. andreamynard permalink
    September 23, 2013 3:48 pm

    Some great lunch ideas Sally. What I really like though, is your quote about saying no to things you’re not 100% excited by. I’m always wildly optimistic about how much I’m going to fit in to my day and am going to try to remember this.

  17. September 23, 2013 5:52 pm

    My mom says – “If we didn’t eat the way we do, we’d be rich.” No expense spared on food in our family!
    Packed lunches are the best Sally – great tips.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  18. October 31, 2013 12:59 pm

    These are great tips! I just blogged about how packed lunches are ultimately disappointing but I take them anyway. The savings are great and your advice makes things better!


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