A year ago, I discovered a life changing hack to my day – bringing lunch to work. I know, packing lunch sounds boring, at best it is cold leftovers and at worst, it is whatever you had in your fridge that you threw into a suitable container to transport to the office. Bringing lunch to work meant I couldn’t be spontaneous and eat to fulfill my cravings. Worse, sometimes I would bring lunch and still go and purchase something to fulfill my cravings. And EVEN worse was when I would totally forget that I even brought lunch until I open the fridge to put my for-today lunch into the communal pantry and see staring back at me, my last-week lunch looking at me with utter betrayal on its face (if pre-packed lunches could have a face).
So how is bringing lunch to work a life changing hack with everything I mentioned and all the other different routes to failure that I did not mention? After all, buying lunch is just more convenient. Nobody has the time to meal prep on weekends. Buying lunch means you have options. Nobody can predict what they might be in the mood for.
Bringing lunch to work started being a life changing hack when I committed to two priorities: 1) eating healthier and 2) saving money.
“I was controlling what I would put into my body and what my per lunch cost would be.”
Bringing lunch to work was now framed by the perspective that I was controlling what I would put into my body and what my per lunch cost could be. Before that I found I was eating a lot of take out, which is food of unknown quality. Even a fast casual place like Sweet Greens or Le Pain Quotidien probably aren’t serving you organic greens, quality meat, and healthy ingredients. They’re selling you a promise to fulfill a craving. Hunger.
Also, take out is expensive. I worked in Midtown Manhattan, so lunch was easily $15-18 dollars a day! That is about $75-90 dollars a week, or $300-500 dollars a month! I was giving the government 30% of my paycheck and I was giving whatever local business that could fulfill my random food craving that month another 10-15% of my paycheck. That’s crazy.
Even though my goals were focused on health and wealth, there was another benefit to having your own lunch – I saved time. Working in Manhattan meant every office worker would leave around the same hours of noon and 1pm to get their food cravings fulfilled. So there were queues out the butthole for most of the “good” lunch spots. I found myself not just spending $15 dollars on mediocre food, but I was also spending around 30 minutes door to door to queue up and get that food. Thirty minutes a day is equal to 2.5 hours a week. That sounds about right for how long a Sunday meal prepping session could be.
Also it felt like I was foraging every day during lunch time. First deciding what my food craving was. Then deciding which place might fulfill it. Then going to that place. Waiting in line. Deciding what to get. Trying to be reasonable. Ending up paying too much for the food. Feeling bad for the over worked workers and tipping another 20% on top of my food costs. Taking my lunch back to the office. Sitting at my desk and eating whatever it was in 15 minutes or less. Every day. Five days a week. I was making so many micro-decisions and actions – it was mentally exhausting.
“It felt like I was foraging every day
during lunch time.”
When I started bringing lunch to work, I freed up not just my cash flow but my time and mental energy too. On top of that, I was controlling the quality of food I consumed. I could choose organic, free-range, humane, gluten-free, plant-based, whatever. I have that option when I make my own food. Chicken is just chicken with a question mark when you order at Chipotle.
When I started being mindful of the food I prepared (aka actually boxing things I would want to eat), I realized it didn’t have to stop at just lunch. I started packing healthy snacks (baby carrots, cheese sticks, fresh fruit) for when the inevitable mid-day, boredom-stress munchies would come. My lunches would have a veggie and a protein component and always be something I could heat up so I could enjoy a hot meal.
Meal prepping changed my relationship with food – I was the master of it, food was not the master of me or my day. When I packed my own food for the work day, I realized that I didn’t have to take the usual noon to 1pm break like everyone else. I could have my lunch or snacks whenever I wanted! I was no longer stressed out during a meeting that ran over because I wasn’t thinking about where I would get my lunch or what I would eat. I was more flexible with my day knowing that I had provisions and that I would enjoy them. It took an unknown out of my day to day; it was one less (many less) decisions for me to have to make.
How does this apply to us now?
Working from home or not having work at all and just being home, is confusing for how we normally understand productivity. Most of us understand that being at work is productive, because someone is paying us for our time.
But any activity you do that is aligned with your priorities is productive. If health is a priority, then sleeping well, exercise, and eating well are productive activities because they are in line with what is important to you.
“Any activity you do that is aligned with your priorities is productive.”
Being mindful about food and what you eat is often discussed through the lens of health, diet, and beauty. The perspective I am offering here, is that food is more than pleasure and sacrifice (i.e. eating a crappy salad in hopes to look good). Food and its quality affect your health directly by consumption, and it can affect your health depending on the thoughts, preoccupation, and activities surrounding it (such as the stress of deciding what to eat, the efforts to get it, and the cost of purchasing it). Mindful eating is taking a productive pause in your day-to-day to consider all the the ways food affects you and your life; then making choices that are better aligned with your priorities.