42-17304023What do you do, bring your lunch to work (or school) or eat out? Or do you do a mix of both?

I’ve brought my lunch to work for years, allowing myself an occasional lunch out, maybe once every two weeks or so. For me, it was not only the more economical option, but also the healthier one. If I bring my lunch, I know exactly what nutrients and calories are in my food.

But I’ve been spoiled in the past. At every other place I’ve worked, I’ve had access to a refrigerator and a microwave, making the range of my lunches pretty much endless. I also didn’t have to invest in fancy “brown bag” supplies. I’d just use leftover grocery bags to carry my lunch to work.

Sure, I’d get into a rut and day after day bring in Lean Cuisines, a piece of fruit, and some baby carrots. But other times I’d bring leftovers from home and heat them up. In general, not much thought or time involved in the preparation. All that changed a few months ago when I began working in a new location.

Much to my surprise, my new office facility doesn’t have a microwave, and doesn’t have a refrigerator. Oh no! For the first few days I went out to lunch. There are lots of great choices, so that was fun. Unfortunately, it was also costly, and something that had to stop quickly.

For a few more days I brought in things that didn’t need to be refrigerated in my usual bags. The main things that came to mind were  peanut butter sandwiches and a piece of fruit and good bread and cheese with fruit. Now these were relatively tasty, but not something I wanted to do on a regular basis.

So, I consulted some friends, and made a shopping trip to pick up supplies for better brown bag lunches, chief among them a thermal lunch bag and all kinds of small ice packs. Armed with these new supplies I began making slightly more creative lunches. I’ve made a variety of cheese and veggie sandwiches as well as salads. I’ve had to experiment a bit with just how many ice packs I need to keep everything as cold as I want, but finally seem to have that down pat.

However, it also started turning cooler here this week, and I’m starting to crave warm soups at lunch.  On my list for the weekend is a trip back to the store to invest in a thermos or two to carry homemade soup into work.

All this sounds very efficient and nice, but there’s a problem. It’s also taking more thought and work than being able to count on a refrigerator and microwave. I didn’t have to think when I knew I could just pull a Lean Cuisine out of the freezer. Now, I need to plan ahead, and I’ve hit a block this week. For the last two days I’ve just stuck a couple pieces of string cheese, grapes, and a nectarine in my thermal bag and have called it lunch. While I like all of those things, they weren’t exactly satisfying.

I plan to do some web surfing this weekend looking for suggestions for brown bag lunches, because I’m clearly in need of more ideas. Any suggestions?