My name is Meghan DeMaria, and I am addicted to buying lunch.
I know how that sounds, and if I were reading this article, I'd hate me, too. Another privileged New Yorker talking about how they're addicted to Seamless — groundbreaking.
Countless Refinery29 articles have told me that packing lunch should be easy, and it's often healthier (and cheaper), too. And yet, I've rarely been inspired to do so. But in an attempt to see just how easy it is to forgo Seamless and bring my lunches, I decided to challenge myself to bring lunch for a week.
Here's a breakdown of how my lunches stacked up during the challenge.
Lunch: Leftover lasagna Cost: About $5 — the lasagna noodles, tomatoes, ground beef, and cheese cost about $20 total, and the lasagna fed both my husband and me for dinner and lunch the next day. Cost of eating out: If I'd used one of my MealPal meals, it would have been about $4. I'm in my first month of MealPal and had a promotional offer that took $30 off the monthly service. Next month, the price per meal will increase. How I felt: My teammates commented on how good the lasagna smelled, so it was a good start to the week.
Lunch: Steak and mashed potatoes Cost: About $8. My husband bought steaks at Trader Joe's because I wanted a "fancier" meal during the packed-lunch challenge. He makes great mashed potatoes, so I'd say this was a satisfying lunch. Cost of eating out: If I'd gone to Chipotle, I would have spent $9.50 on a chorizo burrito bowl without guacamole. How I felt: My editor said she was "impressed" that I was able to eat a full steak as a work lunch. In a way, that illustrates the issue I tend to have with packing lunch from home — I always run out of food and end up still hungry later.
Lunch: Rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, and brussels sprouts Cost: About $3. We got a full rotisserie chicken at Costco for $4.99, and the mashed potatoes were left over from the day before. A bag of brussels sprouts was about $3 at Trader Joe's, and I took about a third of it for my lunch. Cost of eating out: If I'd gotten my favorite meal at Melt Shop (Burger Melt plus a dill pickle), it would have cost $11.76. How I felt: This was a delicious lunch — it was the first time we cooked brussels sprouts at home this fall, and Costco has the rotisserie down to a science. I wish I'd brought another side, because I was hungry again later in the day.
Lunch: Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich Cost: About $1. This is one of the cheapest meals you can pack. Cost of eating out: If I'd gotten a gyro at GRK, it would have been about $9. How I felt: This was a low point for me. I really did not like this sandwich, and it didn't help that I didn't bring any sides. I was hungry almost immediately after eating this sad attempt at a meal.
Lunch: Rotisserie chicken and asparagus Cost: About $3. This was more leftovers from the Costco chicken and some Trader Joe's asparagus. Cost of eating out: If I'd ordered from Maple, it would have cost $12.52. How I felt: My editor described this as a sad desk lunch, but it wasn't that bad. The asparagus looked wilted, but it tasted fine. I didn't need a huge lunch on Friday, since Refinery29 provides bagels on Friday mornings. I was ready to stop eating that leftover chicken, though.
Overall, I didn’t think the challenge would be too hard — and it wasn’t. It just wasn’t as fun as buying lunch. Some days, I was fortunate enough to have my husband’s leftovers for lunch the next day. Other days, I brought some rotisserie chicken and my husband’s mashed potatoes — delicious. But by day four, I only had a seriously sad peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and I was ready to start buying lunch again. I was jealous of my teammates who ordered Bareburger that day, and regretted ever agreeing to try this out.
The silver lining, however, was that I felt less bad about doing other food-related things during the week and on the weekend. My lunches used to be the only times I ate out, but since I was packing lunch, my husband and I could switch up our budget and try Katz’s Delicatessen and Nom Wah Tea Parlor for dinner together. I was still spending my money on food — but instead of eating said food at a desk, I was out and about in New York City.
Still, you can bet the first Monday after my week of packing, I was back to browsing Seamless. When I first took on this assignment, I was worried I had an unhealthy relationship with food — that I saw it as a sort of reward. And although eating lunch is a bright spot in my day, that’s not exactly true — food is, quite literally, what sustains me to keep working. And, yes, I’d much rather that food be a giant pickle from Melt Shop or a gyro from GRK. And while I’m fortunate to be able to take advantage of them, I refuse to feel guilty about it.
Yes, it would probably help me chip away at my credit-card debt faster to pack lunch every day. And, yes, I am privileged to be able to buy lunch out. But I don’t regret my lunch-spending habits, because they’re a part of my budget and something I really enjoy. As a working woman earning a salary, and without any kids to worry about, I don’t mind spending my money on me. Sometimes, you just need a Chilly Dilly to get you through the workday.
By: Meghan DeMaria