Brown Bag Lunch: Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl

I’ve been analyzing our family’s finances lately.  Gosh, doesn’t that sound fancy!  At any rate, I got curious about how our food budget plays out over the course of a month, and as it turns out, we spend way too much money eating out.

Mostly, this is because my husband and I grew accustomed to eating lunch in the very reasonably priced corporate cafeteria before we moved out here to California.  Out here, there is no corporate cafeteria with healthy, fresh food, so we got into the habit that so many very busy people do of eating out in the nearby restaurants.

When I had hyperemesis gravidarum, restaurant fare became even more of a deeply ingrained habit because for some reason that other HGers will probably understand, homemade food just did not sit well on my poor stomach.

Frankly, I was pretty appalled when I looked at what we were spending on food.  I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad.  I am a little terrified to confess to my readers that 30% of our food budget had been going to groceries and the remaining 70% went to eating out. At lunch, on weekends, and on and on and on.

That is not okay.

It’s an easy decision to make: Take my lunch to work.  But I will admit, eating out is a tough habit to break.  What do I take?  What do I pack?  How do I keep things interesting and avoid a ham sandwich every day?

I started easy.  I visited Trader Joe’s and purchased a few of their prepared lunches.  Is this cheating?  A little bit, but if you can get a salad for $3, that’s a darn sight better than $9 for a meal out.

That first week, I ate TJ’s salads.  I immediately learned that a single salad does not contain enough calories to make a meal for me.  I learned to pack sides.  A string cheese here, an apple there.  By Thursday of that week, I felt brave enough to slice some leftover meat and augment my store-bought salad.

Giving myself a week of TJ’s salads helped me to learn how and what to pack to make up a lunch for myself.  That following weekend, I didn’t have time to go to TJ’s and the regular grocery, so I decided to make my own “TJ’s” salads.  I took their ideas of multiple, fresh ingredients and made it work for me.  I haven’t looked back since.

Here’s an example of a lunch.  This is what I had today in fact:

Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl (layers listed from bottom to top)

  • Leftover Trader Joe’s microwaveable brown rice
  • Dollop of leftover homemade Thai Peanut Sauce
  • Lettuce
  • sliced mushrooms and sliced yellow squash from my garden
  • Sliced leftover Coconut Crusted Chicken (basically just breaded, baked chicken, but instead of bread crumbs I used unsweetened coconut)
  • limes and Asian salad dressing

It was easy and filling.  Plenty of protein and calories in the chicken and peanut sauce, and packed with interesting and delicious flavor.  I ate it with an apple and a piece of string cheese.

It’s so easy to do variations on this theme.  Salads don’t have to be boring.  Mixing in things like rice, quinoa, and other non-standard ingredients keeps things interesting and appeals to my creative spirit.

I’ve also been saving money!  We’re on track right now to cut our food budget by $400!

It may seem like a simple step, but it’s a change that’s made a big and positive impact on our family.

Do you pack your lunch for work?  What goes into your lunch box?

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7 thoughts on “Brown Bag Lunch: Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl

  1. We spend way too much money eating out! My company has a large break/lunch room. The kitchenette area has multiple microwaves, and very large refrigerators. I pack a large insulated grocery bag with fixin’s for the week: loaf of bread, mustard, sandwich meat (canned tuna or deli meat- I heat up deli meat in the microwave) and cheese, yogurts and/or fruit cups, other snacks. If I want variety, I’ll bring leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. But knowing that I have supplies at work makes morning prep time less of a rush and if I wake up too late to pack leftovers, then I know I still have lunch items at work. This cut down on our lunch runs to restaurants immensely. I’m still working on how to cut down our dinner runs; we still hit restaurants at least twice a week (sometimes more). I’d like to cut that down to once a month but its hard due to the fact we have a few nights a week when we don’t get home till after 8 pm.

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    1. That is so clever Sherry! I’m glad you’ve found a system that is working. I wish I could do something similar. I’ve contemplated it. Unfortunately, we have a serial lunch theif in our building, so I keep my lunch at my desk where it won’t get eaten. The nerve of some people!

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      1. Darn lunch thieves! I used to work at an office that had that problem. I kept non-refrigerated items in my bottom drawer in that situation- pretzels, nuts, crackers, jar of peanut butter, protein bars, loaf of bread- even ramen noodle packets and a bowl. That cut down on runs to the candy machine. And then in the mornings, if I hadnt been vigilant about prepping lunch the night before, I could just run out of the house with a sandwich and piece of fruit, knowing I had other items at my desk for snacks- or on super lazy days, I still had ramen in my desk.

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  2. I’m lucky enough to have free lunches provided at my job most days, but when the cafeteria’s closed I bring in wraps, lunch meat, hummus, and other snacks (about a week’s worth) and put them in the fridge. I just can’t get myself together enough to make food and bring it in every day!

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  3. Oh yes, HG and homemade food do not mix well!!

    I make Tim a salad most days for work, sandwiches less often. We buy bagged salad (as he likes the variety of leaves rather than a head of lettuce) and then add something like tomatoes, onions and cucumber plus whatever comes to mind (and whatever I’ve got in my fridge). Sometimes it’s cottage cheese and ham. Sometimes it’s potato salad and gherkins. Today it was feta cheese and olives. Oh and a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A few weeks back he even got baby sweetcorn and mange tout 🙂

    Tim is a really good cook and often ends up cooking things like risotto, moussaka, lasagne etc whereas my cooking involves much easier things like roasted veg and haloumi (or feta) cheese or spaghetti bolognese, so it feels nice to do something special for him each lunchtime. Not that I did this when we were both working, mind! Saying that, I’m supposed to be cooking turkey curry tonight, that’ll be interesting…

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