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Prairie Fare: Save Money with Homemade Lunches

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
My older daughter began wrestling with our exuberant dog, who had the sandwich firmly gripped in his teeth.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I felt two sets of eyes watching me as I made a ham and cheese sandwich for my 10-year-old daughter to take on her school field trip. The eyes belonged to our two dachshunds. They were licking their lips, too.

They’re hungry, I thought to myself. I filled their bowls with dog food and continued preparing food.

My younger daughter decided she wanted a sandwich for breakfast, so I made another sandwich and put it on a plate. She brought it to the living room and set it on the coffee table.

After the dogs finished their breakfast, it was time for them to go outside. They raced toward the patio door.

I heard a squeal. I ran into the living room just as Jake, the dachshund, stood on his hind legs and gripped the side of the coffee table with his paws, leaning his head onto my daughter’s plate.

“Jake stole my sandwich!” my younger daughter yelled. She began jumping up and down.

My older daughter began wrestling with our exuberant dog, who had the sandwich firmly gripped in his teeth. She was trying to pry the sandwich out of his mouth.

“Let go. We don’t want the sandwich back,” I said.

In two gulps, the sandwich was gone. At least our dog didn’t eat anyone’s homework.

Soon I was back in the kitchen making another sandwich. Making lunches at home can be pretty exciting.

Making your lunches helps you manage calories and overall nutrition and usually saves you money, too. According to national news reports, more workers are bringing their lunch to save money in these challenging economic times.

Lunch expenses vary depending on your choice of restaurant. You can get a $5 fast-food special or a $10 sit-down lunch.

For example, if you eat lunch at restaurants five days a week at an average cost of $7, your monthly expenditure would be $140. During a year’s time, that adds up to $1,680.

Instead, if you bring your own lunch, at an average cost of $2 to $4, your yearly lunch tab would be $520 to $1,040.

Even if you enjoy an occasional lunch at a restaurant, you still could save about $1,000 a year.

Any time you bring perishable food with you, however, there are safety considerations. According to the standard rule of thumb, perishable foods, such as meat-containing sandwiches and leftover casseroles, should spend no more than two hours at room temperature.

To keep your lunch safe, take note of the limitations on cooking and storage at your destination. If your lunch needs refrigeration but refrigeration is not available, use frozen gel packs and an insulated cooler to keep your food cold.

Many types of sandwiches freeze well, but will thaw by lunchtime if placed in a lunchbox early in the morning. You also can pack nonperishable items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Here are some other lunch-packing tips:

  • To save time, pack your lunch during the cleanup after your evening meal.
  • Consider making a little extra food for dinner. Bring your “planned-overs” for lunch.
  • Pack a fruit and a vegetable to help you meet your daily fruit and veggie recommendations. Add some strawberries and baby carrots to round out a sandwich and yogurt.
  • Don’t reuse brown bags because bacteria can grow and contaminate tomorrow’s lunch.
  • To transport hot foods, such as soup or chili, rinse a thermos with boiling water just before filling it with hot food.

Here’s a sandwich recipe courtesy of the Wheat Foods Council at For more information about nutrition, including recipes, visit the NDSU Extension Service “Eat Smart. Play Hard.” Web site at

Chicken and Cashew Salad in a Pita

1/2 c. light or fat-free mayonnaise or salad dressing

1 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground ginger

1 Tbsp. peanut butter

1 c. cooked, chopped chicken

1/2 c. Chinese peapods cut in half

1/2 c. chopped red or yellow sweet peppers

1/4 c. roasted peanuts

3 whole-wheat pita breads, cut in half

Mix ingredients, except peanuts, and refrigerate at least one hour. Just before serving, stir in peanuts and spoon into pita pockets.

Makes six sandwiches, one-half sandwich per serving. Each serving has 219 calories, 8 grams (g) of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 4 g of fiber and 615 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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