Lunch Boxes for Adults

When I was a wee anklebiter, way back in the day, I packed a lunch to school most days. At first it was in the ubiquitous metal lunch box, adorned with some sort of cartoon or comic character. Later I “outgrew” that and just brought lunch to school in a brown paper bag.

My Mom, bless her, packed the lunches, of course. They were, as far as I remember, your standard grade school bag lunch – one sandwich, one apple, and a cookie, or three. A little Thermos full of… Kool-Aid?, or later a juice box or pouch, and straw. Not the most inspiring lunch in the world, but they did the job, I guess.

In sixth, seventh, and eighth grade I ate school lunches in the cafeteria. In ninth through twelfth grade, I… didn’t eat lunch at all, because my father and step-mother were douchebags.

Okay, I didn’t completely not eat lunch; I survived on soda and whatever unwanted leftovers I could mooch from acquaintances. But, anyway.

For some reason, when i was younger, I saw packing a lunch to work as either something childish, or something extremely old-fashioned, out of a black-and-white movie. Today, if it really was old-fashioned, it’d be amazingly appealing to me as something awesomely cool and “retro”.

It’s not, sadly. But for about a year, I’ve still been taking lunch to work, anyway – and so has one of my housemates.

The impetus actually came when I started reading online about bentos, the mildly iconic Japanese lunch-in-a-container, and how to cook for them. People tout the healthiness of preparing bentos for lunch, which I couldn’t care less about, but they also harp on about how much money you can save, and that got my attention.

It used to be I was spending about ten bucks a day on food at work; six or eight bucks on lunch, proper, and two to four bucks on sodas or juice or candy or whatever. My roommate was in the same boat, basically, except he was drinking exotic and expensive coffee drinks instead of sodas or juice. Two hundred bucks per person per month is a lot of money for food, and a hell of an Engel’s coefficient for people in our income bracket.

Hmmn. Maybe there was something to this whole bento deal after all.

We picked up a couple of food containers online – four, to be precise. One is a run-of-the-mill Japanese bento box. 900ml or so, two tiers. Not actually super useful unless you’re cooking Japanese style, and preparing food specifically for your lunch, which we don’t really feel like doing. I do use it occasionally, but it’s really more bother than it’s worth.

One is a tiffin carrier – it’s this one, in fact. Like the bento box, it’s un-insulated and not water-tight, so there are limits to what you can pack in it. Unlike the bento, it’s relatively spacious, so you can pack a relatively decent amount of food; we usually load it up with two sandwiches, a banana, some crackers or corn chips, and a muffin or some cookies, or something like that. It’s relatively idiot-proof, if you use it within its limitations, and it’s nigh-indestructible. I’m not sure $30 USD for a very plain lunch box is a great deal, but it works, and it’s actually sized for Western adults with adult eating habits and Western appetites, which is a plus.

The real crown jewels among lunch-boxes-for-adults are the Japanese vacuum jars, however. Think a really wide-neck insulated Thermos bottle, with several inner containers to hold your hot (or cold!) food. They’re so awesome we have two – the “Ms. Bento” linked to, and another one made by Thermos Nissan, which I couldn’t immediately find on Amazon.

They tend to get really mixed reviews on Amazon, and elsewhere, for one really simple reason – they’re Japanese, and not really designed for the stereotypical American idea of lunch, which is that you have one large-ish main course and, if you absolutely must, a smaller side. With the lunch jars, you’re going to be eating three or four things, and they’re all going to be roughly equal in volume. You can cheat and double-up, but you can’t take a half-gallon of chili or soup or whatever, sorry, because typically only one of the internal containers is completely water-tight and sealed with a gasket and everything.

For the Japanese, I’m sure this poses no major obstacle. For us westerners, this can require some actual thought, if the Amazon reviews are anything to go by.

It’s worth it, though – we’re both almost certainly eating healthier, now that we’re using these, and we’re definitely saving money, largely because we’re eating a lot of leftovers.

We do buy stuff just to pack with lunch – having, or at least feeling compelled, to fill three or four containers for your lunch, means that you sometimes need or want more than leftovers may provide. But this tends to be fairly inexpensive and reasonably healthy side-dish stuff, so we don’t feel too bad – and we’ve kind of literally gone from $50/week per person for lunch to more like $15-20/week per person. ($10-15 for soda or coffee, and $6-8 on food for side dishes, like baby carrots or fresh or dried fruit.) The real costs are a little bit higher, because either someone in the household would have eaten the leftovers we’re packing for lunch, or we’re making a little more just to generate leftovers for our lunches, so we’re spending a little bit more on groceries. But grocery-store food is cheap compared to fast food – my lunch today is a roughly $1 pork chop, plus maybe $0.75 of fried rice, maybe $0.50 of baby carrots, and maybe $1 worth of fruit – about half of what I’d pay for a sandwich and chips at the fast-food joint down the street.

I’m not the only person at my office who packs a lunch to work; the economy sucks, and there are really only two places to eat nearby, one of which we all refer to as the Diorrhea Factory, so takeout options are… limited. You obviously don’t need a high-tech $45 doohickey to pack your lunch with you every day, and, yes, I did get mocked slightly the first couple times I hauled the thermos jar into work. What, I’m not good enough to use plastic bags and Tupperware, like everyone else?

Not at all. I just like being able to sit down and eat, without any hassles. See, we have a microwave at work – and it’s strictly first-come, first-served. So people spend a lot of time sitting around waiting to nuke their lunches – because it takes four or five minutes to warm up a big hearty American-sized 400ml serving of soup, you know – and some more time sitting around waiting for their food to cool down to an edible temperature. Through the magic of the thermal jar, however, lunch is hot and ready to eat whenever I sit down and open it – no waiting for the microwave, no waiting for food to cool down after being over-irradiated. (You heat up the thermos jar, of course, and warm up the food before you pack it inside – but you do that in the morning, at home. And since my roommate and I don’t go to work at the same time, there’s no contention for our microwave.)

It’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. And it’s helped me appreciate that packing a lunch to work isn’t childish, or hopelessly outdated – just surprisingly economical and exceedingly convenient, if you do it right.

Published in: Geekiness, General | on September 20th, 2010| Comments Off on Lunch Boxes for Adults

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