Adorable cuteness from  Now get packing!Today we made our monthly trek to the rather large, cavernous, favorite, horrible, boring mall. My child loves the place, but with its wide expanse and those tiny legs needing to see every remote corner from end to end, I pack like we’re going on holiday.

Because even though the place is huge, it has very little nutritious food.

With gas soaring over the $4 mark in L.A., and food prices rocketing, it also pays to pack a bag. Here’s what was in ours:

2 Klean Kanteens (love these, but: Can anyone spell?!

3 packs blue ice

2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

1 apple

6 strawberries

1 bag 100 calorie cookies from Trader Joe’s, to split

Try to find whole wheat anything or a piece of fruit at the mall. And even if you could, there’s no way it would be less expensive than the stuff from home. So I explain to the kid why we brought our own food while she eats all of the strawberries I brought (“This stuff isn’t as healthy”). There was only one woman over 30 in the small crowd around us who wasn’t overweight.

* * *

The majority of students in my class work, and most of them work about 20 hours a week. Between work and school, many of them do not have the time or money for decent lunch, and I often find that students are forced either to eat too little or not at all (or a third, rarer option: eating fast food). Many of my students eat breakfast, then scavenge a bag of chips and a caloric drink or wait until dinnertime to eat again, and as a consequence, they eat under 1,500 calories a day when they should be consuming over 2,000 for their age and activity level.

If they get into the working world and have cash but have not learned to eat well, it’s more than likely they’ll be (over)eating fast food or “quick service” food daily. Later they’ll be hitting the ubiquitous Office Candy Jar (there’s always one person who feels the need to stock a jar, eventually yoking their codependent colleagues into a food-ponzi scheme in which their collective guilt results in their contributing to the jar and the widening of their own asses so as not to be seen as a selfish candy-eating bastard), and then there’s dinner out with friends after work. By 30, they’re all starting to pack it on.

When I tell my students to pack a cooler bag with lunch, and take one to restaurants to save leftovers, they look at me like I’m their embarrassing aunt (the one who carries a giant cooler bag with a glass container within for leftovers and asks them about their sex life). Look, I get it — if you want need to be too cool for school, check out these boxes from I Love Obento. Seriously. You could tell them it’s a makeup bag you know? There’s even one you freeze in advance and carry in undercover (keep the very uncool cooler bag with refreezable ice in the car, especially in the summer). Or, take it in and tell them you’re delivering a heart to the operating room as soon as you’re done. I find this sometimes speeds up the service

How long is it safe to keep those leftovers/packed lunch? TWO HOURS MAX from the time it hits the table until it hits refrigerator temperatures (40 degrees if you like yourself). Anything between 40 and 140 F and the bacteria throw a luau in your honor, then go forth and multiply during the honeymoon.

That means when you’re dragging lunch to work or wherever, you need lots of that refreeze-able ice in there to keep the food at refrigerator temperatures to keep it safe. And it’s still not a refrigerator so you don’t have all day on the egg salad, know what I mean?

It also means that you’ll eat what your brought instead of whatever you can scavenge, which will save you a lot of money and help you eat correctly. Do the math: $7 on lunch a day, 5 days a week, $35 a week, $140 a month. Lunch from home generally averages under $2 a day, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s $3.50 a day. That still saves you $70 or more a month. And your lunch can include fruits and (gasp) vegetables, maybe even a salad. An apple never looked better than when you’re starving sitting at your desk around 10:30 (or 4:30). Especially if you are trying to avoid the candy jar.


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