Illustration: Ashley SIebels
It’s spring, and eating outside will become more popular over the next few weeks. A reminder: Next time you decide to Seamless your lunch, or go out with colleagues, or spend time on a long line at that salad place near the office, consider how much it will cost you in the long run, in money and calories.
According to a 2015 national survey based on 2,033 telephone interviews, Americans are spending an average of $2,746 a year on lunch.
The survey found that majority of Americans —42%— eat their homemade or purchased lunch at home. 15% of the respondents were desk lunch warriors, and 11% were eating in break rooms, while 5% dined in their employer’s cafeteria.
Americans who packed lunch or ate at home spent $6.30 per day on lunch while those who dined out at least twice a week spent $11.14. (We think those numbers are pretty conservative compared to the cost of lunch in big cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, where it’s not unusual to get a $15 salad several times a week).
It adds up: Buying just two lunches a week turned into $1,043 a year. Yikes.
Men were found to be more likely than women to spend more money on lunch by dining out and choosing fancier meals.
Out of all the geographic regions in the U.S., Southerners were found to be dropping the most money on lunch with up to $1,240 spent per year on average.
Eating at work can also cost you calories
Besides saving money, brown bagging lunch may also save your waistline. When you eat what you make, you know exactly what goes into your sandwich and you have the option of making healthier choices. The New York Times even has a set of recipes dedicated to elevating sad desk lunches.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest studied 250 popular menu items in national chains and family-style restaurants. CSPI nutritionist Jayne Hurley told Good Morning America that the researchers had trouble finding any healthy choices at all: “An entree or appetizer or dessert that is less than 1,000 calories is tough to find. That’s half of what you need for the whole day.”
For example, they found that a tuna sandwich that may seem like a healthy choice would end up being 830 calories, on average. If you make that same sandwich at home, it’s likely to be only 290 calories.
For the 31% of Americans who eat at work, the workplace itself is also fraught with snacking temptations that add up.
A 2016 Food, Culture & Society study looked into the eating habits of 25 university office workers and found that even health-conscious employees could be sabotaged by “food altars,” which were defined as “any site within an open workspace where food provided by individuals and brought from home is made available.”
Having a good work ethic is already seen as an expectation of your job responsibilities. But not as many people tell you that you’re going to need a good health ethic too.