What if there was a way where you could get healthier and save money at the same time? It might sound too good to be true, but behold the mighty power of bringing your own lunch to work!
I discovered a site called Workweek Lunch, run by New Yorker Talia Koren. I was pretty hooked immediately – her writing style and food choices really appealed to me! Making a burrito bowl for lunch? Yes!
I reached out to Talia because, well, when I find something that really piques my interest, I want to get to know the person behind it and find out more about them! What were her motivations for starting Workweek Lunch?
“I wanted to start a blog geared towards helping people. That’s my number one, I want to help people. I had started bringing my lunch to work to save money and be in more control of my health, and my co-workers started noticing it. They’d say things like, “Oh, that smells so good!” or “How do you have time for this?” I just kept hearing this over and over again, and that kind of clicked. This was a basic skill I had that people may want to adopt. It wasn’t something I had to go to school for. It was something that I could teach people! That was the motivation for starting the blog.”
How often did you use to pack lunch to work?
“At first, three times a week. I would cook on a Sunday and make three meals, and then on the other two days I’d buy something and go out with my friends. Then, it started getting easier because I got faster at cooking. I could cook in the middle of the week. I also enjoyed the effects of it. I lost some weight, I felt more energetic and I had more money in my bank that wasn’t going towards food. It’s not cheap in the city! You’re usually going to spend about 12 dollars for a meal, and you’re doing it every day. That gave me a little bit of flexibility, because after work I could go and have a drink or dinner with a friend, because I didn’t pay for lunch.”
What was her cooking schedule like?
“So, though I’m not cooking every day, I’m still eating fresh food.”
“Meal planning is really important! Some weeks I’m more social and some weeks I’m kind of staying home every night. If it’s a busy week, I can cook five lunches on a Sunday, and figure out dinner as I go. If it’s a slow week, I’ll cook 3 meals on a Sunday, and two on a Wednesday. I plan my leftovers in a way. So, though I’m not cooking every day, I’m still eating fresh food. Now I work from home as a freelancer so my schedule is more flexible.”
How much does Talia estimate she’s saved from her making her own lunch?
“I’ve probably cut my restaurant budget in half. From 150 dollars I went down to 75 dollars a month. If I compare my old spending habits to my new ones, I save about 200 bucks a month. I’ve also stopped drinking and going out for coffee so much. I also stopped buying treats. I love cookies and milkshakes, but now I make them at home!”
Was that more of a rollover effect of one good habit, or did she make a conscious decision to stop eating more sugary things?
“I think the first. It’s like when you start one good habit, it kind of affects another. You don’t want to screw up the effects of that one good habit, so it actually motivates you to work out or find alternatives to sugar!”
I read a piece she had written- Just Skip The Juice Cleanse: Health Advice From Dr. Lauretta Ihonor. In Talia’s opinion, what were common health food misconceptions?
“Your body needs actual food.”
“Oh my God, there are so many, and it really kind of bums me out. Crash diets are a really common one. People are like, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to start eating only kale.’ But they don’t realize you have to gradually get yourself there, or the habit just won’t stick. You’re going to eat kale for 2 days and then go right back to what you used to eat and feel guilty. Another one is juice cleanses. Even if it’s not chemical, and you’re just having regular juice, it’s still not going to stick. Your body needs actual food. So there are these two. And also, it bleeds into working out. Like, if you say you’re going to work out every day, if it’s not something you already do, you’re going to have to slowly introduce it gently into your life. Plan for the fact that your life is chaotic. Be aware that it may not work every week. And that’s okay!”
A lot of people think healthy food is overpriced, or that you have to go organic in order to truly be healthy. What are her thoughts on this?
“For the organic stuff, I think Whole Foods is just a sham.”
“I have an unpopular opinion on this! I don’t think healthy food has to be expensive as long as you have access to produce that’s in season. It depends on where you’re at in the world and what the season is, like right now blueberries are expensive in New York but in the summer they’re cheap. But, if you really look at the prices of fresh produce vs canned, it makes more sense to buy fresh and it’s also better for you.
For the organic stuff, I think Whole Foods is just a sham. People like to go there, and they get the bag, and they feel healthy because they’re walking out of the store with a Whole Foods bag, but at the same time, you don’t need to overspend just to get the same healthy products. Did you know that WalMart actually has amazing produce? I have this low-end grocery store that I shop at, and it has awesome produce. If I shop the same way at Whole Foods, I’d probably spend 25% more. Of course, there are certain brands that you can get at Whole Foods, like if you have a dietary restriction like not being able to eat gluten, maybe it’s easier for you to shop there. But when it comes to produce, you don’t need to shop Whole Foods. Organic doesn’t even mean anything anymore as companies find loopholes to include that label on their products. Organic and natural are not words that carry too much weight right now.”
What’s her average grocery bill like?
“Fifty dollars a week!”
It’s true that there are a lot of produce out there which are really accessible to everyone. For example, bananas.
“Fruit is so cheap, honestly. Yes, it depends on the fruit, but I eat apples, bananas, grapefruit and mangoes every week. And sweet potato is my favourite food! It’s very healthy, and it’s very filling. It’s comfort food! I want to tell people that if you cook healthy food, it doesn’t have to be gross. You can make the food you like. I like making a burrito bowl because it’s what I like, and it’s what I buy at Chipotle. I don’t need to buy at Chipotle to eat a good burrito bowl.”
“Why am I spending twelve dollars on this every time, when I can make this so easily?”
“What really inspired me to start cooking is this place called Dig Inn, which is a healthy fast casual chain here. You choose one protein, and two sides — a veggie and a starch. I always got salmon, sweet potato and kale. Eventually I realized I can make this. Why am I spending twelve dollars on this every time, when I can make this so easily?
Also, it made me feel like crap, because you don’t know what they’re cooking with. You can’t control how much of it you’re eating. When I cook, I can control all of that.”
When she cooks her own salmon, kale and sweet potato, what does she estimate the cost of it is?
“I buy half a pound of salmon, and that usually gives me three servings. That’s six dollars, so it’s two dollars a serving. Then again, some salmon are more expensive, so it depends. And sweet potatoes, well, again, it’s different for everyone. I probably eat less than the average 24-year-old man. But for me, one sweet potato gives me two servings. I get a head of broccoli, and that gives me three servings if I cut it up. That would be twelve dollars for three meals. But that cost varies depending on how much you eat!
That’s a lot of savings! One third of the price you’d normally pay!
“Yeah, and it doesn’t need to be extreme! My lifestyle is more extreme now because I’m freelancing, and I have this very important savings goal, so I’m motivated to keep my costs as low as possible. I’m motivated to not eat out, and to invite my friends over for dinner instead of going out with them.
I was brought up in a family where money was never an issue. I was used to a certain lifestyle. But now I feel like money is a tool, and I need to be more aware of it. I had to change my lifestyle. I used to love buying clothes. I was spending 400 bucks a month on clothes alone!
But now, I’m happier having even less stuff and not buying clothes. I’m not focused on buying stuff anymore.”
What health advice would you like to give to people?
“Focus on what makes you happy and ignore what other people are doing.”
“Just be realistic about what you want, and what would make you happy. There’s so much pressure out there with social media, with people working out and getting fit. It feels like it should matter, but maybe, just let go of that if deep down it’s just not a priority. Maybe you don’t care! Sometimes, it’s okay if you don’t care that you don’t have abs. We worry, oh, I don’t look like this fitness model on Instagram. But, do you really want to? What happiness would that actually bring you? We feel like we should want to look thin and run five miles every morning, but would that actually make you happy? Personally, I want to keep working out because I want to be strong for the sports that I enjoy and keep my body functioning the way it should be, but I recently realized I don’t want to look like a stick. I’m not a bikini model, so what’s the point? I used to try so hard, I used to eat really restrictively and work out twice a day, because I used to care. And once I stopped caring, I got a lot happier. So my best advice is, focus on what makes you happy and ignore what other people are doing.”
If the world was her oyster, and she had no financial or monetary limits, what would her ideal life look like?
“This is random, but I have a dream of snowboarding everywhere in the world. I would probably travel until I’ve hit every single continent that has snow on it. And, something I’d really like to do, is work with kids or young women, maybe those who are disabled or underprivileged in some kind of way, and get them on the slopes! It’s such a confidence booster for me, and I’d love to be able to give that gift to others through teaching. Everyone should have a hobby or practice that helps them get focused and feel centered. If I can help give that to someone, it would be just incredible! Right now, the whole reason I am living way below my means (and cooking all of the time) is to be able to move to Utah this year and start living my dream to be near the mountains. It motivates me every day.”