LIVING

Lunch Money: Canadians Wasting Money On Daily Lunches

07/09/2012 03:56 EDT | Updated 09/08/2012 05:12 EDT
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TORONTO - A new survey suggests more than half of Canadians head to a restaurant for lunch at least once a week — a habit that's costing many Canucks some serious dough.

The poll by Visa Canada suggests that while eating out might be convenient, the price tag attached to that "gourmet" sandwich is not so appealing.

The survey suggests the majority of the 60 per cent of Canadians who eat out once a week spend between $7 and $13 on their meal.

It also suggests the average Canadian who opts to buy a lunch spends about $8.80 on the meal — and Ontarians appear to eat out the most often, with 20 per cent hitting up restaurants three or more days per week.

Quebecers, on the other hand, seem to make a habit of packing their own lunch more than anyone else, with the survey suggesting half brown bag it every day.

Andrew Rice, a Toronto-based senior financial advisor with Stewart and Kett Finacial Advisors Inc., says it's unreasonable to pledge never to eat out, but there are a few tricks to avoid doing so all the time.

His first tip is to add up the cost of eating out over a prolonged period of time.

After tax, eating out three times per week at $8.80 a pop could add up to about $20,000 after 10 years, he said.

"Spread that out over five years," Rice said. "Is it really that much of an inconvenience (to pack lunch)?"

If that's not enough of an inspiration, he suggests bringing some fruit and a drink from home, and grabbing just a simple sandwich while you're at work.

"Some is better than none," he said.

Lazy lunching can be detrimental not only to Canadians' wallets, but also to their health, according to one nutrition expert.

Aviva Allen, a Toronto-based nutritionist, said it's best to pack lunches whenever possible.

While Allen acknowledges the never-ending time crunch many are under, she offers some solutions to combat the desire to grab a quick bite.

She suggests fish or whole wheat pasta with a tomato-based sauce, veggies and protein as options for a healthy, and relatively painless to prepare, lunch.

She also suggests doing some prep work, like washing and chopping, on the weekends, when there's more free time and less hunting for one's keys before making a mad dash out the door.

"Making things like soup or stew in larger batches that you can freeze or use for other meals during the week, that can also help," she said.

A stirfry is also a good option, she said, as long as it's light on the soy sauce.

If eating out is unavoidable, Allen said awareness is key.

Salads always seem like a healthy choice, but if they're accompanied by fat-laden dressing and "deep-fried crunchy things," the nutrition factor goes down drastically.

"If you eat very well for all of your meals and then have a few lunches out per week, it probably won't have a huge impact. But that's not the case for most Canadians," she said. "It really can add up over the course of the week, and the month, and the year when you factor in all of the extra calories and sodium."

Ideal options for restaurant lunches include handrolls made with brown rice, sashimi, and salad bars, according to Allen.

But at the end of the day, there's always a lesser evil no matter where a person buys their lunch, she said.

"Even within those (fast food) restaurants, there are still some choices that are better than others."

Avoiding excessively deep fried foods and opting for something with a least a slice of tomato can help, she said.

"There's always going to be a healthier choice and a less healthy choice at any place you dine," Allen said.

"You have to make the best choices you can for the menu that you're working with."