My lunch hour at work can be fraught with decisions.  Should I go out to eat?  That can be expensive; if the restaurant’s running slow I may not get back to work on time; and worst of all, there are few things worse than looking forward to your tasty-sounding menu item all day only to discover it just doesn’t live up to expectation.

The solution: pack lunch the night before.  Not only is it cheaper and quicker, but ironically, I have more dining options when I bring food from home, since my only limitations are my creativity and my ability to put the microwave to use.  Best of all, since I can control the ingredients in food I prepare for myself, I can make sure that my lunch uses foods with low virtual water footprints.

One classic lunch option: the baked potato.   A kilogram of potatoes uses only 287 liters of water and you can top it with whatever you want for some extra flavor.  We advise against meats  and dairy products like sour cream or cheese,  but if you top it with your favorite veggies, a dash of olive oil and spices, or heck, even just standard salt and pepper, you have a meal that’s not only inexpensive and water conscious – but it’s low fat and low sugar, too.

Generally speaking, vegetables and fruits are the most water-conscious options.  That doesn’t mean every meal has to be a salad, though (although salads are really green options.)  Vegetables can be combined in any number of ways – make a stir fry, make a soup with vegetable broth, make a pasta salad, or make a casserole.  Depending on which veggies you use and how you flavor them, you’ll see all sorts of water savings beyond what you’d have with a meat-based lunch.

Of course, there’s one meal that seems almost synonymous with brown bag lunches: the sandwich.  Unfortunately, sandwiches are also, simply, not a great choice if you’re trying to save water.  First, bread (and anything grain-based) has a large virtual water footprint: a kilogram of bread uses over 1,600 liters of water.   And then there’s the filling.  As we’ve noted before, meat has a high virtual water content, but even vegetarian sandwich fillings tend to use water-intensive ingredients.

Take grilled cheese, for example.  With almost double the virtual water footprint of bread (3,000 liters per kg), cheese is not exactly a blue option.  Peanut butter is made from groundnuts with a similar footprint of 3,100 liters per kilogram  and egg salad is made of all sorts of unhealthy ingredients, including eggs (53 gallons per egg) and mayonnaise.  Ultimately, our best advice is to skip the sandwiches altogether.

So whether your goal is to save money, eat healthier, or go green, with a bit of pre-planning packed lunches are the way to go.