In years past, it was considered acceptable for schoolchildren and construction workers to tote midday meals, but up-and-coming executives would never have been caught carrying a packed lunch to the office. Today, it's a very different story--more than 55% of U.S. households have at least one brown-bagger, and of that number, 70% of the lunches are toted by adults, including many business executives and professionals.
These figures, as well as the forecast that the proportion is still growing, come from the Brown Bag Institute, brainchild of ex-advertising executive David Lyon. Throughout the past 4 1/2 years, the organization has completed 11,000 telephone interviews delving into who the brown-baggers are and what they carry, as well as their wants, needs and thoughts.
The chief reason people carry lunches, according to Lyon, is "not to save money, but so they can eat a lunch that corresponds to their life style and personal goals." They do, of course, enjoy the fact they are saving money, he said.
Convenience also ranks high on the list of why people tote their midday meals. They can take a nibble whenever they want or eat quickly and use the rest of their lunch hour to shop or exercise. For many, taking their lunch eliminates the necessity of driving at noontime.
By packing their lunches, brown-baggers are assured of getting ingredients they know and trust in the quantity desired. Many of the people interviewed by the Brown Bag Institute consider the majority of purchased lunches too large. Small lunches seem to be the trend.
Another statistic uncovered in the institute's research is that more than one-third of brown-bag lunches are carried by people from households with annual incomes of more than $30,000. It's "not a poor-folks phenomenon--brown-bagging is a finicky-folks phenomenon," Lyon said. These are people who "insist on having things done their own way."
Not too surprising is the fact that more women carry lunches than do men. Since women seem to favor lighter foods, this statistic may partially account for why salads are gaining on sandwiches as the most popular item in the packed lunch.
Although Lyon's research shows more than $40 billion being spent annually on brown-bagging, he feels this market continues to be all but ignored. Lyon sells the research to companies interested in developing products geared to packed lunches, but he still sees only minimal effort being made to tap the huge void.
In the final analysis, it appears people must still depend mostly on their own ingenuity and creativity when packing noontime meals. Unlike children, who often prefer to carry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for weeks on end, most adults prefer variety. We developed some alternatives to augment and add some interest to the usual repertoire.
Conversations with different lunch-toters led to an idea for getting around the everyday task of packing a lunch--find someone with the same general food preferences and alternate doing the toting. With this in mind, and because it seems that a lot of twosomes lunch together, some recipes were developed to serve two.
All recipes are based on the premise that foods should be easy and quick to prepare, since most of those interested in this type of lunching probably have neither the time nor inclination to spend more than a few minutes in the kitchen. Some recipes make use of leftovers, which can provide variety. Other recipes adapt well to being frozen and thawed when needed.
Brown Bag Institute statistics indicate a large percentage of lunch carriers have access to refrigerators and microwave ovens at work. This eliminates many of the obstacles for keeping foods cold or heating and reheating, but when appliances are not available, the wide variety of insulated bags and bottles now readily available will do the trick.
Our research unearthed a wealth of interesting alternatives to the standard lunch box or brown bag. Some of these are pictured below and examined in this week's "Kitchen Cabinet" column on Page 2.
BAKED PORK BUNS
1 (1-pound) loaf frozen bread dough
3/4 pound boneless pork
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup catsup
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
Allow bread dough to thaw until pliable. Trim pork and cut into 1/4-inch cubes.
Saute pork, onion and garlic in oil in small saucepan until meat is browned. Stir in soy sauce, catsup, hoisin sauce, sugar and rice wine vinegar. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 25 minutes, stirring frequently.
Slice bread dough into 8 pieces. Stretch each piece to 4-inch circle. Place 1 heaping tablespoon pork filling on each dough piece. Pinch dough edges in toward center. Place buns, smooth sides up, on lightly greased baking sheet. Let rise 1 hour.
Combine egg yolk and water and use to brush tops of buns. Bake at 325 degrees 25 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 8 buns.
1 small zucchini