Brown-Baggin' It? Here's a Price Comparison of 10 Sandwiches.

I don’t know how many people pack their lunch every day for school or work, but I think it is safe to say that the number can be measured in millions.  What I do know, though, is that packing your lunch is more economical and almost always healthier than eating out at a burger joint or some other greasy spoon.

Of course, I think we can all agree that there are certainly different degrees of “economical.”

And so it was, with school right around the corner and the Honeybee gearing up again for another season of making sandwiches for the kids’ brown bag lunches, I was curious to know which sandwiches were the most economical and which ones, if we weren’t careful, could end up putting the squeeze on our grocery budget.

To answer that question I first had to determine what sandwiches to include in my survey. The goal was to try and estimate the 10 most popular brown-bag sandwiches.  I ultimately settled on the following: peanut butter & jelly; bologna; tuna; ham & swiss; roast beef & cheddar; egg salad; salami; american cheese; turkey; and bacon, lettuce & tomato.

I then had to determine the per-serving costs of all of the various sandwich ingredients. So, I took a quick trip down to my local grocery store and, with notebook and pen in hand, proceeded to take down price and serving size information off of applicable product labels and price tags.

For consistency in determining prices of the individual ingredients, I did my best to ensure that I only selected items with the cheapest per unit costs, regardless of brand. For simplicity, I also assumed all sandwiches would be made with wheat bread.

Here are the results of my price survey, conducted on 17 August 2009, which also includes the sandwich serving size and per-serving cost for each ingredient:

With that data in hand, and using my handy spreadsheet, it was no effort at all to determine the most economical sandwiches. Here are the official Len Penzo dot Com rankings of ten common brown bag sandwiches based upon their total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive:


Now we can split hairs all day long on the exact make-up of each sandwich listed. I realize some people don’t use any spreads at all, and others prefer two or three slices of bologna on their sandwiches. But to be consistent I kept to the listed serving sizes on the nutritional labels.

If you make your sandwiches differently, you can simply look at my shopping survey numbers in the top figure and adjust the sandwich costs in the bottom chart accordingly.

Observations and Tips

- Bologna is often accused of being a very expensive lunch meat, but as my survey shows, this is not the case. The fact is, a bologna sandwich is one of the most economical sandwiches you can make. Indeed, sales of bologna tend to spike during poor economic times.

- In terms of cost, there are three distinct tiers, with salami, bologna and peanut butter in the most economical group, and the roast beef & cheddar, and BLT sandwiches grouped in the least economical tier. The remaining five sandwiches fell in the middle tier.

- The price of condiments adds very little to the cost of the sandwich.

- Tomatoes are great to put on a sandwich, but they are relatively expensive. You can save significant money by growing your own!

- If you want to save money on ham lunch meat, get a small whole ham from the meat cooler, take it to the butcher and have him slice it up.  You can then package and refrigerate a week’s worth of sandwiches. The remainder can then be frozen for later use.  It’s not only cheaper per unit price than the pre-sliced lunch meat, but it tastes better too!

- When it comes to brown baggin’ it, even the most expensive sandwiches on the list are still cheaper than going out for lunch!

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