A Nordic perspective: Matpakke

I don’t know if this is just me, but a lot of the time when I am reading about people who “brownbag” their lunch in order to save money, I often get the impression that this often stems from a scarcity mindset. They’re missing out on nice lunches out with coworkers, or they just can’t get over how much less exciting their own lunch is compared to what they’re used to paying a lot of money for every day.

When we moved to London for two years, this was such a surprise to me to see firsthand. Almost everybody, even if they’re just earning a minimum wage, still shell out anything from £3-10+ on a daily midday meal. Which means that, if you’re earning £7 an hour, you have to work almost an hour, or more, just to eat during work! And that’s not even taking into the account the cost of commuting, which often drains another hour daily out of the paycheck. To make examples simple, some people spend around two hours of their eight hour workday, simply paying for the privilege of going to work! It boggles the mind!

The matpakke

Now, when I went to primary and secondary school, there were no cafeterias. There were no school lunches and living somewhat out of town, there were no grocery shops close to primary school either. Now, there are good things and bad things about not having a cafeteria, the bad obviously being that if you didn’t bring your lunch, you won’t eat. Also, lunch was typically considered a cold meal when I grew up. When you got up to make your breakfast (our classic Norwegian breakfast mostly consisting of two slices of bread with various toppings), you made your lunch at the same time (also, you guessed it, two slices of bread in a box or wrapped in paper).

Growing up in a working class family, everyone would do this. My brothers, my father and myself all ate this “matpakke” every work or school day for lunch. My father had the added adult version, which included a small thermos of coffee. This was what I grew up with, and knowing no other normal, I happily ate what I got.

As I entered secondary school, being a little more health-conscious, things started getting fancy. When we had it in the house, we might include things like a peeled carrot, an apple, a pear or some other reasonably priced fruit or vegetable. At secondary school, there was a grocery store in walking distance, but I never got any lunch money so… matpakke it was.

This continued into high school. Here, for the first time in my life, I was introduced to a real, working school cafeteria. The selection would be considered scarce by countries used to school lunches, I am sure, as it usually consisted of baguettes or bagels with ham and cheese or some other, simple spread, a couple of drinks, some fruit and on Fridays there were (cold from lying out so long) waffles. For someone used to getting my lunch from home, prices were beyond steep, and not something I was willing to spend limited pocket money on.


For anyone reading this, I guess it comes as no surprise that my matpakke was something I brought with me, even at I moved to the other side of the country to attend university and started to receive a monthly stipend. While a part-time job or extra support from home is more common, I was those 1 in 10 who lived 100% on my stipend. This was possible only because I did not have a car, I did not smoke or drink, and I did not buy cafeteria food (or eat out in general) on a regular basis. This allowed me to focus on my studies, although in retrospect, I probably should have started a sidehustle or two.

By this time, I am starting to grow tired of two tired slices of bread with something on them. Crazy as this might have seemed at the time, I started experimenting with dinner leftovers and specifically cooked lunch items. This is also where bulk cooking grew into a habit, and I could often cook a large batch of rice on a Sunday, only to add soy sauce and freshly cut vegetables every morning. Easy and filling.

Bulk cooking wins the week!

Kneipp and beyond

Kneipp bread is the most common and cheapest brad in Norway. It is the only bread you can still get that’ll cost you a dollar or less. Naturally, this was what I grew up on, and naturally, I was so fed up with it by the time I moved out.

Having grown up on Kneipp though, it doesn’t take much for me to really feel excited about my lunch. Got a tasty curry? That’s going to warm me right up! Had some wraps the other night? Pack some up and bring along for a real treat. Rice and beans with vegetables on top? Fills me right up! My attitude to my matpakke is one of abundance. I am feeling so privileged to be able to eat tasty and varied dishes on a day to day basis.

I have even levelled up from there! Getting lazier in my older years, I have even taken to buying and bringing bags of oats, salt, raisins and cinnamon to work. That way, I always have something to eat, even if I work late and end up needing a second meal. Since my oats are prepared my mixing everything and then pouring hot water from a kettle onto it, I even get another abundance boost as the weather is turning colder by cradling my nice, luxuriously warm lunch. How lucky am I?

So, if you are one of those who wants to save tons of money, but dread having to pack your own lunch. Make it easy on yourself! Cook in bulk or pack it the night in advance, so all you have to do is grab the box as you run out the door. Try to approach it, not as a deprivation, but as a glorious savings technique that will launch you into a greater life of savings and potential financial freedom on the other side. Don’t let yourself pay for the privilege of working by shelling out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars every year, just on a simple, midday meal!

Matpakke to the people!

3 Comments on “A Nordic perspective: Matpakke

  1. Great article! The matpakke is an institution in Norway and I love it! This brought back so many memories of my family when I was growing up in the UK. My mum would make my dad’s, sister’s and my ‘lunch boxes’ the evening before… even the part where you say the ‘adult version’ of the mattpakke had me nodding in agreement! Norwegians enjoy bread that is sooo much better than UK bread. Your Kneippbrød would be toward the higher end of UK bread! We have so much of the long life processed stuff, and a lot of it is white bread. White bread was pretty much banned in my family but we had plenty of boarderline-bland wholemeal!

  2. Having lived in London, I have to agree, your processed, pre-sliced, white square loafs kind of scare me. But sometimes we’d shell out on SB “Taste the difference” line, and those loafs are really nice! (Still very white though). I’m glad mine is not the only family/country enjoying this proud tradition!

  3. Pingback: Frugal Friday: The story of oats - Frugasaurus

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