Easy to Pack Lunches on a Budget

Easy to pack Lunches that are cheaper than eating out

Probably one of the biggest misconceptions my clients have is that it is easier (and cheaper) to buy lunch than to pack it. I have to admit that sometimes the last thing I want to do after my husband I have put the kids to bed and cleaned the kitchen, is to pack lunches. However, it’s SO much better when you are rushing in the morning to already have lunches ready to go in the fridge. It’s SO much healthier than eating out, and even if you have access to healthy choices such as a salad bar, it SAVES YOU MONEY in the long run to pack lunches. You can always fix more of your dinner to have the next day, but a lot of times we don’t have access to a microwave or we want something fresh. Clients ask me all the time, what can I pack besides a sandwich? A lot of people are on a tight grocery budget and think that it’s cheaper to buy from the dollar menu, but they will spend precious time waiting in a line and driving to a restaurant. I am here to tell you that packing your lunch saves TIME and MONEY, and who doesn’t need that?

Some staples I keep in my fridge, pantry and freezer for quick meals are: frozen broccoli, frozen corn, shredded carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, salad greens (lettuce/kale/spinach), canned wild tuna, frozen wild caught shrimp, frozen gyozas or dumplings, frozen vegetable mixes, quinoa, rice noodles, canned beans, canned tomatoes, and shredded or shaved parmesan cheese (which goes with everything). That could be another post in itself! I have compiled a list of easy, cost-friendly lunches that are packable. Some are eaten cold and some will need microwaving. Many of these are also child-appropriate. I would suggest throwing in a fruit or yogurt/milk with these to round-out the lunch or to have as a snack. 

Turkey Salad with Tomato and Avocado -  This recipe is from Real Simple. You can sub sliced chicken, ham, pork or beef. If I buy deli meat, I buy uncured, nitrate/nitrate-free meats for my family; You can use meat sliced right off the bone of your dinner roast for this salad to lower the sodium. If you don’t like avocado, you can add 2 Tbsp almond slivers or black olive slices to replace some of the fat. You can also top with salsa to add a bit of kick!

Mediterranean Salad – 2 cups Romaine lettuce, 1.5 oz feta cheese, 1/4 cup white cannelini beans, 4-5 sliced grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, 2 pepperocini peppers, 4 black olives, halved; I would use an oil and red wine vinegar mix with lemon juice or a light Balsalmic or Olive oil vinaigrette dressing. You can reduce the size of a salad and put it into a pita pocket.

Salmon Wrap – see recipes on my Pinterest page (link here). You can use canned salmon, smoked salmon, canned tuna, or left-over fish for a lot of these. I just recommend using no more than a Tbsp of light mayo at one meal. You could also use my Tuna Salad with Pizzazz for a wrap! 

Left-over rice or pasta mix-up  – If you have 2/3 cup of left-over rice, quinoa or pasta, toss in some (2 Tbsp) black beans, (2 Tbsp) frozen corn kernels, diced green pepper/red pepper and/or sliced scallions (green onions). For an asian flare, use shredded carrot, red pepper strips, snow pea pods, frozen broccoli florets or frozen soy beans. For an Italian or Greek-style dish, throw in roasted red peppers, small tomatoes, 1 oz feta cheese, a few olives, and 1 cup spinach. Put in a container, then top with a 2 ounces frozen pre-cooked shrimp or cooked chicken (can use canned). Microwave when you are ready to eat.

Veggie Dumplings/Gyoza with Protein – This works great when you literally no time to pack a lunch. Put in 3-4 frozen vegetable gyozas (or dumplings, as most people know them), 4 large frozen broccoli florets or a handful of frozen asian vegetables, 2 Tbsp of frozen corn kernels, some shredded carrot, and 2-3 large frozen shrimp.  I put all of the frozen ingredients into the container in the morning and refrigerate at work. Before I microwave, I sprinkle in about 1.5-2 Tbsp of water for moisture. I may take along some low-sodium soy sauce or citrus-ginger salad dressing to sprinkle on for flavor.

Make your own Lunchable – I absolutely despise Lunchables, but they are popular because they are convenient. You can pack 6 whole-grain or rice crackers or some pretzel sticks, 1 ounce of cheese in small pieces, 2 ounces of deli-meat (cut into smaller pieces), 10-12 grapes or a clementine,  a yogurt cup/tube and 2 Tbsp chocolate-covered almonds or yogurt-covered raisins for something sweet. 

Egg salad wrap – spread very thinly-sliced cucuber on wrap; mash 1 hard boiled egg and 1 hard boiled egg white (a sliced egg tends to fall out) with 2 teaspoon of light mayo, plain greek yogurt, or honey mustard and spread on top of cucumber. Place spinach, kale, lettuce, or watercress leaves on top and roll into a wrap. I happen to think that a few splashes of hot sauce and/or some jalapeno slices are EXCELLENT with this if you like some heat.

Tuna or salmon salad in avocado – Take your homemade tuna (or salmon) salad and place into a pitted avocado half.

Topped potato –  If you are baking potatoes or roasting potatoes (even mashed potatoes work), make extra for lunch the next day. Place in a container (use half of a baked potato) and top with beans, some frozen broccoli florets, and sprinkle with shredded cheese/feta cheese/goat cheese for the microwave. You can top with scallions, salsa and greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Rice cakes with fruit and protein – Spread your favorite cream cheese, goat cheese (with honey!), soft cheese, hummus, or nut butter onto rice cakes. Place thin slices of crisp apple or pear between two cakes. Sometimes instead of fruit and cream cheese, I may use Cucumber and tomato slices with goat cheese. topped with uncured turkey bacon or pepperoni slices. This obviously works with bread also.

Buffalo (sort-of) chicken salad – romaine lettuce,cooked chicken strips or canned chicken (2 ounces), 1 ounce crumbled blue cheese, cucumber, celery, grape tomato slices, and 2 Tbsp of a a yogurt-based dressing or LIGHT blue cheese dressing. I would recommend some carrot shreds also. Top with hot sauce as desired!  Make it into a wrap or ptia pocket. If you don’t eat it with any kid of bread, make sure you eat a fruit or maybe some corn chips with this meal for needed carbs.

Steak flatbread – Don’t throw away that small piece of steak left! Slice left-over steak from dinner into thin slices (about 2 ounces) or use deli roast beef slices. Before assembling sandwich, reheat the steak as desired. Take a pita and top with salad greens or arugula, sliced grape tomatoes, red onion slivers, and 1 ounce of shredded parmesan/crumbled blue cheese/shredded cheddar/goat cheese. Salad mixture can be made in advance and put on top of the pita. Put steak on the very top. Use a light dressing as desired.

These are but a few examples of how you can have delicious, healthy, and affordable lunches at work or at home. I would suggest searching on the internet as well because there are many easy lunch box ideas located on the web (Pinterest, Food Network, Eating Well, Cooking Light, etc). Good luck!