Lunch Ideas: Pack your lunch to eat healthier and save money

One of the most basic ways to save money on a weekly basis is to take your lunch to work or school with you. A quick way to blow your food budget is to spend $8 or $10 for lunch every day. Taking your lunch with you takes a bit of effort and planning, but the benefits are well worth it.

When you pack your own lunch:

  • The food that you take with you will be prepared by you so you know exactly what you are getting and how fresh it is. 
  • Taking your lunch is an easy way of using leftovers that might otherwise go to waste. 
  • You will be able to make a healthier and more enjoyable meal when you plan it ahead of time and make it yourself instead of just grabbing something. 
  • You will spend less of your lunch hour driving and waiting to be served if you have your lunch with you. 
  • You can easily save $25. or more every week that you take lunch with you rather than buying it. That is a savings of $100. a month! 

Cutting costs when packing your lunch:

  • Prepare your own: cut your own cheese cubes, carrot sticks, etc. Buy large packages of crackers, chips, etc. and put them into reusable plastic lunch containers or zip bags. It is easy to cut a few extra vegetables for your lunch when you are cooking dinner the night before. 
  • Rethink sandwich meat: Be aware of how much you are paying for deli meat (either from the deli or pre-packaged). You are probably spending $6 to $8 a pound for turkey breast and even more for ham or roast beef! Instead you could be buying a whole turkey breast for 99 cents a pound and cooking and slicing it yourself. It is a little more work, but it is a lot cheaper, and tastes better too. (Plus you know you are getting pure turkey - not chopped and pressed meat with who-knows-what kind of additives!) 
  • Make baked goods: nutritious granola cookies are a welcome addition to any lunch or breakfast on the go. You can make many other types of cookies, muffins, or snack mix for lunches, too. 
  • Make your lunch the night before: Most of us are pressed for time in the morning, and it is too easy to just let it slide and say, "Oh well, I will just buy my lunch today." That is less likely to happen if you have already made your lunch the night before. I always make mine right after dinner when I am cleaning up the kitchen and putting leftovers away - often those leftovers are a part of my lunch! nch ideas
  • Use re-usable containers instead of disposable ones. Whether you spend a lot on high-end lunch containers, or inexpensive ones that you can throw away after several uses (such as those Glad and Ziplock make), you will still save money by reusing your containers instead of using them only once. Be sure to wash them thoroughly after each use to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Package your own: Buying chips, cookies, etc. in individual serving sized packages is much more expensive than buying larger packages and separating them into servings at home.
    Your cost per serving will be a fraction of what you would pay for the individual serving packages.

What to put in your lunch

Sandwiches are fine, but get boring after a while. Try some of these lunch ideas for some variety:

  • Leftover meat from last night's dinner cut in strips. Take with a salad and top the salad with the meat when you get ready to eat.
  • Mix leftover rice and cooked vegetables with a little bit of olive oil and soy sauce. Heat it up at lunchtime and enjoy a healthy homemade rice bowl. 
  • Burritos - easy to make by rolling refried beans, shredded cheese and a bit of salsa in a tortilla. Wrap it in plastic wrap or foil depending on how you plan to heat it up at lunch time. 
  • Pasta - either with sauce to eat hot, or cold and mixed with dressing and veggies as a pasta salad.

Instead of greasy chips or sweets, supplement your lunch with these healthy sides: ( remember to keep perishables cold) 

  • Salad in a resusable plastic container; put dressing on the side in a separate container
  • Cheese sticks (a good source of calcium and protein) 
  • Whole grain crackers or pretzels (crunch and healthy fiber) 
  • Fruit salad with grapes, melon chunks, blueberries, etc. 
  • Dried fruit doesn't need to be kept cold and doesn't bruise (raisins; dried apples or cranberries; banana chips) 
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts - good source of protein and healthy fats) 
  • Cold pasta salad, cole slaw, or potato salad 
  • Baby carrots or carrot slices with a container of dip 
  • Raw green beans with a container of ranch or french onion dip 
  • Yogurt 
  • Rice cakes 
  • Pita bread and hummus

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