Written by Erin Chase, 5DollarDinners.com
Whether you’re eating lunch at home or brown-bagging it at the office, lunch is one of those times when people often turn to convenience foods and end up making unhealthy choices. Below are five tips for how to eat healthy, budget friendly lunches, without spending forever packing them every morning.
1. Build Your Own Salad
Salads are nutritious, delicious, simple and a perfect lunch for people from all diet-walks! Whether you’re gluten free, vegetarian, a chicken lover or almond lover, salads work for everyone because you can build your own to suit your tastes and build them based on what produce is on sale each week.
Above is a salad topped with avocado, mango, along with goat cheese and a light vinaigrette, because avocados and mangoes were on sale at my stores last week, and goat cheese is a staple in my refrigerator.
Tips for Saving on Lettuce: If you eat salad 3-4 times per week, then consider buying a larger shell of salad mix from a warehouse store, as the price per ounce will be less than the grocery store, typically.
2. Make Ahead Sandwiches
Add 2 slices of bread to a baggie and drop a mustard or mayo packet (leftover from a restaurant takeout order!) in with the bread. Add sandwich meat and cheese to a different baggie and add keep in a special box or drawer in your fridge. Come time for lunch packing, you can grab a baggie or bread and condiments, then grab the chilled meats and cheese and drop them into your lunch box or bag. At lunch, you can assemble your sandwich and it won’t be soggy!
Nutrition Boosting Swaps: Use whole wheat bread instead of partial or white bread, and use low calorie spreads like spicy mustard or honey mustard sauce.
3. Pasta or Quinoa Salads
On Sunday evening when you’re making dinner, cook a pot of pasta or quinoa and make up a quick pasta or quinoa salad that you can enjoy all week long during your lunch break. You could mix up Four Bean Quinoa, or ‘Toss It In’ Pasta Salad, or Mediterranean Quinoa.
Make-Ahead Lunch Prep: Chop up veggies and cut up fruit at the beginning of the week. Add some sweet potato chips or pretzels into snack or sandwich size baggies and stash in a drawer near your lunch packing area.
4. Pack-n-Run Lunch
Whole pieces of fruit like bananas, apples, grapes or mandarin oranges work perfectly for grab-n-go lunches. Toss in a baggie of whole-grain crackers or pretzels, along with something that you’ve made ahead and frozen in advance. Keep some hard boiled eggs in the fridge for a quick-packing protein boost too.
5. Hot Lunch Leftovers
When it’s time to cook up a soup, chili or casserole, double it up so you have a few lunch portions later in the week. When you put it away in the fridge, package it up into meal size plastic containers so you can grab it and run on out the door into your busy day. Grab a hunk of bread from the loaf, drop in a few crackers and piece of fruit and your lunch is ready in less than a minute!
What’s your favorite inexpensive and healthy lunch to enjoy? Do you have any other time or money saving lunch packing tips or tricks to share!?
Erin Chase is the frugal home chef behind 5DollarDinners.com and author of the $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook series. When not scurrying around the kitchen making batches of muffins and potfuls of spaghetti sauce, she can be found chasing her 4 little boys and her furry son around the neighborhood. She lives with her husband and team of hungry boys in San Antonio, TX.