Whether you have a 9 to 5 job in an office or you’re someone who works from home, your stomach will inevitably start to grumble around midday.
As a freelancer, I usually start to get hungry around noon, but I don’t always have a prepared lunch on hand. The best days are those when I know there are leftovers in the fridge ready to be reheated. On days when there’s no Tupperware filled with yesterday’s dinner, I’m irritable and cranky. I hate making lunch.
I’m the primary food prep person in my house, and it takes me at least 60 minutes to plan and budget a week of upcoming dinners. Then, I need to grocery shop, put everything away, and eventually cook it all. It’s work I enjoy, but it’s also exhausting.
Most days, I just don’t have the energy to make lunch. I have no interest in messing up my kitchen for two meals in a row. Breakfast, thankfully, is a lot simpler. I rarely spend time cooking anything, and if I do, I try to use a single pan (e.g., for scrambled eggs).
Lunch, however, can be a struggle. You can eat anything for lunch — which makes picking out food options really tough. Think about your Netflix habits. Who among us hasn’t spent 30 minutes browsing all the options only to give up entirely?
With too much choice (and the prospect of having to mess up my kitchen twice in one day) I’m reluctant to put much effort into making lunch.
I also find it tough to budget for that extra midday meal. Ideally, I’d have enough leftovers to portion, but that’s not always possible, and traditional premade lunch items are pretty pricey. And though meal prepping is a great way to ensure your fridge is topped up with healthy, delicious lunches for the week, it’s not the only option. There are a host of cheap lunch ideas out there.
Here are 30 cheap lunch ideas to take to work, school, or to just eat at home.
Leftovers And Meal Prepping
If you’re short on time weekdays, the easiest way to save money on lunches is to work them into your dinner plans. Make an extra serving (or more) when cooking supper and immediately portion out the necessary number of servings into food storage containers.
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Another alternative is to prep everything in advance. Take a bit of time on Sunday to prep an entire week of lunches. You won’t have to worry about putting anything aside when making dinner during the week, and with everything ready, you’ll avoid the urge to spend money on takeout.
The easiest to-go meal is a salad. It’s a popular option because it’s highly customizable. Choose mix-ins according to your budget and taste buds. In the warmer months, you can even grow your own lettuce and greens. The best way to transport salad and keep it fresh is to separate the dressing from your veggies. Pack the salad in a food container or mason jar, and store the dressing in mini leak-proof containers.
Black Bean, Corn, And Avocado Salad
A fairly inexpensive salad for lunchtime eats. Soak and cook dried black beans and buy frozen corn to make this a cheaper option.
The Ultimate Greek Salad Recipe
This salad is one of the easiest to make if you happen to have a garden. Grow tomatoes and cucumbers, and you’re halfway there, but skip the olives if you’re on a tight budget. Bulk feta containers offer the best value for your dollar.
Chicken Chickpea Chopped Salad
Any meal with beans offers excellent bang for your buck. Beans are super cheap (even the canned versions) and they’re nutritional powerhouses.
Mason Jar Salads
An easy way to prepare salads for lunches to last the whole week. Ingredients are mix-and-match, and all are super nutritious.
Tomato And Feta White Bean Salad
I adore bean salads. There’s no long prep involved, and they’re quite filling.
Soup is a great lunch option because it’s incredibly nutritious and easy to make in big batches. It’s one of my favorite leftover lunch meals. It’s also really cheap.
Add canned beans, a few vegetables, and some stock, and you’ve got a healthy, tasty lunch on your hands. If you’re transporting soup, be sure to store it in an insulated leak-proof container.
Green Split Pea Soup Recipe
Hearty and full of flavor, split pea soup is the perfect warm meal for winter lunches.
Detox Turmeric Lentil Soup
I’ll confess, I hate when anything food-related is described as being a detox for the body. Spoiler alert: Your body has its own built-in detox system with your liver and kidneys. Still, I think this lentil soup is worth mentioning. Lentils are cheap, easy to cook (especially compared to other legumes), and they’re so yummy.
Butternut Squash Soup Recipe
In season, butternut squash is super inexpensive. In the fall, I can snag them at $1 per squash in the supermarket. Zap the cooked ingredients with an immersion blender, and you’ve got yourself a savory, freezable blend on your hands.
Possibly the most traditional lunch option, it’s cheap, easy, and ultra-portable. Sandwiches require very little prep time, and by varying the ingredients, you can have variety throughout the week. Add vegetables for crunch and buy whole grain bread to increase the meal’s nutritional value.
Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Sandwich
The addition of grapes in this chicken salad offers a nice sweet tang.
Classic Peanut Butter And Jelly
Ultra-easy and cheap. I couldn’t not mention this popular sandwich on my list! Not excited about the potential sugar content? Use low-sugar jam and natural, raw peanut butter.
A wrap is essentially a different kind of sandwich, and it’s a great vehicle for ingredients like hummus, eggs, beans, and roasted vegetables. Make a wrap more filling by using a high-protein brand.
Apple-Swiss Turkey Sandwiches
Avoid the packaged meats at your grocery store and visit the deli counter to get fresh slices when they go on sale. Adding apple to this sandwich is a great way to increase your fruit and vegetable intake, and it adds a nice touch of sweetness to the meal.
Crunchy Tuna Wraps
When canned tuna goes on sale, I always stock up. It’s convenient to have on hand, and I use it to make two cheap, foolproof meals: tuna sandwiches (or wraps) and tuna casserole. When my fridge is empty, it’s my go-to ingredient.
Skip the fancy, overpriced Starbucks protein boxes and make your own at home. These grazing containers are ultra-nutritious, filling, and are great for those who prefer to eat small snacks throughout the morning and afternoon instead of filling up at lunch.
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Buy nuts in bulk for maximum savings and stick to fruits that are in season.
Copycat Starbucks Bistro Boxes
Barely any cooking required aside from a hard-boiled egg. This option is great for those who hate spending time in the kitchen.
DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box
Another copycat Starbucks box tutorial for your consideration.
Hummus And Dippers
Easy as pie. Pair your favorite hummus with dippable components like veggies and crackers, and you’ve got low-cost lunches for the week.
Lunch Box Mini Quiches
These mini quiches are a gourmet-style lunch idea that requires few ingredients.
Salmon-Avocado Seaweed Rolls
A bit of tweaking and this lunch option becomes super affordable. Skip the fish and make these entirely vegetarian. Sushi seems intimidating, but it’s straightforward to prep, and the rice is easy to batch cook.
Rice Bowls And Dishes
If you have a rice cooker, rice bowls are incredibly easy to put together. Make a big batch of rice and put portions into food containers. If you haven’t hopped on the rice bowl train, get ready to try a variety of delicious varieties: Calrose, basmati, wild rice, brown rice, etc.
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Next, you’ll need a protein and a vegetable, and voila! You have a perfect combination of macronutrients.
Crock Pot Fiesta Chicken And Rice Bowls
Anything in the crockpot is a huge time saver, so I love this simple Mexican-inspired bowl.
Failed at rolling up sushi or simply don’t want to bother? Make a sushi-style bowl instead.
Broccoli And Chickpea Rice Bowl
Is fresh broccoli too expensive? Buy frozen instead. It’s a myth that frozen foods are less nutritious.
Garlicky Chicken Fried Rice
A customizable rice dish that’s perfect for utilizing whatever veggies you have in the fridge.
Vegan Slow Cooker Tikka Masala
A slow cooker option that uses canned chickpeas instead of chicken.
Instant Pot Chickpea Curry
Another chickpea-based dish that’s freezer-friendly and vegan.
Smoothies are a non-traditional lunch idea but are great for people who have very short lunch breaks. If you like to spend your lunch hour going out for a jog or participating in an exercise class, you likely don’t have much time to eat post-workout.
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Buying fresh fruit for smoothies can become expensive, so be on the lookout for sales on frozen fruit, and stock up when discounts appear.
Get your greens with this smoothie that includes yogurt for protein and a bunch of other healthy components.
The perfect smoothie for summertime that includes mango and banana.
Triple Berry Smoothie
Take advantage of berries when they’re in season to make this berry-blast concoction.
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