Are you a busy worker bee trying to save money? Have little time to prepare food for yourself or your kids? Then here are some easy cheap lunch ideas.
The Economic Impact of Eating Lunch Out
Looking for a practical way to save money? Don’t eat out so much.
Buying lunch is usually cheaper than dinner. But all those high-noon food trucks and sit-down cafes can add up.
In fact, buying lunch during the workweek will cost you about $2,500 a year. And that’s just if you’re paying for yourself, based on a $10 per lunch cost.
If you were to eat lunch outside the home every single day of the year, that brings your total to $3,600 on lunch alone.
Again, that’s just a $10 lunch. Chances are, you’re spending more than $10 on lunch alone.
So how much can you save by preparing lunch at home? You’ll save about half the money you’d spend on eating out. According to this CNBC report, you’ll spend on average $6.30 on prepared lunches.
Without doubt, you can spend far less than that on lunch. Hopefully, after reading these easy cheap lunch ideas, you’ll be inspired to do your own meal prep so you can save money.
Think: Nutrient-Dense & Filling
There are three critical elements of making food at home.
First, meal prep has to be quick. For many people, the major obstacle to eating meals at home is lack of time.
Second, it has to be easy to prepare. If you need a degree from a culinary institute to prepare it, forget about it.
And third, the meals have to be nutrient dense and filling.
Nutrient density means that a specific food contains lots of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients such as fiber. Think salads, for example.
But for many people, eating just a salad is not enough. Salad might not satiate your appetite.
You don’t want to go through the hassle of preparing a salad only to feel hungry a couple hours later.
Then, you might be tempted to buy a sandwich or burrito. And if you add a bag of chips and drink to the sandwich, there’s your $10.
With these three rules to keep in mind, let’s look at some examples.
Healthy cheap lunch ideas for work
Like salads, sandwiches are easy to make. But they’re not always filling.
After eating a turkey sandwich, you might be content for an hour or two. But more than likely, by 3 p.m., you’ll be tempted to visit the office vending machine. Or, by those last couple donuts that Joan from accounting brought in this morning.
If you really want to save money, there’s no getting around the fact that you’ll have to do some meal preparation using smart cooking tips.
And the best way to do meal prep is by doing something you enjoy while preparing food. Love listening to podcasts, music or watching YouTube videos? Do it while making these easy cheap lunch ideas.
All it takes is one day a week. You can devote one day a week to meal prep, can’t you? Do it on a rainy, lazy day when you don’t have anything else going on.
Perfect Happy Belly Combo
Unless you’re living a low carb keto lifestyle, low-starch grains will be your best friend. They are very easy to cook and keep you full. What are examples of low-starch grains? Quinoa, wild rice, farro, and brown rice, to name a few.
Invest in a rice cooker and these grains will be super easy to prepare.
And while you’re making the grains, which really requires such little effort, steam or lightly grill some veggies. Broccoli is very easy to make. If you’re especially lazy, most stores sell bags of broccoli crowns so you don’t even have to chop off the stalks.
You’ll also want some protein to go with the grain and veggie. Every week, go to the supermarket and buy a rotisserie chicken as it can be used for lots of easy cheap lunch ideas.
In this article on ways to save money, in the section, ‘Cut Food Costs,’ it says Kroger grocery stores discount rotisserie chickens by 50% after 7:30 p.m. But even if you’re paying full price ($7-10), a full chicken should last you the whole workweek.
Drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil on your grain/broccoli/chicken entree for the healthy fat benefits. One of the benefits of healthy fats like olive oil is that it helps keep you full; it prevents cravings for those 3 p.m. sugary snacks.
Mix it up
Obviously, eating the same thing every day for weeks on end gets boring. And, in the long run will fail just like a crazy fad diet.
Thus, for best results, try to eat a different grain and veggie every week. For example, if this week you’re eating quinoa, next week have brown rice. And if broccoli is the veggie for this week, make it asparagus the following week.
As for protein, instead of chicken, you can make some hard-boiled eggs. If you’re really lazy and happen to live near Trader Joe’s, the low-cost supermarket chain sells packaged hard boiled eggs.
It might not be as cheap as making your own hard-boiled eggs. But it’s certainly cheaper than eating out.
Easy cheap lunch ideas for kids
But let’s say you don’t want to eat European style and have your biggest meal of the day be lunch. Let’s say, for argument sake, you love sandwiches and that’s what you want to bring to work.
Well, if so, this next tip applies not only to you but kids as well.
Learn how to make wraps. Tortillas in general are not very nutritious. They are high in starchy carbs. However, these days, there are healthier varieties, including gluten free and low carb options such as coconut wraps.
To make a filling, nutritious and tasty wrap, when you’re on your weekly jaunt to your local market, buy some deli meat.
But not just any deli meat. It has to be all-natural, minimally processed, and, preferably, organic.
Conventional deli meat packages with added chemicals and preservatives are one of the unhealthiest foods on the planet. They contain potentially cancer-causing ingredients like nitrates and nitrites.
However, buying a pound of organic roasted turkey breast and adding it to your wrap/sandwich is fairly healthy.
You’ll also want to buy a bag of organic greens to add in your wrap. Arugula makes any sandwich taste zesty.
Cut a wedge of cheese into some thin slices. Or again, if you’re really lazy, buy sliced cheese and add a slice or two to the wrap.
Cucumber slices provide pleasing crunch. Add a tiny bit of oil or your favorite condiment.
One of the best easy cheap lunch ideas is to make several wraps or sandwiches at one time. And if you are making a sandwich, try to buy some dark, dense bread such as 100% whole rye kernel.
White bread or even whole wheat bread is high in junk carbs and won’t satisfy your appetite for very long.
Extras for you and the kids
Pack some apple slices for you and your kids. Hopefully, you do have the time to cut an apple into slices. If not, invest in a slicer.
Make sure to include a little reusable container of a nut or seed butter for dipping the apple (or carrot slices). Sunflower seed butter or almond butter are healthy choices.
Dehydrated fruit is high in sugar but a little serving of it is a fairly healthy dessert for kid lunches.
Cheap lunch ideas for a crowd
But what if you’re in charge of planning a meal for a large group of people?
If you’re cooking, use a Crock Pot. Make a soup or stew. It’s really easy to do.
Buy some bone broth, a couple organic or all-natural chicken breasts or thighs (boneless, skinless), a handful of crunchy veggies and a bottle of allspice. Chop up the veggies into bite-size pieces and just add all the ingredients in the Crock Pot (or other slow cooker) and let it cook at high temp for 8 hours.
The total ingredients will cost about $20 and only takes about 5 minutes of prep time.
What are your favorite easy cheap lunch ideas? Leave a comment. For healthy low-carb recipe ideas, visit LowCarbYum.com