Brown-bagging your lunch is a great way to cut down on daily spending by avoiding the price of packaged or pre-assembled food items. It can even be eco-friendly if you use reusable containers and baggies. However, thinking up a variety of meal ideas can be difficult, discouraging, and you may wind up spending more preparing a packed lunch than if you had just bought it pre-packaged.
If this is you, bagged lunches aren’t saving you as much money — and still tasting good — as they should be. Frustrated brown-baggers, this one’s for you, and all those out there who’ve never tried switching to brown bag lunches because you don’t know where to begin. Here are some tasty and affordable ideas for how to rock your brown bag lunches:
1. Turkey sandwich wraps
Turkey lunch meat is typically inexpensive, and tastes great with a number of different cheeses.
2. Chili (homemade or store-bought) & crackers
Chili is relatively easy to make, even if you’re not an expert cook. It can be made in large batches which you can freeze and de-thaw later. Or you can go the canned route, and bring some crackers along for dipping.
3. Hummus and veggie stuffed pita bread
Pita bread is awesome because it’s already got a pocket so you don’t even have to put two pieces of bread together! Stuff some hummus and inexpensive veggies in there and you’ve got a quick pocket-o-sandwich.
4. Ham & cheese on a croissant
Ham & cheese is a classic and cheap combo, but you might get bored with it quickly. Pick up a bag of pre-made croissants at the grocery store, or another unusual bread if you fancy.
5. PB&J, substitute the “P”
There are all kinds of spreads that taste great with jelly/jam if you’re bored of this lunch staple. Sunflower seed, almond, and cashew butter are the most popular.
6. PB & honey sandwich
However, if you love your butter with the peanut (as I do), substitute the jelly/jam instead. Honey and peanut butter make a delicious sandwich.
7. PB & potato chip sandwich
If you’ve never tried this childhood classic…well, don’t knock it ’til you try it! (I really really love peanut butter, if you can’t tell.)
8. Scrambled egg “cupcakes”
You’d have to make these before the morning-of, obviously, but these tiny pseudo-quiches are tasty and inexpensive. Here’s a recipe.
9. Banana & peanut butter wraps
Turkey isn’t the only thing that tastes great in a tortilla! (Okay, I swear I’m done with peanut butter…)
10. Casseroles (any kind)
Another one you have to make in advance, but an evening spent making a casserole provides lunches for days. Plus, there are a plethora of casserole recipes available online, so you can change it up on a whim.
11. Baked beans & hot dogs
Chop up some hot dogs and throw them into a can of baked beans. Heat and enjoy.
12. Homemade lentil stew
Bags of dried lentils are super cheap, and make a great stew with ham or ham bone, sausage, squash, and a variety of spices. Find some ideas for recipes here.
13. Tuna sandwich with celery/cucumbers
Even a good tuna fish sandwich can get boring. Chopped celery or cucumbers make a great simple addition, and add a dash of pepper to taste.
14. Pasta salad
Cook a big batch of pasta, then cool it in the fridge and add any veggies, cheese, and nuts you want. Here are some ideas for recipes, which you can tweak based on what’s more affordable at the grocery store.
15. Microwave-ready tortilla chips & cheese
Nacho purists will sniff their noses at this, but when you’re trying to save money, the microwave is your new best friend. Some shredded cheese over tortilla chips popped into the microwave is quick and inexpensive.
16. Baked potato & favorite toppings
Bake some potatoes the night before and pack one or two with classic toppings like sour cream, shredded cheese, and chives or onions.
17. Have fun in the canned soup aisle
Who says soup in a can has to be boring? There are many flavors of soup and grocery stores often have specials on canned soup, so branch out and try some!
18. Buy “manager’s specials” from the bakery section
They might not be called “manager’s specials” at your local grocery store, but there’s usually a section with discounted day-old baked goods that have nothing wrong with them other than not being freshly baked. Hit up this section to get bread for sandwiches and muffins for treats.
19. Make extra when cooking dinner
Make a couple extra burritos or burger patties for dinner, and take the extra(s) to lunch the next day.
20. Upgrade your miscelleneous leftovers
Ever used the leftover food from a big holiday to make sandwiches and pudding the day after? Keep that going all year ’round and make your lunch with leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Salads, wraps, and sandwiches are all quick fixes for food that requires a little revamp.
Featured photo credit: Untitled/Travelling Steve via flic.kr