Brown-Bagging It: 5 Low-Cost Healthy Lunches

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In this economy, more and more people are turning to brown-bag lunches instead of buying their lunch at the work cafeteria or local food court. It's a smart move too, considering that the average cost for a quick lunch-on-the-go is about $8. That adds up to over $2000 per year if you bought your lunch every work day of the year. Bringing your lunch everyday is not only a cost-saver, but it can be much more healthy too. Here are my top 5 suggestions for brown-bag meals.

  1. Tuna salad. Tuna is cheap, healthy & filling. The best thing about tuna salad is that it only takes about 2 minutes to prepare in the morning. Stock up on cans of tuna and you'll always have a supply ready to go. I prepare mine with mayo and chopped pickles, and prefer to ditch the sandwich and just eat it with a fork from tupperware. Cost: about $1.
  2. Lasagna or any other type of bulk casserole. While this may take about an hour to prepare at the beginning of the week–I recommend cooking this on Sunday afternoon–it will only take you about 10 seconds every morning to put a square of lasagna into tupperware. Better yet, pre-portion out the lasagna on Sunday after it cools and you can stock your fridge or freezer with 5-10 single serve containers of lasagna that make a perfect grab & go lunch. Cost: about $2 per serving.
  3. Good old PB&J.; Now, before you picture this old standby packed in a spiderman lunchbox, ask yourself when you last had a Peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Not only are they surprisingly tasty, but the peanut butter provides fat & protein which has a lot of staying power and will make you feel satisfied for the rest of the day. My suggestion to make this into a healthier grown-up option is to ditch the white bread and use a nice hearty whole grain bread instead. For a special twist, try peanut butter with marshmallow fluff instead of jelly. Cost: less than $1.
  4. Fat Salad. I use the term "Fat Salad" because if I just said "Salad" you probably would have skipped this entire paragraph, am I right? The key to making a salad into a meal is adding fat. Use a full-fat dressing that you really like, feta cheese or shredded mozzarella, or even real crumbled bacon. Make a fresh garden salad the night before and portion it out into single serve containers. For an extra twist, bring along a pita pocket and fill it with your salad just before you eat it. Cost: anywhere from $1-$3 depending on how much good stuff you put in there.
  5. Kitchen sink lunchbox. Some of the best brown-bag lunches I've enjoyed have been the ones that I was ill-prepared to pack. I'm 10 minutes late for work, so I grab whatever I can find in the fridge and the cupboards– the heel of the french bread from last night's dinner, some string cheese, a half a can of nuts, a slice of last night's pizza, the last bunch of grapes from the fruit bowl. Variety is the key here. No one wants to eat a handful of nuts for lunch, but nuts and cheese and grapes and bread? All of a sudden you're in the French countryside enjoying a well-planned picnic lunch. The best part of this is that you probably would've thrown out the withered grapes and the stale bread by the time you got home, so you're basically eating for free!

You don't need to bring your lunch everyday. Pick one day a week to splurge and eat lunch outside the office. You're still saving over $1600 per year, but you won't feel like you're missing out either. Best of all, your wallet and your waist band will thank you!

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