Creating Cheap, Healthy Work Lunches

Photo: Jason Lam

One basic money-saving tip consumers often fail at is brown-bagging at work each day to spare the excessive expenses of lunch on the go. The reason why so many fail is because of the perceived boredom that comes with soggy sandwiches or boring raw vegetables — the mainstays of packed lunches.

The good news is that it is possible to bring tastebud-tempting treats from home to the office. All you have to do is think outside of the lunchbox. Here are some simple tips to help you drop the blah tuna and add some quality to your lunch hour. (See also: Sex Up Your Sandwich: Ideas for Budget-Conscious Brown Baggers)

Think Protein

Lunchmeat can only take you so far. Consider other healthy foods that will give you energy and keep your taste buds happy. Instead of boring sandwiches, think about yogurt, nuts, eggs, and fish as good alternatives to the bologna. The Internet has plenty of free resources (like this appetizer and snack section on All Recipes) where recipes are easy to follow and simple to print to meet individual food requirements and likes.

Spice Up Last Night’s Dinner

If you traditionally have leftovers from family dinners, think about ways to add to them and create a whole new lunch idea. Add some brown rice to leftover mixed vegetables, toss in some cut up chicken, and add a fun sauce to the mix. Not only is lunch easy to prepare for the next day, but your refrigerator is not going to be crammed with wasted, spoiled food.

Have a Work Pantry

Whether you trust your lunch essentials to the public coworker lunch space or you need to hide your stash in your desk drawer, keeping a few supplies on hand for lunchtime can make packing from home even easier. A few starter items such as salt, pepper, spice grinders, vinaigrette, and multigrain crackers can go a long way to making a lunch taste great. Healthy munchies kept in your desk drawer can help you resist unhealthy vending machine temptations.

Set the Table

Stop eating out of leftover Chinese takeout containers and plastic baggies. They can take the enjoyment out of eating and make you feel stuck in the same old boring rut. Instead, pack culinary supplies for the office including a dinner plate and silverware to use during lunch time meals. It can also help to keep on hand a vegetable peeler, paring knives, a small cutting board, and a travel sized dish soap and sponge for easy clean ups. Having such supplies on hand at the office makes it easier to prepare fresh produce and cheeses at work when you're in a hurry and have no time to prepare your take-along lunch at home.

Save Up to Splurge

By using coupons and fresh ingredients, you will begin to save cash on your lunchtime grocery purchases. Make a plan to tuck away a few bucks of that savings into a separate envelope so that once a month you can join your co-workers out on the town for a tasty social lunch — that is, if you want to forgo your new lunch ideas.

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Meg Favreau's picture

If people in your office usually all go out to eat, I think it can be great to get a brown-bagging companion. If you have someone else to eat with, it makes you more likely to keep doing it -- kind of like having a gym buddy.

Anybody have a brown-bag lunch you particularly love?

Guest's picture

just DON'T drop your glass lunch container and see it shatter all over the I did this morning.

Guest's picture

Make sure to clean your desk if that's were you eat. I recently read that desks have more germs than a toilet seat. Yuck!

I agree with Meg, you need a lunch buddy or else it'll be very sad seeing everyone leaves the office for lunch.

My problem with brown bagging was time (I was super busy!) but it was also difficult to transport my meal without making a mess. Your tip about setting the table is smart!