Taking your lunch to work doesn’t have to mean a daily diet of boring frozen entrees.
Around 72% of Americans grab lunch at a quick-service restaurant, according to market and consumer data provider Statista. It’s easy to spend $10 a pop, even at many fast-food restaurants. You don’t have to be a math whiz to calculate how much money you spend every week going out to lunch.
What if you took part of that money you spend going out to lunch and bought some inexpensive grocery items so you could take lunch to work instead? Making your own lunch doesn’t have to be boring, and you can easily save at least a couple hundred dollars a month.
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Quick, inexpensive entrée
Start by throwing together a simple dish like spaghetti or another pasta. Easy dishes like tacos, burritos, stir-fry, beans, and cornbread, chili and casseroles are also good. Here’s my favorite extra spicy noodle dish that’s simple to make. Hate to cook? Search online for easy-to-prepare meals.
Chop up a salad
A head of lettuce doesn’t cost much, and neither do salad ingredients such as carrots, cucumber, tomatoes and cheese when you stretch them over a week of lunchtime salads.
If the price is right, portion out some lightweight cut-up veggies like grated carrots, red cabbage and chopped onions from the grocery store salad bar to save time on veggie prep.
Cook a bunch of noodles
You can’t go much cheaper than noodles, so why pay the noodle restaurant down the street $10-$15 for ramen or linguine tossed with a few veggies and skimpy meat portions? Make your own instead. There’s no shortage of delicious, easy noodle recipes out there, so get started with an online search for lunchtime pasta candidates.
If you are avoiding gluten you won’t find many foods cheaper than rice. You can add chicken, eggs, or fresh or frozen veggies. For an upgrade, add frozen peas or another vegetable and a little butter.
Boil some eggs
Anyone can boil an egg, so why not boil several for the week ahead? You can eat boiled eggs for breakfast, lunch or a snack and add them to salads. For a change of pace, whip up some deviled eggs.
Stir up a tasty soup
A pot of soup or chili goes a long way, especially when you make a big batch and freeze some for future weeks. Even if you’re not a fan of the kitchen, it’s easy to throw together a healthy, delicious soup from online recipes.
Canned soup is still cheaper than going out to eat, so if you’re not a cook, buy soup on sale at the grocery store. Don’t pay extra for microwaveable soup in a cup, either. Buy a can, and pour the contents into your own container.
Mix up chicken, tuna, or egg salad
You can’t get much easier than this go-to lunch dish. Best of all, you can add variety by taking a sandwich one day and enjoy one of these salad dishes on tomato slices or another vegetable on a different day.
Part out a rotisserie chicken
Barely a week goes by when some grocery store doesn’t have rotisserie chickens on sale. For $5 to $8 or so, you can make many dinner and lunch dishes with the pre-cooked bird, including chicken salad, tacos, chicken sandwiches and soup. Add chicken to a favorite pasta dish or cut up to add to a salad.
Pasta or rice salad
Another easy prep, pasta salads can do triple duty as side dishes, entrées or snacks. Buy pasta and other ingredients on sale to save even more. Swap out rice or other grain for different textures.
Make your own sandwiches
Why limit yourself to fancy deli sandwiches when you can make your own, designed to suit your unique preferences? You can slap together all kinds of sandwiches, from meat to veggie, and don’t limit yourself to bread. Try pita, tortilla, biscuits, bagels and croissant sandwiches, too.
Pick fruit or veggies for a side
Cut up celery, carrots, peppers, broccoli, and cauliflower. You can store in containers in the fridge and snack on them all week long with a tasty dip. You can also stuff celery with peanut butter or cream cheese.
A watermelon during summer months can go a long way, especially when you prep for the workweek by cutting it up ahead of time. Even easier, pack an apple, orange or banana. Fruit is way better for your body than curly fries or onion rings, too.
Pack cheap sweets
Don’t waste coin on $2 candy bars from the vending machine. Bring your own dessert instead. Buy an easy-to-make brownie mix or bake your own cookies. Or buy sweet-tooth items at the grocery store, where you’ll still come out ahead by purchasing a box or bag of candy bars instead of paying vending machine prices.
Bring your own beverage
Here’s another vending expense that’s smart to avoid. If you enjoy a soft drink or bottled water with lunch, buy a case on sale and bring your own beverage to stash in the breakroom fridge.
Published by Debt.com, LLC