25 Easy Affordable Lunches

For most people, especially families, the food budget is the largest flexible expense we have each month. It’s worth the time and effort to find food that is easy to prepare, affordable and nutritious. With a little effort, we were able to take our grocery budget from $1200 a month to around $700, all while adding an extra kid!

easy affordable healthy lunches

I’ve never been great at feeding myself. Being home all day has actually made it more challenging because I don’t need to plan out my lunches. So I often find myself scrounging around for something to eat as soon as I’m starving. Planning ahead for work was actually better for my budget and health.

To help all of us out, myself included, I’ve been working on better meal planning. Especially for lunches! I need things that are affordable, easy to prepare (or I can make in batches) and healthy. To help me out I asked the Choose FI facebook group for their best ideas, and went to the library for some free cookbook inspiration!

If you are looking for some easy lunches that will help lower your food bill and be kind to your waistline, here is the list I’ve come up with! (Make sure you add your favorites to the comments!)

  1. A can of sardines, tuna or salmon with a side of veggies/salad
  2. Sandwich, Yogurt, Fruit via Physician On Fire
  3. 4oz of hummus and various cut veggies and a fruit
  4. A couple cans of tuna mixed with mustard and relish
  5. Cook two whole chickens (about $1 per pound)for dinner Sunday night, what you don’t eat pull down into individual pyrex. Add rice and canned/frozen veggie. Reheat for lunch as needed.
  6. Mason jar salad. Take a mason jar put in whatever leafy green you like, then put salad fixings you like, then add a protein (I usually use leftovers from the night before) then put a dressing on top so everything doesn’t get soggy.
  7. Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, no need to worry about bread smashing. No refrigeration needed. Roll it up. Packs small.
  8. Lunch meat, sliced cheese, crackers, cut apples, sliced cucumbers
  9. Yogurt, sandwich, banana, carrot sticks
  10. Cottage cheese, raisins and cranberries, pb&j, Clementine
  11. Homemade almond cashew butter sweetened with honey. Healthy and way less than you’d pay at the store. You need a high powered blender to make it. Eat it by the spoon, put it on bread, mix it with jelly, eat it on crackers…all good options! I always take a banana to work with me as well.
  12. Spinach with olive oil: add tomatoes, chicken, spices and such. Pair with apple slices.
  13. In summer I blend up a batch of gazpacho and portion that out for the week. Love it with a little avocado on top.
  14. Oatmeal and an apple or banana… they hang out in my office for times of need (ie when I completely space packing a lunch)
  15.  I make large batches of chili and freeze individual portions in wide mouth mason jars. Easy to thaw in microwave and transfer to soup mug. Add a piece of cornbread or small bag of Fritos.
  16. Instant Pot hummus with baby carrots, sliced peppers, or just delicious bread. If you can find dried chickpeas at a decent price, you can just use a hummus recipe without tahini and it costs pennies per serving!
  17. Bag of nuts and individual size can of V8.
  18. Chocolate whey protein powder in a zip-lock bag with a bottle of water along with a container to shake it in.
  19.  I do a salad beast every day. It’s easy to prep – lettuce, veggies and cheese into 5 big containers at the start of the week. Throw on some leftover chicken or beans from the previous night’s dinner in the morning. It’s easy enough to change up the flavor with cheese and dressing and toppings (so I don’t get too bored), plus it’s a great way to make sure I fit in vegetable servings every day.
  20. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, simple, tasty and filling!!

5 Lunches to Make ahead of Time

  1. Stew: We love making a big crockpot full of stew! We can use affordable cuts of meats, and super affordable vegetables (carrots, celery, potatoes). Adam makes a super yummy pork roast stew that tastes even better a few days later.
  2. Chili: Again affordable cuts of meat (or no meat!), a few kinds of beans and then we roast the veggies. Adam uses onions, peppers and celery. I often use a 1-2 cups of chili poured hot over a bowl of Romain lettuce. Gives me some extra veg and filling, while still being a hot and yummy lunch.
  3. Pasta: There are so many ways to make up some tasty pasta dishes and portion the leftovers into single serving containers.
  4. Bean Salad: This has been a go-to of mine for years. And it’s so easy I can whip it up in a few minutes. 1 can of seasoned black beans, 1 can corn, 1 diced tomatoes, a little olive oil. I’ll eat it hot or cold. Maybe I’ll add some avocado, or some cheese if I want to be all fancy.
  5. Soup: I love soup. Pototoe, Leek, Chicken Noodle, ham and bean, french onion. You name it, I probably love it. Except for tomato, because, ick.

And if all else fails, I probably have a protein bar stashed somewhere in my bag or van. In the time it takes to drive to Taco Bell or Wendys you can have any of those simple, healthy and affordable lunches prepped in the morning. Or make a big batch of something tasty ahead of time and mix up a light lunch with something that feels hearty and filling.

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16 thoughts on “25 Easy Affordable Lunches

  1. Aaaand I’m hungry again… thanks a lot 😉

    I’ve been on a soup & salad kick recently. I batch make a HUGE pot of soup which lasts a week + extra to spare in the freezer. Working at home, this becomes the perfect 90 second-in-the-microwave lunch for the winter days! Pair it with salad and/or bread and I’m a happy camper (case in point, my lunch today).

  2. And tomato (soup)… ick. I so agree! I am on a salad kick right now. We’re trying a plant-based diet for my husband because he had to go off his cholesterol medicine. If he can maintain his numbers, we may do this long-term. So important to plan ahead and have things in the fridge. Otherwise it is so easy to grab things that aren’t good for you!

  3. Great list! Definitely some good staple lunches. We go the salad route and make a weeks worth on Sunday. I’m personally a fan of salads with fruit especially when strawberries and blueberries are on sale at Aldi (like this week!). We also make dressings from scratch at home. Easy, cheaper, and you know exactly what is in them. My favorite is mixing balsamic, olive oil, dijon mustard, salt & pepper. Thanks for the suggestions!

    • I really need to get into homemade dressing! When we lived in Germany, all our German friends made dressing, like it was weird to buy it in a bottle. Still more good habit to learn! =)

  4. Thanks for the great recipes. The key for my family has been preparing work lunches in bulk on the weekends and have them in individual Pyrex for each day.

    I also like having a food stash at work (oatmeal, cans of soup, etc.). I have a Target within walking distance of my office. In the rare occasion I don’t have a lunch, I walk there and but a loaf of bread and peanut butter. Way cheaper than going to Chipotle like my coworkers do.

    • I’m really working on meal prepping at least one or two big dishes of something to have on hand. If I can have a big pot of chili and a batch of hummus ready Monday morning, I will do 90% better than trying to figure it out as I go. =) And I totally LOVE Chipotle! But boy it gets pricey even a few times a week. It’s like the price of a good book! =)

  5. A coworker turned me onto the Hearty Black Bean Quesadilla recipe from Budget Bytes (https://www.budgetbytes.com/2012/02/hearty-black-bean-quesadillas/) and I found that if I cook a 1 pound bag of black beans I can triple the recipe and have 30 quesadillas in the freezer ready to grab and go. I pair one of those with some fruit and some salsa and I have a great lunch!
    We also bulk prepare Quinoa Oatmeal from Thug Kitchen* (https://www.thugkitchen.com/quinoa_oatmeal) on Sundays and eat on that for breakfast all week long. A hearty breakfast goes a long way towards helping me make sensible lunch decisions!
    *NSFW? They use strong language…but man their recipes are good!

  6. Those are great ideas! I need to bring my lunch more…. even if it’s PB&J! I work in an office all day and am an introvert, so I need to get away from the office during my lunch hour. I can’t figure out where to go (driving – nowhere to walk near my office) to eat lunch. The only solution I have without going out to eat is to eat in my car and read my book. I’m happy to do it once I find a parking lot I feel comfortable in but feel a bit awkward. I try to tell myself since I eat dinner at home most nights, I can eat out for lunch…. but I could put more money in savings if I ate out less. If I have a coffee shop gift card, I’ll use it to buy a beverage then read my book during my lunch hour.

    • If you are driving to lunch, is there a place you could drive to walk or a free place to spend time in, like a library? Even if there was a gym close by, you could get in a workout, listen to an audiobook then drink a protein smoothie on the drive back. That’s like a 4 for 1. Exercise. 2. Cheap, healthy lunch. 3. Time alone. 4. Books. =)

      • Great ideas! Yep! My YMCA is about 2 miles down the road… and a smoothie is a great idea! Thank you! Today I did bring my lunch (tuna sandwich on toasted bread), put gas in my car, then read awhile. Tomorrow I’ll work out at lunch!

  7. Great list! Lunch ideas have always been a struggle for me. Lately my go-to option for something warm that’s also easy is combining leftovers and/or easy canned stuff to top a baked potato (“crud on a spud”). I microwave a small potato and then top with some combination of protein (chicken, ham, pulled pork, tuna, beans, taco meat, etc.) + veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, onions, corn, etc.) + cheese + condiment (ranch, BBQ, honey mustard, salsa, hot sauce, etc.).