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!
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!)
- A can of sardines, tuna or salmon with a side of veggies/salad
- Sandwich, Yogurt, Fruit via Physician On Fire
- 4oz of hummus and various cut veggies and a fruit
- A couple cans of tuna mixed with mustard and relish
- 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.
- 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.
- Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, no need to worry about bread smashing. No refrigeration needed. Roll it up. Packs small.
- Lunch meat, sliced cheese, crackers, cut apples, sliced cucumbers
- Yogurt, sandwich, banana, carrot sticks
- Cottage cheese, raisins and cranberries, pb&j, Clementine
- 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.
- Spinach with olive oil: add tomatoes, chicken, spices and such. Pair with apple slices.
- In summer I blend up a batch of gazpacho and portion that out for the week. Love it with a little avocado on top.
- Oatmeal and an apple or banana… they hang out in my office for times of need (ie when I completely space packing a lunch)
- 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.
- 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!
- Bag of nuts and individual size can of V8.
- Chocolate whey protein powder in a zip-lock bag with a bottle of water along with a container to shake it in.
- 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.
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches, simple, tasty and filling!!
5 Lunches to Make ahead of Time
- 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.
- 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.
- Pasta: There are so many ways to make up some tasty pasta dishes and portion the leftovers into single serving containers.
- 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.
- 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.