Enjoy your lunch break more than ever and keep cash in your pocket with these cost-cutting pointers.
Though running out of the office each day at noon to pick up a sandwich or salad at the corner store is tempting as an easy time saver, packing your own lunch can save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars per year… if you do it right.
While there are certainly super cheap on-the-go lunch options—mostly of the fast food variety—packing your lunch is a far healthier alternative that will allow you to know exactly what you’re putting in your body and make you feel energized after your mid-day break, rather than ready to take a nap after downing some heavy fried food. Use these tips to create nutritious, easy, and inexpensive homemade lunches that won’t break the bank or your back during preparation.
If you’re looking to save money on your grocery bill, buying in bulk is always the first step. After all, stocking up on small throughout-the-day snacks like granola bars or cheesy crackers will always be far more affordable when bought in larger quantities at a wholesale store like Costco or Sam’s Club. Subscribe to your store of choice’s weekly coupons and keep an eye out for reduced prices on the snackable items you love. Not only will buying these things in bulk save you money, it will also keep you stocked up for lunches down the line so you won’t have to stress over your next trip to the store.
If you want to take it one step further, rather than spending a hefty chunk of your budget on costly snack packs, prep your own homemade versions—like Chewy Coconut Granola Bars and Smoky Oven-Baked Potato Chips—out of affordable, long-lasting bulk items like oats and potatoes. These homemade snacks will not only be healthier options, but also save you some serious coin in the long run.
Make Friends with Dried Goods
The key players in your lunch prep and money saving game will be dried goods. The main goods you’ll want to stock up on in large quantities include rice, pasta, beans, oats, and other assorted grains. Not only are these bases affordable and filling, they are also easily adaptable so you don’t get bored of your mid-day meals and end up busting your budget on something more exciting.
Though keeping bulk stocks of pasta and rice for easy recipes like Fettuccine Alfredo with Asparagus, Summer Vegetable Rigatoni with Chicken, Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice, and Ham and Veggie Fried Rice is likely something you’ve already got the hang of, it’s also smart to invest in dried beans and grains like faro and quinoa, which can be used to add protein and texture to your meal. Buying typically wet ingredients like beans in their dried form will save you big bucks in the long run, and just require a simple rehydration process. Once you’ve cooked your dried beans and grains, the lunch options are limitless, from Tuscan White Bean Salad, to Black Bean Dip, to Kale Caesar Quinoa Salad with Chicken.
RELATED: For tips on saving money packing your kids’ lunches all school year long, check out our guide.
Join a CSA
If your main obstacle to mastering the homemade lunch game is time, joining a local CSA is a great option for accessing healthy ingredients without a weekly trip to the store, all while supporting your local farmers and businesses. When you join a CSA, you purchase a share of vegetables from a local farm or group of farms, many of which will deliver directly to your home. These memberships are a fabulous way to save money on fresh ingredients while experiencing new, seasonal produce you might not otherwise pick up. Add all of these local goodies to a big, leafy lunch salad, or roast them with olive oil to serve over rice or pasta, and you’ll have a number of healthy, satisfying meals that didn’t break the bank or require a significant time investment. For a list of local CSAs that will deliver to you, check out this site.
Mix and Match
While prepping homemade lunches shouldn’t take up a huge chunk of your day, you will have to dedicate a small period of time each week to getting your meals ready for the days ahead. Set aside an hour each week—we’d suggest Sunday evening—to prepping bigger batches of some basic ingredients, such as roasted vegetables, cooked chicken breast, a simple red sauce, a classic vinaigrette, a big batch of rice, or whatever you’re currently craving.
For some, meal prepping and packing the same dish to eat every day that week is the best option for spending as little time and effort as possible on daily lunches. However, for those who need a little variety, having some of these fundamental ingredients pre-made in the fridge will make throwing together a tasty, filling lunch in minutes a breeze. By having mix-and-matchable ingredients like pasta, basic proteins, and vegetables prepped and ready to go in the fridge, your options for delicious lunch combinations will be endless.
Prep Freezer-Friendly Batches
Another way to cut your prep time down significantly is to create freezer-friendly meals that are easy to grab-and-go and will only require you to prep them once or twice a month. The perfect dishes for freezer meals are soups and stews—which particularly come in handy during the colder months. Make a big batch of your favorite soup at the start of the month and freeze it into individual portions using our guide to freezing and reheating every kind of soup. Or, do the same with your favorite prepared meals. Though this method will take a little extra time and effort in the initial prepping process, it will lend you serious peace of mind and extra time down the line.
Become a Discount Expert
Once you’re in the groove of making healthy, satisfying work lunches daily, take your money saving prowess one step further by becoming a master of the discount. Use your favorite coupon apps to keep an eye out for the best prices on essential ingredients you use throughout the week and month. Turn your couponing into a game, trying to one-up yourself on how much money you can save on your homemade lunches from month to month. If you have a particularly frugal month, use your extra savings to treat yourself to a nice meal… or a bottle of wine. You’ve earned it.