Bringing your lunch to work: Do more with less

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, do more with less


One of most basic ways to do more with less is to bring your lunch to work; if you usually spend just $7 a day on lunch, bringing it four days a week (splurge and buy lunch on the fifth, if you like) can easily leave $100 or more in your wallet each month. Though you do end up spending a little more on groceries, the savings — especially if you learn to love leftovers — can be substantial.

Bringing your lunch to work doesn’t mean throwing a soggy sandwich into a baggie and tossing it in your purse, though. It also doesn’t mean a dazzling selection of non-nutritive items from the snack machine. Here are five lunches that take little effort to prepare:

Steak and Bleu salad: Fresh greens, cherry tomatoes, and thin slivers of leftover london broil, pot roast, or even shredded roast beef from the deli. Fill a small container with bleu cheese dressing and drizzle it over the salad just before you eat it. (Don’t have any small jars? A zip-top plastic bag can keep the dressing contained; to drizzle, snip of part of one corner with scissors and squeeze like a pastry bag.)

Chips and dip: Believe it or not, low-salt tortilla chips, a small bowl of refried beans, and a small bowl of guacamole can be a perfectly healthy (and filling) lunch. Make your own beans, or choose a premade version without lard to keep the fat content low.

Deconstructed sandwich: The thing I dislike about sandwiches that they always fall apart when I try to take a bite — usually spilling something ugly onto my shirt or jacket. Packing the components seperately can mitigate the mess, and it tastes as a good. My current favorite: smoked turkey, thinly sliced Granny Smith apple, cheddar cheese, and marble rye bread.

Bag o’ snacks. Sometime, I don’t even have time for lunch, but its easy to keep hunger at bay if I graze throughout the day. Apple slices, peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, carrot sticks, celery sticks, whole-grain crackers, and some low-fat string cheese fit the bill. Too much like what’s in your child’s lunchbox? Think “appetizers” instead of snacks, and pack frozen potstickers (Trader Joe’s has some good ones), breadsticks wrapped with ham, cubes of cheese, and slices of bell pepper with dressing as a dip.

Fried rice. Transform leftovers at home into fried rice and bring it to work. It’s easy: Leftover rice + slivers of leftover chicken or a quickly scrambled egg + the odds and ends of leftover veggies + soy sauce + sesame oil. Heat in a pan — or, if you’re really out of time, in the microwave at work.

What’s your favorite last-minute lunch to bring to work?

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5 comments so far...

  • I do this every day - and make my own iced coffee too. Today’s menu isn’t too much different from every other day at work, though sometimes I bring leftovers…and I bring breakfast as well since I get in very early.

    Iced coffee to last the day with lowfat cream and splenda, flavored with cardamom. Soooo much better and richer than S’bucks or Dunkin.

    Breakfast: Two medium boiled eggs and a serving of Total Raisin Nut Bran with skim milk (brought in a separate container I can keep in the office fridge, from home).

    Lunch: Peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole wheat pita bread and 4 pieces of Monterey Jack on the side.

    Sometimes I’ll bring soup or salad instead. But, it is cheaper and generally healthier than anything we can buy around here. And we’re fortunate that we don’t have a vending machine in our building (there’s one in the main building across the way that I never remember is there…and I hate going to that building anyway) so there’s no temptation there either.

    I also try to keep some healthy snacks laying around in case I forget or don’t have time to make my lunch.

    Phe  |  June 1st, 2009 at 12:12 pm

  • I stuff a whole wheat pita with either turkey or cheese (or both), add some sprouts or greens and sliced cherry tomato. A little lowfat dressing and I have a very satisfiying lunch. I figured the price spread out over the week and it comes to about $1.25 per day.

    Sharon  |  June 1st, 2009 at 1:39 pm

  • When I didn’t work at home, I used to stock low-fat/sugar granola bars, fat-free yogurts with fruit, oranges, apples, mixed baby greens, and carrot sticks. (All organic.) These are things that can be kept in the fridge for a while in case I’d change my mind or have an unscheduled lunch meeting. I’d pick throughout the day as my schedule allowed, so I usually didn’t take a “lunch” per se, but it was very satisfying and really kept me away from “temptation.”

    SKL  |  June 1st, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  • I, quite often, will empty a can of soup into a thermos and heat it in the microwave at work. It took me a while to find a good quality thermos that could fit a can a soup but now that I’ve got it, oh the difference it makes!

    Shannon  |  June 2nd, 2009 at 1:21 pm

  • After going back to work FT with a 3 mo. old, I found that eating became a very utilitarian experience. Breakfast is oatmeal and a hard boiled egg (I cook a large batch of both in advance on the weekends or after baby is asleep) or cottage cheese with a tomato. Snacks are raw almonds, fruit, string cheese, dry cereal, green tea or veggies dipped in hummus. Lunch is peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat with a glass of skim milk. Not very exciting, but pretty healthful and cheap!

    Henrietta  |  June 2nd, 2009 at 1:54 pm