The Frugal Lunchbox
Brown Bag Lunches
Lunches to Love
I finally found a job that fits into my crazy life, but I have one problem. I need frugal lunch ideas. I'm sick of sandwiches, soup, and salads. Please hit me with new thrifty ideas. Please include lunch ideas that are hot, cold, easily made ahead, quick to fix, etc. I do have an hour for lunch but only have a sink, ice machine, coffee maker, and microwave to work with. Thanks!
Each Sunday, I buy enough lunchmeat and artisan breads to make 20 sandwiches, enough for my family of four to take one each day. I just lay everything out and use assembly line techniques to put them together and tuck them into sandwich bags. I also add cheese, but no condiments, so everyone can add what they want each day. It's easy, cheap, and time-saving.
Casseroles and one-pot meals are so easy and quick and heat well in the microwave. Best of all, you can make a double batch and freeze individual servings to thaw for lunch whenever you wish.
As a vegetarian, I enjoy casseroles based on grains, potatoes and vegetables of all sorts. Today I am eating "planned-overs" from a vegetable curry slow cooker recipe based on potatoes, green peas, green beans, and chickpeas with tomatoes and broth. I threw in a little milk to smooth the sauce, some peanuts and coconut (common curry toppings), and some onion. It took maybe 20 minutes to put together enough for about six meals. The first evening I had a ready-made meal; now I can have meals whenever I wish in minutes by thawing individual portions.
Non-vegetarians can enjoy standards like ground meat casseroles, tuna noodle, spaghetti and meatballs, and much more. Almost any one-pot meal or casserole adapts well to this treatment. Enjoy!
Barbara in CT
Quiches and other solid casseroles (e.g. macaroni and cheese) are nice and simple take-along lunches. They are quick to make in advance (then cut and freeze in individual servings) and can be eaten cold or heated up with little mess.
Grains like rice, barley, or quinoa (not biologically a grain, but it is a grain in cooking) are also easy portable lunches. They can be brought in those disposable/reusable containers that several companies make these days. Then just grab a fork, and you're ready to go!
You can also make your own "meal in a cup" meals using bulgur. Bulgur cooks by being soaked in boiling hot water; make a mix at home by adding dried onions, dried mushrooms, and whatever spices you like. At work, just add the hot water, sprinkle cheese over it, and it's a meal.
Lastly, if you're tired of the same old sandwiches, soups, and salads, try new and different sandwiches, soups, and salads. There are tons of websites with all kinds of recipes that you probably haven't tried yet.
For years, I have been sending my husband to work with dinner leftovers. I make a large meal like stir fry, roast with vegetables, curry, casseroles and others, and put the extra into sandwich size plastic containers. Then they go into the freezer and he can pick what he wants to eat in the morning before he leaves. He also makes ice tea (double strength to save fridge space) and mixes it with water to the appropriate strength. This way, he can have a hot meal every day for lunch.
I've been making wrap sandwiches for my hectic schedule, which includes bringing my own lunch and dinner as I attend school right after work.
I normally buy large high-fiber whole wheat tortillas that can be bought in bulk, frozen, and thawed quite readily. On those nights when I am home, making dinner, I usually lay out three or four tortillas while I'm dishing out the dinner. For example, if we are having chicken, asparagus and coleslaw, the same gets put on the tortillas. Wrap it up in foil, and I have a delicious wrap for the next day.
Otherwise, all sorts of things can be placed in wraps like BLT, regular lunchmeat and cheese, PB&J, scrambled eggs w/guacamole, etc. The possibilities are endless, and to me, everything tastes better in a wrap.
I usually round out the meal with a serving of fruit and some sort of raw nuts. It's very filling and nutritious.
A baked potato is quick and easy to make in a microwave. Just bring a small container or two with your favorite toppings (cheese, sour cream, etc). If you wanted to save time, you could bake the potato at home and then reheat in the microwave.
Working 50- and 60-hour weeks leaves me little time for meal prepping, but I bring a hot lunch (for two) to work every day by using a slow cooker. If you have a slow cooker at home and a microwave at work, you have everything you need for delicious meals. If you don't already have one, get a slow cooker cookbook.
On weekends, make two slow cooker recipes. Each recipe is generally for four to six people, giving you eight to twelve meals. Prepare your lunches ahead of time and freeze the leftovers. In a short time, you will have a nice supply of frozen entrees. Soon, you will be able to reduce your weekend cooking to twice a month.
Your slow cooker entrees can be supplemented with vegetables and fruit (frozen, fresh, or canned), giving you a nutritious, balanced and varied meal.
I have taken my lunch to work for years. There are two people in my household and every evening when I prepare dinner I make enough for 4 people. We each eat a serving for dinner and we pack the other two servings in microwave safe containers to take for lunch the next day. This is a really easy method and you will eat very healthy meals every day! Just remember to always double your recipes when you cook.
I love Mexican food, so I occasionally make myself a bunch of bean burritos and put them in the freezer. I open a can of black beans into a bowl and add a half-cup of salsa. Cut a slice of low-fat pepper jack cheese in half and put it down the center of a flour tortilla. Put a third-cup of beans onto the tortilla and roll it up. Wrap into a piece of foil and put into the freezer until you need the lunch. I pair it with some fruit/applesauce, etc.
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