This student picked up on her father's love of brown bag lunches

The $1 Lunch

by Kayla Kramer


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When I started to track my spending, I was able to see how quickly my little lunch purchases added up. I started to prepare brown bag lunches ahead of time to save money and reduce food waste. Now I can make 16 sandwiches for what I would pay for one meal on campus, with the convenience of being quick to pack on busy mornings.

When my Dad was in the field in the spring and fall, he left before we woke up and came home after we were in bed. He packed all of his food for the whole day in a Cargill Seeds cooler, including four or five sandwiches. I remember them being assembled assembly-line style and then put back in the bread bag.

When I moved out on my own, it was hard to use up a whole loaf of bread before it went stale. I started to make my sandwiches assembly-line style like Dad's, but put them in the freezer to save the bread. Before I left my apartment in the morning, I threw a sandwich in my book bag and it was ready for me by lunch.

As I become more aware of food waste and because I'm often on campus all day, frozen sandwiches are the way to go for me. I started doing this regularly last semester after I realized how much my little purchases on campus were adding up. Having sandwiches on hand is great for busy mornings when I hit snooze too many times.

For peanut butter and raisin sandwiches, spread about 1 Tbsp. of peanut butter on each of 20 slices of bread. If you want to get 10 sandwiches out of a store-bought loaf, you need to use the crust pieces too. Sorry. Spread 2 Tbsp. of raisins over 10 slices. Top raisin slices with other slices. Place each sandwich in a plastic zipper bag. Press the air out and seal. I zip the bag closed most of the way, suck the air out, literally, and then close it the rest of the way. Put the sandwiches back in the bread bag, tie, and put in the freezer.

For tuna salad sandwiches, spread vegetable oil spread on 12 slices of bread. Finely chop 2 celery stalks and 1 carrot. Place the vegetables in a bowl with two cans of drained tuna. Add 1/4 cup salad dressing and stir. I've read that salad dressing works better frozen than mayonaise, which tends to separate. Divide the mixture between 6 slices of bread. Top with other 6 slices of bread. Place each sandwich in a plastic zipper bag. Press the air out and seal. I zip the bag closed most of the way, suck the air out, literally, and then close it the rest of the way. Put the sandwiches back in the bread bag, tie, and put in the freezer.

The tuna should be kept cold with an ice pack and should be eaten within 4 hours of being removed from the freezer.

I add some carrots, fruit, and yogurt to make a complete meal. Bringing my lunch from home saves me a lot of money compared to eating on campus. To find out just how much, I did a price breakdown.

Peanut Butter Sandwiches:

Bread, $1.19

Jif Reduced Fat Peanut Butter, $1.56

32 - 2 Tbsp. servings per 40-ounce jar @ $4.99 = $.156

Raisins, $1.17

17 - 1/4 C. servings per 24-ounce container @ $2.99 = $.175/3 Tbsp. = $.059 x Tbsp. = $.117

Total = $3.92 or $.39 each

Tuna Salad Sandwiches:

Bread, $.71 20 slices per loaf @ $1.19 = $.06 per slice

Tuna, $1.38

2 cans @ $.69 each

Carrot, $.09

11 carrots in 2-pound package @ $.99 = $.09 per carrot

Celery, $.18

About 11 stalks in package @ $.99 = $.09 per stalk

Salad Dressing, $.32

32 - 1 Tbsp. servings per container @ $3.19 = about 10 1/4 C. servings @ $3.19 = $.32 per 1/4 C.

Vegetable Oil Spread, $.40

30 - 1 Tbsp. servings per 15-ounce container @ $1.99 = $.066

Total = $3.08 or $.51 each

Compared to lunch on campus for at least $5, this is a great savings to me. It will be very convenient this semester with back-to-back classes over lunch.

This whole process took a total of 28 minutes start to finish including a carrot snack, a taste test of the new tuna recipe, and cleanup. I made 16 sandwiches in the time it takes to watch a sitcom at the cost of a single meal on campus.


Kayla Kramer grew up in a frugal family and learned a lot of penny-pinching tips from her parents. After she got to college, she realized that this is not the norm! Kayla cringes when she imagines the credit card debt of classmates while they live their extravagant (for student) lifestyles. You can read more at Kayla's blog kaylaksthriftyways.com about her thrifty life.

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