Find $500 in Your Lunchbox

by Kathleane O'Leary

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Brown Bag Lunches to Love

Frugal Adult Lunch Ideas

We all know that we'll save mega bucks by packing a lunch instead of eating out ($200- $500/month), but the daily chore of packing a lunchbox can seem like a poor trade-off for the convenience of restaurant dining. Well I'm here to tell you that it's possible to pack interesting, nutritious lunches that won't have you slaving in the kitchen the night before.

A boxed lunch doesn't have to be limited to meat and cheese between two slices of bread. Try some of these sandwiches to spice up your lunchtime fare.

Chili Turkey

Mix 4 ounces cream cheese and 1/4 cup salsa. Spread onto 4 flour tortillas or 4 slices bread.

Top with your choice of:

  • slivered lettuce
  • deli-sliced turkey
  • chopped green onions
  • cilantro
  • olives
  • avocado
  • Top with second slice of bread.

Tortilla Rollups

Spread flour tortillas with any of the following fillings. Roll tight and wrap in cellophane, then in wax paper, butcher paper or aluminum foil. Roughly mash an avocado with salt and pepper to taste and a little lemon or lime juice. Roughly mash an avocado, stir in some salsa. Spread refried beans on tortilla, top with either avocado mix above. Drain a can of white beans. Roughly mash the beans with a little salt, black pepper, garlic, and lemon juice. Spread on tortilla. Add sliced or diced cucumber, tomato, and sprouts. Before eating, unwrap and sprinkle with salt and pepper or drizzle with a little oil and vinegar dressing. Mashed white beans or refried beans, topped with leftover salad, drizzled with dressing. Spread mayo on tortilla. Top with avocado, tomato and cucumber.

Pizza Sandwich

Place several slices of pepperoni inside a pita, or on a flour tortilla. Toss shredded lettuce with a small amount of mayo thinned with a little fresh lemon or lime juice, season with salt & pepper. You could also season with oregano, basil, and/or garlic. Top with sliced mozzarella. Pile on dressed lettuce and some of your favorite pizza toppings, wrap.

Use these easy recipes for homemade flour tortillas and bagels and save even more on lunch.

Bagel with Cream Cheese

Mix any of the following with cream cheese before spreading on bagel:

  • honey
  • diced, reconstituted dried tomatoes
  • olives
  • diced green onions
  • diced green chilies
  • diced or sliced jalapeno
  • thawed frozen spinach, squeezed dry & mixed with a little minced garlic, salt & pepper
  • roasted garlic
  • cucumber, shredded, salted, & well-drained

Or top the bagel with one of the following after spreading on the cream cheese:

  • roasted red bell pepper, sliced to lay flat
  • roasted green chili, sliced to lay flat
  • tomato, sliced
  • deli sliced meat
  • slice of roasted or grilled eggplant or mushroom (sounds strange, but it's really good)

Any healthy American knows that you gotta' have salad for a proper lunch so here are some of my take-along salad recipes to give you some ideas:

Pasta Salad

Mix cooked pasta, sliced olives and these chopped veggies: green onion, fresh herbs, celery, bell pepper. Toss with oil & vinegar dressing up to 30 minutes before eating. If you add the dressing too far in advance it will be absorbed by the pasta.

Rice Salad

Mix brown rice, chopped veggies (bell pepper, celery, tomato, cucumber, avocado). Stir in oil & vinegar dressing spiked with cumin and coriander up to 30 minutes before eating.

Stacked Salad

I recently came up with this take-along salad that I absolutely love. I can make it in the morning and it stays crisp until lunch. I haven't tried making it the night before. If any of you do, let me know if it holds up until lunch the next day. This will be easier to eat if you use the smaller inner leaves. Spread a lettuce leaf with pesto (Olive Pesto is incredible with this "sandwich"), creamy salad dressing (Blue Cheese Dressing is fabulous), or mayo. Layer deli-sliced meat, deli-sliced cheese, thinly sliced tomato, another lettuce leaf with your spread of choice, etc. until you have a few layers, with a lettuce leaf on top. Wrap tightly in cellophane. More salads:

When you get tired of the sandwich and salad routine here are a few a la carte items that will be sure to satisfy:

Baked Potato Cup

Roughly mash leftover potato with raw egg & shredded cheese. Bake inside 1/2 a bell pepper until pepper is tender, about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. When cool, cut in wedges. Eat cold or at room temperature.


Leftover quiche tastes great cold or room temp.

Deviled Eggs

Make a double-batch of deviled eggs for dinner. Use the leftovers for lunches. They'll keep for a day or two before losing their flavor.

Take a look at your dinner menu. Can any of it be packed for lunch the next day? Use these questions to rethink leftovers:

  • Can it be added to a salad?
  • Is it good cold or room temp?
  • Is there a microwave available for reheating?
  • Can it be added to a canned soup?
  • Can it be made into a sandwich?
  • Can it be stuffed into a cored tomato and served cold?

Can it be stuffed into a bell pepper, baked and served cold or room temp? If the stuffing is fully cooked and you're afraid it may become too dry, top with sauce (pesto, alfredo, tomato ...) before baking again inside the pepper.


These healthy extras require little or no preparation:

  • corn tortilla chips
  • Soya King soy chips
  • whole grain crackers
  • graham crackers
  • cheese cubes
  • celery sticks or jalapenos filled with Brie, chevre, or cream cheese thinned with milk or pesto until spreadable
  • fill the above with flaked salmon, cream cheese, sea salt & pepper to taste
  • dates filled with cream cheese
  • salami or other hard sausage
  • raw veggies with or without dip: bell pepper, celery, carrot, jicima, radish, stalk of spring onion, cherry tomato, zucchini
  • dried fruit
  • nuts
  • seeds like sunflower, pumpkin or pine nuts
  • mix of dried fruits, nuts & seeds (sweeten the pot with a few chocolate or peanut butter chips)
  • black beans and corn tossed with salsa and/or oil & vinegar dressing


You'll pay a lot for the convenience of dessert in single serving containers. Instead buy a quart of yogurt, make up a package of gelatin or instant pudding and scoop into containers which you can use again and again. For a fun treat if you're packing for children, make finger Jell-O and wrap in cellophane or wax paper or freeze yogurt, gelatin, or pudding in ziplock baggies (snack size ones work best). When your child is ready to eat he/she can snip a corner off and squeeze dessert directly into their mouths. They love this! Actually I love this too, but nobody will sit with me at the lunch table anymore so I'm back to using a spoon. Make up a double batch of zucchini, pumpkin, or carrot bread. Serve one loaf for dinner and pack the other to eat plain, or with cream cheese and/or honey.

Quickie Lunches

When you're in a hurry you can make a quick stop at the supermarket for prepared items, which while more expensive than doing it yourself are still considerably cheaper than a restaurant lunch. These items can be found in any supermarket or health food store:

  • preshredded vegetables ready for a quick toss with dressing
  • salsa and tortilla chips
  • precut fresh fruits or fruit salads
  • washed salad greens
  • coleslaw mix
  • frozen white corn - When thawed, it tastes remarkably close to fresh corn and can be eaten raw.
  • roasted chicken packed cold or mixed with mayo and chopped veggies for chicken salad
  • deli meatloaf

Take the Next Step:

  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.

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