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Lunchtime For Less?

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 
I was making a budget for myself, and realized that I spend a lot of money eating out. One reason for this is that I'm at school all day most weekdays, and it's less time consuming to eat on or around campus than hike to my car and drive home.

Once I saw where all my money is going, I decided to spend no more than $5 on lunch each day. It isn't impossible to eat out for $5, but it'll probably be easier on my wallet if I bring food from home.

What do you all do for lunch? Do you bring lunch from home? If you bring lunch from home, what sort of things do you bring? I'd love to hear your suggestions.
post #2 of 32
I would like to know too - I am always eating at the cafes around campus and they are not cheap.

I don't really like taking sandwiches with me because they aren't as fresh as the day goes. And I am in the lab so I am not putting my food at risk.
post #3 of 32
I take my lunch to work every day in a small cooler. I take a spinach salad with spinach leaves, bean sprouts, a little Hormel pepper bacon, a little cheese, some roasted sunflower seeds, Kalamata olives, and about 4 croutons. I also include a bag of baby carrots and celery sticks, three mandarins, a little baggie of chips, a Nalgene bottle of water, a can of coke, and a balance bar. During the day, I can snack on the stuff I bring and there really isn't any reason to buy stuff that is expensive or terribly unhealthy.

I have a little ice pack that I refreeze every night to keep stuff cool. And no, I don't use any salad dressing.
post #4 of 32
A small soft sided cooler with a small ice pack will keep your lunch for hours. DH brings a sandwich, can of soda and a piece of fruit with him for lunch every day. If you have the right containers, you could make a salad and pack that in the cooler.
post #5 of 32
Have you ever heard of Bento? Here are a couple links


http://www.laptoplunches.com/ (the lunch ideas tab on this website is great!)

...and you can google "bento lunch recipes" or "laptop lunch" or "bento blogs" etc.

If you get a soft sided cooler with one or two of the small blue freezer things, it will keep cold all day. When I would work 12 hr shifts at the hospital I did that and it worked great! You can get creative and put pretty much anything in there that you can think of.
post #6 of 32
I've been taking my lunch for a couple of months now because the hospital cafeteria menu is beyond grim....and way overpriced for Gordon Food Service food!

On the weekend I make a couple of meals, chicken Parmesan, chili, cheese ravioli with marinara, chicken & rice casserole, etc., and package it up into lunch sized servings and put it in the freezer. In the morning I can just pop it into a lunch bag with my iced tea, along with a granola bar and yogurt for breakfast, and my lunch is tasty and relatively economical. Some days I'll just grab a can of soup and some crackers/cheese, if nothing in the freezer interests me (or if I've been lazy and didn't cook on the weekend!)
post #7 of 32
I was buying sandwiches from the grocery store deli for about $4 each but that adds up at five days a week so I bought a bag of sandwich rolls, a pound of meat from the deli and made sandwiches myself (just bread, meat and mustard) it wasnt a thrilling lunch but it was inexpensive and I didnt really mind it.
Oh, and I put it in a tupperware container so I wasnt spending money on ziplock baggies
post #8 of 32
When I was or when I DO work on site some place -- I also cook ahead and take lunch-sized portions with me. Or pack salads with cooked meat and veggies on top and other assorted snacks to keep in my desk. Buy bigger containers of things - like pretzels or chips and put portions in reuseable containers to take with. It's cheaper than buying them from a commissary, vending machine or convenience store.
post #9 of 32
For lunch, I have one of two things: a can of soup or one of those boxed vegetables. The Green Giant ones are steamed in the microwave and they have different varieties, not just one plain vegetable. They're great for watching what I eat, because they're filling but not a lot of calories. And they're only about $1 - $1.25 a box. Usually I bring a granola or snack bar, yogurt, and fruit or applesauce cup for the rest of my lunch.
post #10 of 32
I bring a yoghurt, some applesauce (big jar and put in a smaller container and wash).
Veggies, milk in a re-washable glass, leftover's.
post #11 of 32
I try to take my lunch but I don't like it warm or squashed by my books but I also don't like it too cold

I generally get up too late/too many cats to fed anyway.

I've got a 4 month break from Polytech so I'm eating lunch at home at the moment.

Good luck with the $5 challenge!
post #12 of 32
I normally make a sandwich or take leftovers from dinner the night before but there have been many morning I forget to freeze my ice pack so that's out of the question. People have a bad habit of "stealing" lunches from the fridge at work. We have 800 people and 4 refridgerators so things get...um...crowded?

On days like that, I throw in a can of soup or a can of ravioli (it goes on sale a lot for 10 cans for $10) and include a microwave safe dish (tupperware or the cheap imitation) and crackers or bread. Sometimes I take a lot of little snacks and snack on them all day instead of actually eating lunch. Fresh veggies and a container of fat free ranch dressing, or a zip lock bag full of pretzels. That usually works for me.
post #13 of 32
i bring stuff to work & leave it there. i have a mini-fridge & a microwave in my classroom [i'm a teacher]. during warm weather, i tend to eat cheese & crackers for lunch. during the winter, i eat soup, chili or mac-n-cheese [all microwaveable].
subway is always running ads for their $5 foot-long subs. i'd think that'd make at least 2 meals for a normal person [probably more like 4 meals for me!].
post #14 of 32
I usually take sandwiches for lunch, and then whatever goodies I feel like for the day....pudding cups, applesauce, fruit cups, fruit to go bars, granola bars, pretzels, yogurt.

I can't eat sandwiches every week, so sometimes I will have a supply of microwavable meals, mini pizzas, leftovers, or soup, veggies and dip, salads (veggie or pasta), cheese and crackers, bagels and cream cheese, or other dips/spreads (spinach dip w/ pitas).

Get some GOOD containers (leak proof...which I find really difficult to find...but the "locking" ones seem to do a good job in my students' lunches), and perhaps a thermos to take hot foods if you do not have access to a microwave.

When I was in university, there were still somedays when I didn't feel like eating my "brown bag" lunch, and I still bought. But, it is really expensive when you compare it to making your own lunch. Perhaps plan to pack a lunch 4 days and treat yourself on Fridays or something (or maybe Wednesday to break up the week). If you're like me and lack self-control, perhaps leave your money at home on the days you pack a lunch!

You do get used to it...it just takes some time...and a little bit of creativity.
post #15 of 32
The cafeteria where I work tends to be expensive and the best stuff on the menu is just OK. Where I work is ~10 miles from the closest restaurant of any kind, so it's a 1.5 - 2 hr lunch if I want to go somewhere. As a result, I take my lunch pretty much every day. On a typical day I'll take a couple of breakfast bars or bananas for breakfast and something like a sandwich and crackers for lunch. Other lunch options for me are some kind of soup / pasta / chili in a microwaveable bowl, hot pockets, or some sort of a TV dinner. I only drink 1 coke per day at dinner, so I either drink water (from the water cooler) or coffee with my meals. I would guess on average that's ~ $5 for both breakfast and lunch, though I do usually go into town and take the 2 hour lunch once a week. But only if there's a group of us going. If it's just me, no way.
post #16 of 32
I usually will bring a leftover from dinner the night before, if I dont give it all to Rob for lunch. I also bought these 90-second Hormel meals, they're $2/each at Bi-Lo. They're not too bad for a microwavable meal.

Rob and I designate Friday as our "go out to lunch day", which we do together. Today I DID order delivery because I woke up late, hadn't made dinner Sunday, and didn't bring anything for lunch. We used to go out a lot but it took too much $$ and we needed to get away from that pattern with the house coming.
post #17 of 32
I also liked to used left-overs for lunch. Left-over pasta, casseroles, chili and soup were my favorites. Invest in a small microwaveable dish or thermos and that is all you need. You not only save money but you also have the opportunity to make much healthier food choices.
post #18 of 32
Why not buy a thermal insulated lunch bag and start bringing your own lunch. It's cheaper to bring a sandwich and a piece of fruit and a drink than it is to buy anything. Plus it's more healthy.

A thermal lunch bag doesn't need to be refrigerated.
post #19 of 32
I like to make my sandwiches in a pita. I buy whole wheat pitas, meat (I usually get fat free turkey), cheese and lettuce. I put it all inside the pita with a little bit of mayo and sometimes a little bit of italian salad dressing.
post #20 of 32
Originally Posted by catlover19 View Post
I like to make my sandwiches in a pita. I buy whole wheat pitas, meat (I usually get fat free turkey), cheese and lettuce. I put it all inside the pita with a little bit of mayo and sometimes a little bit of italian salad dressing.
Now, I like that idea! I love pita bread and I didn't even think of that.
post #21 of 32
i saw a really neat thing on tv this morning, it is summer over here and all the kids have gone back to school for a new year!
Its a lunch box and its covered with a special material so no heat should penetrate and then when its cold outside it doesn't freeze the food.
it has a little zip thing at the top to put in these ice packs that you freeze the night before. Then there was good Tupperware so none of the food leaked out! Was thinking of getting one my self but then i realized i only work on weekends and its at a cafe so i get fed for lunch!

But what i do considering im traveling for 2 hours is eat some flavoured instant porridge all you need is milk and a microwave!
post #22 of 32
Salad is a great lunch to pack because you can put whatever you like in it. Just pack the dressing separately so it doesn't get soggy.
post #23 of 32
I usually bring what ever is left over from dinner the night before. If there aren't any then I usually pack a can of soup of chefboyrd. Sometimes a salad. Today I have 2 chicken legs and some brussel sprouts for lunch, some fresh veggies and dip for an afternoon snack and I just made a PB, banana & honey sandwich at my desk. I think the trick to some things is to keep the wet stuff separate as long as possible. If you want a sandwich, make it but leave off the mayo/mustard/dressing and pack it separately. Just don't forget a knife to spread it on with later. If you can run to your car between classes you could easily pack a decent size cooler for the day and then you wouldn't even have to spend on pop/drink and most campuses have a cafe with at least one microwave.
post #24 of 32
I must be lucky that my lunches at my campus are cheep and good.. we have a few classes that teach culinary arts here so the foods pretty good to boot. I spend around $4 3 days a week on my lunches. The other 2 days I have a bagel and coffie... morning class.
post #25 of 32
I take leftovers when I have them, and sometimes I get my parents’ leftovers when I visit them. For most of my lunches though I go on a special “office food†shopping trip once every couple of weeks. I pick up lunch meat and a loaf of bread, a large fresh fruit salad, salad mix, etc. and keep it all at work in the fridge and can make my lunch fresh there. I also buy snacks to keep at work so I stay away from the vending machines (granola bars and nuts usually). You could buy special lunch food and just pack it in a lunch box to take with you daily. If you want to pack snacks in your bag, I would put them in a Tupperware container so they don’t get crushed and become unappealing!

If your car is close enough to go to for lunch time I also support the idea of a cooler in the car. With a few reusable ice packs you could keep your cold lunch things as well as drinks for the day in there. Its amazing how quickly $1.50 here and there on a bottle of juice/soda/water adds up! I work in an office where I have a fridge, but I still keep drinks (not cold) in my car so I don’t have to remember to bring them from home. I just bring a couple in as needed and put them in the fridge, it is much cheaper than buying them in the machines or cafe.

If you currently buy coffee out, I would recommend a good travel cup and just bring your coffee from home. I use flavored cream and make my coffee at home and bring it to work. I spent $15 on a good travel cup and now I spend less for a month of bringing coffee from home every day than I would buying Starbucks for just 1 week. Also since I make it myself I can make it a lot healthier.

Best of luck with your new lunch budget - I’m still tweaking mine!
post #26 of 32
I make my high-protein cornbread every week or so, cut it in squares, and freeze the squares in their own little baggies. Then I toss one in my purse before I leave for work, and by lunchtime, it's room-temperature... or I can microwave it.

(My cornbread is just Morrison's Corn-Kit mix with applesauce instead of eggs, some protein powder added, plus some frozen corn and shredded cheddar. I spread it on parchment on a pizza pan to bake. Fairly healthy, I think!)
post #27 of 32
I work a night shift and the cafeteria is not open, so it's bring your own or go hungry. I have access to a microwave, which helps. There is a refrigerator at work, but it's usually jammed full so I never even try to put anything in it. I have an insulated lunch bag that works very well.

When I'm cooking for myself at home I always make extra so I can freeze two or three meals. I put the frozen meals in the insulated lunch bag, and by the time I take my lunch break it's usually thawed but still cold, ready to zap it in the microwave. Casseroles work really well this way. If it's meat and vegetables they may thaw too quickly, so I put in a small ice pack as well.

Salads are great. Just don't put salad dressing on and it will stay fresh. If I haven't gotten around to cooking or making a salad I sometimes just throw in yogurt, a piece of fruit, and a protein bar or cheese sticks.
post #28 of 32
Thread Starter 
I ordered a resuable lunchbag from the animal rescue site, and put away some left over ravioli in a ZipLoc Twist & Lock container. (I used these containers over the summer to keep a sandwich dry in an ice chest, and they worked!) I was most of the way to school before I realized that I had left my ravioli at home!

I do have some microwave soups and juice pouches in my desk. I really liked the idea to store snacks in small containers and keep them in my desk, and will get some snacks the next time I go to the grocery store. I can probably store a case of soda in my desk too.

Thank you all for the great ideas!
post #29 of 32
Originally Posted by Going Nova View Post
I was making a budget for myself, and realized that I spend a lot of money eating out. One reason for this is that I'm at school all day most weekdays, and it's less time consuming to eat on or around campus than hike to my car and drive home.

Once I saw where all my money is going, I decided to spend no more than $5 on lunch each day. It isn't impossible to eat out for $5, but it'll probably be easier on my wallet if I bring food from home.

What do you all do for lunch? Do you bring lunch from home? If you bring lunch from home, what sort of things do you bring? I'd love to hear your suggestions.
A few hints:

Soft drinks have gotten expensive. It's really easy to spend $2 on a soft drink, even at a fast-food restaurant. Get water, or take your own.

Most restaurants have some low-priced items they advertise a lot. At McDonalds, for example, you can get two hamburgers for less than $2, but one Quarter Pounder is almost $3.

By the way, even at a sit-down restaurant, a little careful choosing can save you big money. At Chili's and Cheddar's restaurants, you can get a great hamburger for not all that much money.
post #30 of 32
I never buy lunches when I go to work. I always take mine. I normally take leftovers, make a salad or a sandwich to take with some healthy snacks, or take a lean cusine. (Our grocery store puts their lean cusine's on sale sometimes for around $1.50 on certain ones, and sometimes depending on the one you get they're pretty yummy.) We have a refridgerator/freezer at work so I just put my lunch in there when I get there at the start of my shift. As far as snacks go- I always take my own, usually a yogurt, fruit, or chips/etc - I don't buy the individual sized packages though- you pay more for packaging that way, I get the normal size and just take the time to set aside smaller portions for myself the night before I go to work.

As far as drinks go- I have a 32oz. waterbottle I take to work with me (and actually use it at home, working out,etc. I love it.) I just wash it out and refill it whenever I want. I always pack it full of ice water and drink on it throughout the day. I normally just drink water. I haven't had a soft drink in over 10 yrs so I definitely save money not buying those. On occassion i'll put juice or sweet tea in my waterbottle when I want a change.
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