Today’s questions is from Kim:
Do you have any suggestions for frugal lunches? My husband needs a break from PB & J, so I’m trying to find some other options. He doesn’t have access to a microwave, so leftovers aren’t an option, unfortunately. -Kim
Do you have a question you’d like to ask Money Saving Mom® readers? Read the submission guidelines and submit it here.
Elizabeth Rogers says
One of our favorite summertime lunches is from a recipe I found years ago on a Kraft mac and cheese box. It’s basically a pasta salad made by cooking the mac and cheese according to the box directions then adding chopped onion, frozen peas, couple of tablespoons of mayo, and a can of tuna. Chill and serve with saltines and some type of fruit. Now I don’t usually use boxed mac and cheese, but when I make homemade mac and cheese I make extra and use the leftovers to make “Seaside Salad”. Lots of possibilities for substitutions and additions to make it a little healthier, too!
I second the burrito ideas. I often bring a cheese and salsa burrito for lunch, which I often eat cold.
Does your husband like hot wings? Those are fun to bring for lunch and easy to eat at room temperature. And if you’re making them at home, they can be pretty economical.
Here are two other suggestions, artichoke spinach pasta salad
http://kitchenserf.com/category/pasta-salad/ and southwestern quinoa salad
Jennifer H says
Bean and cheese burrito – I spread the beans on the tortilla, sprinkle on the cheese, heat in the microwave for 30 second, then roll up and wrap in foil. My son says it’s awesome and he eats lunch about 4 1/2 hours after I fix it.
This is great!!!! http://www.walmart.com/ip/Crock-Pot-20-Ounce-Lunch-Crock-Food-Warmer/19699710
My husband often takes yogurt and granola or almonds.
My husband and I both like to take mason jar salads for lunch. You can find tutorials and recipes on Pinterest. We like them because we can make them all on Saturday evening, store them in the fridge and just grab one in the morning on our way to work. Everything stays fresh through the week. Just be sure to pack a bowl and fork.
My mom likes to spread peanut butter on a tortilla and wrap it around a banana for a quick lunch on the go.
Julie @ Logger's Wife says
Unconventional idea: My husband works in a bucket truck on the side of the road, trimming the trees near the power lines. He takes leftovers every day, all year long. In the winter, he sticks the leftover container on the defroster at morning break and it is warm by lunch. In the summer, he puts it in the same spot but lets the sun heat it up. It works really well for him. It’s essentially like using a solar oven but instead of cooking, he’s just warming things up.
He’s been doing this for about 3 years now. Works great.
I do this too in the summer. If I’m going to have a busy day at work where I’m out on the road all day, I’ll bring a slice or two of pizza and leave it on my dashboard in the sun.
That is what I was going to say! At least around here, the sun will warm up a car even in winter! In summer, solar cooking works!
There are quite a few foods that don’t need to stay cold or warm. Cheese pizza won’t go bad. Just have to watch out for milk, eggs and meat. Beef jerky comes in handy.
At work my lunches are fine in my lunch box. I make meat and cheese sandwiches. Many leftovers do not need to be reheated. In summer, we have cold bean burritos!
I think the best way figure out what put in the lunch is to think of what he wants to eat, then figure out how to make that work. You can almost anything work!
Kids love pizza even cold. U se grand’s biscuits make mini pizza’s.
Katy @ Purposely Frugal says
I also forgot to mention pizza muffins. We took these on our last road trip: http://purposelyfrugal.com/2013/06/28/muffin-mania-pizza-muffins/#.U3RAY3Z2T1F
Lisa Munoz says
Breakfast burritos are cheap and great to make ahead. I dice potatoes and fry them. Or hash browns. Use whatever meat you like. Scramble couple dozen eggs and throw cheese in when they are almost done. Mix all together and start filling tortillas. Dollar tree has foil wrappers that are perfect for this. Also do bean and cheese burritos. Make pinto beans in crock pot. Mash and season with salt pepper and garlic. Fill tortillas and top with cheese. Can add hamburger turkey or shredded pork too!
We pack lunches for our two kids daily since our school does not offer hot lunch. We sometimes do cheese quesadillas in the morning. My daughter also has a thermos that keeps food hot. Sometimes she’ll take pasta or soup in that. We also do lunchmeat and cheese with veggies.
Teri Wells says
My husband drives a service truck . He eats in his truck most days. Several years ago I found a cooler/warmer that plugs into the cig lighter. He is able to take cans of soup, beans , etc. It doesn’t get warm enough to heat a frozen meal but it does a great job with things right out of the can or fridge. I found his at Belk at Christmas time. They have them on Amazon, and sporting stores. It has really improved his lunches.
Agree with the thermos-i send both girls to school with soup/beans/mac and cheese and it stays warm. Watch Target right before school starts and they will have the ones on clearance that fit in lunch boxes. He might end up with spiderman or superman though! We also do a cold pasta salad with italian dressing or oil and balsamic vinegar. A great way to use that last little bit of pasta, a spare veggie or two even leftover corn or peas are great. A couple pieces of chicken shredded up and it makes a great lunch!
My hubby takes sandwiches or leftovers but once in a while he gets tired of that and actually brings cereal. I put it in a plastic container and put milk on a thermos on the side. A bagel with cream cheese is an idea too. Sometimes he takes those pre- packed crackers with cheese and maybe yogurt on the side.
We got my husband a little crockpot that is made just for reheating things on the desktop. I ordered his from Amazon but we have seen them at Target. It works great and he also uses it for heating sandwiches which I wrap in foil. Here’s a link:
My coworker bought her boyfriend this little device that plugs into the cigarette lighter thing of a car and heats up like a mini-oven. Now he can take leftovers!! I think she got it on Amazon.
Try variations of pb&j. Almond butter or maple butter for example. And homemade jams or preserves. Use a hearty bread and it’ll fill him up and stand up to the consistency of the jellies.
My husband got tired of PB&J and the deli meat sandwiches. He is really enjoying grilled chicken salad. I did buy the pre-cooked frozen chicken which is costly, but he is the only one eating it. He likes the salad with apples, raisins, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce. I put the grilled chicken and his salad dressing in separate containers from his salad. I put the salad in a cooler with ice packs. His cooler keeps his salad cold until he decides to eat lunch around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. He is also enjoying fruit that I cut up for his lunch, especially in the summer when he is working outside.
I love making a cold vegetable “pizza” in the summer and it’s great for lunches.
2 pkgs crescent roll baked flat on a cookie sheet
1 pkg cream cheese
1/2 c sour cream
dill to season
Anything you want, we like
cauliflower, broccoli, shredded carrot, red peppers, Parmesan
The Pioneer Woman’s beef drip sandwiches are really good cold, you just don’t add the juice, instead, a smear of horseradish mayo. http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/02/drip-beef-two-ways/
Shauna S says
We are going to try a bento box style lunch for my hubby soon. Veggies and fruits. Pasta salads. Hard boiled eggs.
Homemade lunchables… I often pack my husband some crackers, sliced cheese, and lunch meat, or homemade roast chicken or roast beef. You can add veggies w/ or w/o dip. Fresh fruits. Wraps filled w/ meats, cheeses, & veggies. Salads of all sorts. Foods kept warm in a thermos is great too.
Try Cucumber Tuna Boats. Make your favorite tuna salad. Peel a cucumber. Slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out cucumber seeds with a spoon; discard seeds. Serve tuna salad on top of cucumber “boats.” Delicious & much healthier than tuna salad sandwiches.
That does sound good!
I cut half a cucumber into spears and take it to work every day. And I do mean every single day! Love them.
Angela (Colour and Cotton) says
I usually make snacky lunches – crackers and cheese, smoothies (love my NutriBullet!), fruit, carrots and hummus, etc.
I also love taking leftovers if you can find a great insulated bag. Chili, lasagna, spaghetti, and burritos all seem to hold up well (I’m weird about my leftovers).
Tortillas with peanut butter & fruit, cream cheese & veggies, or dressing/mayo, deli meat & veggies
I don’t do sandwiches but here are some different ideas: hardboiled eggs, cottage cheese and berries, string cheese and whole grain crackers, raw veggies and hummus, or cut up apples with peanut butter, yogurt, protein shake, salad with a tuna pack or leftover shredded chicken, pasta salad.
I grew up taking a sandwich, piece of fruit or applesauce, & sometimes chips in my lunch every day–bologna, tuna, ham salad, egg salad. We like cold pasta too–pizza, tuna & noodles, lasagne, spaghetti, plus many more.
Cold quiche is pretty tasty, and cheap to make. We make a hashbrown crust instead of pie crust, then add any meat and cheese we have. Yogurt and granola (homemade for both) is one of my husband’s favorite things for a change. We make whole milk yogurt – more filling and lower carb. Cold sloppy joes are pretty tasty too!
My husband brings his lunch. He likes snacky type lunches, like the kind that Crystal talks about.
Things like granola bars and applesauce, which are portable, are great and easy to bring.
I wrote a post about some of the other options in my post “Saving Money On Snacks.” You can check it out here: http://www.intentionallypursuing.com/2014/03/28/saving-money-snacks/
But things like peanuts, carrots, broccoli, cereal – all make for a great lunch : )
I’ll second the recommendation for a food thermos. Both of my kids have one for days they pack their lunch for school. Food I’ve sent in the thermos includes all kinds of soups and chilis, meatloaf, meatballs, pulled pork, taco meat, spaghetti, sloppy joe, and shredded chicken for burritos. Just send the bread or tortilla and fixings on the side.
I don’t usually get a lunch break on Fridays and my favorite 3 min quick lunch on those days is vegetable fried rice from Traders Joes ( or you could make your own). It only takes a few minutes in the morning to cook then I put it immediately into a Thermos midnight blue food container I bought on Amazon ( I think it was about $15). Food is still warm 6 hours later. It’s a nice change from PB&J.
My son is not a sandwich fan, so we send lots of soups and leftovers in his school lunch. An insulated thermos works great–we have a stainless steel one. You put some boiling water in there for a couple minutes first. Dump the water and add soup or leftovers.
Invest in a good thermos and yes your food will stay hot. Also, a good insulated cooler and ice packs and whatever you want will also stay cold.
Ashley P says
We invested $80 in a deli slicer. We buy whole turkey breasts from Sam’s and slice our own deli meats. So it makes for decent (and CHEAP!) sandwiches.
Salads are also a good option. I don’t personally like them, but others do. Just make sure you have a cold pack to keep it from wilting.
Soup or stew in a thermos. It might not be piping hot, but it will at least be warm.
Some leftovers can be eaten cold. Chicken, ham, even pizza. It’s not MY cup of tea, but my hubby loves it.
I pack sandwiches every day. I just change what kind every week. One week PB&J. One week turkey. One week chicken. One week ham. At the end of the month, I start all over again. I also vary what snacks I take. One day chips. The next cookies. The next trail mix. The next fruit slices. The variety keeps me from getting too bored.
Also, cereal is great to eat any time of day. A packet of cereal, a Tupperware bowl, a thermos of milk and a cold pack. BAM. Cereal for lunch. 🙂
I pack lunch for my hubby every day and he is on the road as a salesman, so I can’t do leftovers that need to be heated up either. His favorite is chicken wraps. I buy boneless/skinless chicken breasts in bulk when it’s on sale and marinate it in Italian dressing. Then hubby grills it and I slice it thin and lay the slices out flat on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. Stick the cookie sheet in the freezer for a while (till chicken is partially frozen) and then dump it all in a big freezer bag. It’s a bit of work up front, but in the AM when I’m making his wrap, it’s all worth it! I put a layer of lettuce or spinach on a whole wheat wrap, then 4 or 5 pieces of frozen chicken and drizzle it with low fat ranch dressing…wrap it all up and he’s good to go! The chicken defrosts in his lunch cooler and by the time he eats it, it’s fine. I round his lunch out with yogurt topped with homemade granola, baby carrots and some whole grain chips and maybe a small sweet 🙂 As a variation, I sometimes put tuna in his wrap instead of chicken and in the summer when our veggie garden is going, I’ll put some sweet pepper strips and/or cucumber strips in with the chicken. I mix it up with some egg salad sandwiches some days or a salad with a chopped up hard boiled egg/frozen chicken strips other days…no complaints yet, so I guess he likes it 🙂
I’ve also sent hot soup in a thermos in the winter months…works great.
I LOVE pepperoni and cheese sandwiches. They are good hot or cold. 🙂
Salads are good too, just store the dressing and/or croutons in a small container until its time to eat.
If you have a thermos container, you can store hot soups and chili’s but also hot dogs too.
Centsible Indian says
How about Garbanzo beans, carrot salad? You can buy 4 pounds of Garbanzo beans for 4 dollars and 1 cup of Garbanzo beans is enough for 1 person.
Soak it overnight, boil it with salt, drain the water, and add sliced carrot and salad dressing – lunch is ready
If you have access to slow cooker, how about slow cooker lasagna and slow cooker mexican rice?
slow cooker mexican rice contains only 4 ingredients (easily available and cheap) and delicious.
How about egg sandwich? toast whole wheat bread, add sliced boiled egg, spinach, and cheese. Good to go.
these are the things I can think of for now.
–Bagel and cream cheese
–Italian bread or roll with mozzarella cheese (I pull apart a string cheese), tomato, basil, and olive oil
–my other ideas were already listed. 🙂
My husband has a ham and cheese sandwich with some carrots and a cheese stick in his lunch. Sometimes a fruit leather too along with water and once in a while a cookie.
I am in the same boat. Cold pasta salads (endless possibilities), wraps, hard boiled eggs, meat/cheese/crackers, yogurt parfait fixins, trail mix, raw fruit or veggies plus dip, oatmeal cookies, ovaltine (to increase vitamins), green salads, etc can help change up the menu and provide a somewhat more filling/healthy lunch.
Katy @ Purposely Frugal says
With no microwave pasta salads can be a great cheap lunch. Noodles, chicken and whatever else mixed together for a nice chilled lunch. Here’s a parmesan and basil chicken pasta salad I’ve made before: http://purposelyfrugal.com/2012/05/30/parmesan-basil-chicken-pasta/#.U3O-OnZ2T1E
My thoughts were wrap sandwiches and chips and salsa.
My dad took ham and cheese sandwich and an apple to work for like 30 years.
Katy @ Purposely Frugal says
I love wraps! We like to take them when going on trips, as they seem to hold together better than sandwiches.
Lea Stormhammer says
So many good ideas already!
I’ll second the soups and salads – and add in wheat berry salad with the salads too.
We also do the following:
* Sandwich “kabobs” – cheese, tomatoes, lunch meat (or leftover cold ham, chicken or turkey), lettuce, etc. – on a kabob stick (or toothpick) with mustard to dip
* Apple slices with PB or cheese and I think someone already mentioned humus with veggies.
* Any kind of leftover that can be eaten cold or hot – pizza, grilled veggies or meat, etc.
* Sometimes we use tortillas and make wrap sandwiches rather than on bread.
* Sides I use are usually cut veggies, fruit, yogurt, crackers with an optional dessert of some kind.
* If your husband likes smoothies you can pack those in a thermos and send with.
* A standard drip coffee pot can also be used to make hot water or maybe he has hot water available somewhere (break room?) for ramen, instant soups, oatmeal, etc.
* In college we used our drip coffee maker to make canned condensed soup and instant rice (not at the same time). Fill the water receptacle on the coffee maker like you normally would, do not put coffee or a filter in the basket. Add your can of condensed soup or rice to the carafe. Put the carafe in place and turn on. Let sit a few minutes (5-ish) after all the water has passed into the carafe. Stir and eat. This doesn’t work with quick-cook rice – only instant!
I usually freeze our drinks (or sometimes a homemade smoothie or container of yogurt) for an icepack that thaws out right in time for lunch. That means I don’t have to worry about refrigeration or spoilage. I do have regular small ice packs to send along if need be too.
Leftovers are always an option… just not ones that need a microwave. You can use the same tricks I use with my daughter’s school lunches – heating leftovers until they are really, REALLY hot and then storing in a Thermos jar (good for 5 hours). Or cold leftovers – pasta salad, big green salads with added protein (chicken, tuna, cheese, or nuts) and an icepack to keep everything cold. How about a wrap with lots of greens and some chicken? Not quite as cheap as PBJ, but not too far off, and healthy!
Hearty snacks can even turn into lunch – cut up veggies, cheese, and crackers/pretzels/pita with a healthy dip like hummus or guacamole.
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
I make a lot of yummy higher protein salads for lunches in huge batches which last the week.
Lentil salad, quinoa salad, and bean salad (I don’t make this as often because it’s hard on my tummy) are all terrific options. They can all last hours without having to be refrigerated. In fact, I just ate my yummy quinoa salad wrapped up in romaine leaves.
I’m happy to share the recipes if you think he would like them.
I know lots of people scoff at quinoa, but when they eat my quinoa salad they become converts!
You could also send him with hearty soup in a thermos that can keep things warm.
I’m interested in your recipes!!
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
I’m going to work on typing them up and then will share. They are really easy!
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
Cook your quinoa (I cook a whole bag at a time from Trader Joes – it’s $4.99/lb bag for organic quinoa)
Make sure not to over-cook it, you don’t want it too mushy. Cooking quinoa is very similar to cooking rice.
Make sure you rinse it well before cooking (quinoa contains saponins and needs to be washed thoroughly)
Working with it once it has cooled is easier, but if you can’t wait, just start when it’s warm.
I cook everything to taste, and don’t really stick to recipes (unless baking), so all of these amounts are approximate. You can add more of everything as you go along – can’t really mess it up!
To your cooked quinoa add:
¼ cup to 2/3 cup olive oil
About ¼ cup rice vinegar (I prefer unseasoned)
½-1 whole onion chopped finely
A few stalks of celery chopped
Mix all ingredients and serve!
Great additions include:
Sliced carrots, red pepper, thinly sliced kale, juice from ½ a lemon, cilantro or flat leaf parsley
The key I’ve found with these kinds of salads is balancing the salt, vinegar and oil.
It’s very easy and can be totally flexible to what you have on hand!
Margery H. says
How much is in the Trader Joe’s bag? I buy mine in bulk from Costco, so it would be helpful to know how many ounces you are using.
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
Hi Margery, I believe it’s 16 0z.
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
Cook a bag of green lentils – you want them firm and not mushy, so don’t over-cook.
Add olive oil (1/2-2/3 cup), juice from a lemon, 2 if they are small, rice vinegar (a few dashes to taste – adjust as you go along), kosher salt (plenty), pepper (to taste), mint (handful chopped), flat leaf parsley (handful chopped), chopped celery (1 cup give or take)
You can add-in thinly sliced carrots if you want too. This weekend we added kale flowers to give some pretty yellow pops of color.
It’s easy and cheap and delicious, and tastes better after a day or so in the fridge as all those flavors start to meld!
Thank you for taking the time to post your recipes. I have been eating meals with too many simple carbs lately and have put on about 5 pounds 🙁
These salads will be a great addition. I cannot wait to try the quinoa salad. I’ve had a box in my pantry for over two months and now know what to do with it.
Simple, Easy, Frugal says
Yay! I hope you like it!
Margery H. says
Is this a 1-lb. bag? Thanks for sharing.
Anne Marie @ The Oklahoma Texan says
You can send hot leftovers in an insulated container.
Cream cheese and cucumber make inexpensive sandwiches. Lunch meat is frugal when bought on sale. If you hit a great sale, stock up and freeze some of it. Egg salad, tuna salad, chicken (salad or just a cold piece of chicken), cheese and veggies. Tortillas also make good roll-ups with lunch meat or hummus and veggies.
Christina Z says
Really?? It stays hot? Interesting!
Karen T says
I have sent my daughter to school with a hot thermos of chefboyrdee or macaroni. Thermos brand sells shorter, wide mouth containers just for this type of thing! They work amazing!
Yes! Get a good quality Thermos designed for entrees. My daughter and I take them to school/work for soup, stews, casseroles, etc. Make sure the food is good and hot in the morning, and it will be nice and warm at lunch time.
We also take sandwiches or wraps with different kinds of meat. Sometimes leftover chicken or roast instead of the typical lunch meat. Use a thermal lunchbox with an ice pack if you’re concerned with contamination, but honestly, I’ve taken meat in my lunch for years and years and I’ve never gotten sick.
It helps too to fill up the thermos with very hot water and let it sit for a minute or two before dumping it out and filling with the hot food — sort of “preheating” the thermos.
Yes, this works amazingly well. My husband loves to use his Thermos for hot soup in the winter time. It keeps it very hot. We also put leftovers in sometimes. And you can use it to keep things cold in the summer (frozen fruit, etc). We live in TX, so an insulated lunchbox with an ice pack does not stay very cold!
Misty Nicole Overstreet-Roberts (The Lady Prefers To Save) says
For my family I like to make 1 1/2 portions of whatever meat I cook for a dinner, and use it the next day for lunches; some ways I do so are making quesadillas, sliders, as salad toppings, as pressed sandwiches, as open faced sandwiches, or as finger food alongside cheese, nuts, and grapes. I plan dinners, which snacks and lunches in mind as well!
You could try some unconventional sources for lunch meat if you want to vary the sandwiches – I’ve often seen ham, pork shoulder, and bone-in chicken cuts for $1/less a lb. Cook it up in the crockpot, shred (or slice), and put it on a sandwich or in a wrap. It might not be as dirt-cheap as PB&J but it will beat lunch meat prices for sure! And of course there’s always egg salad (I’ve seen eggs $0.79/dozen at Aldi!) and tuna salad.
Pulled pork with BBQ sauce and coleslaw
Shredded or sliced chicken with Caesar dressing and lettuce
Shredded chicken salad with raisins or olives
Fried egg sandwiches with cheese and pickles (a family favorite!)
Bean salads make good cold lunches. Beans, chopped vegetables (or even fruit), spices and a light olive oil & vinegar or lemon juice can be very filling and inexpensive. You can add nuts or grains as well. An Internet search of “bean salads” will yield many variations.
Egg salad, tuna salad. We do things like have BBQ chicken for dinner, then chop up chicken leftovers for chicken salad or chicken salad sandwich.
Bummer about the no microwave. Does he have access to a keurig coffee maker? He can use that to boil water for powdered soups or oatmeal.
What about hummus or guacamole and pita chips? Pasta salads are great in the summer- Pinterest would have a million different types to try. Easier to get most guys to eat that than a leaf lettuce salad.
Also, I’d have him as HR or the boss about a microwave. Or worse case him and his coworkers could all pitch in and buy one, or perhaps someone has an old one laying around in their basement.