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Reader Tip: How We Save $20 in 15 Minutes

The following tip was submitted by Melanie G. from Buffalo, NY:

My husband and I are both employed full-time out of the house. We don’t have any kids yet, but we are planning for that day and already
have savings mechanisms in place so we can make the transition easier from spending for two to spending for more!

One of the easiest and quickest ways we have found to save money is by bringing our own lunches to work. On days that we don’t, we easily spend $10 each on lunches that probably aren’t very nutritious and don’t really even provide leftovers for another meal.

Our solution to this problem is to take 15 minutes (or less) every night after dinner to pack our lunches for the following day. Even on nights that we are just so tired or can’t think of what we would like to eat the next day, we realize that it is totally worth the effort to take the time right then to save us $20 the next day. If we didn’t do this, we could easily spend $400 per month on lunches out during the week, money we would much rather put towards becoming debt free!

One easy meal solution for us is to make twice as much dinner as we need, then take leftovers for lunch the next day. Another oldie-but-goodie standby is to make sandwiches. I always make sure to have bread and deli meats available. -Melanie

What are your favorite quick and easy sack lunch ideas?

photo by Kusine

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  • We do a lot of dinner leftovers {intentionally cooked extra} for his lunches.
    Or salads piled high with beans, hardboiled eggs, whatever raw veggies we have on hand and any meat we have on hand.

  • Sara says:

    When I used to work, I kept canned soup and a bowl in my desk. I had access to a microwave to heat the soup, and sink to wash the bowl. On those mornings when I rushed out the door and couldn’t get my lunch together, I knew I wouldn’t have to resort to eating out and blowing my budget.

    • Amber says:

      @Sara, That is a fantastic idea!

    • Nat says:


      I do the same thing! I try to bring my lunch everyday, but in case I forget I have soup, granola bars, and crackers in my desk drawer. If I’m going to spent money eating out, I want it to be a relaxing lunch with friends or my husband!

    • Christina says:

      @Sara, I did the same thing when I worked at an office!

    • Jan says:

      @Sara, I do this, too. I take a plastic container to store the leftover soup (one can of Progresso is two meals for me) so I can heat it up the next day. Yogurt is another good, easy lunch. I try to keep cut-up carrots in the fridge, and fruit handy. Add a piece of bread (homemade, mmm), some rice cakes, or a few pretzels, and I’m good!

      • Jessica says:

        My husband does the same thing. He keeps soup and a few other things at work. He likes tuna, so I’ll get him a package of bagels, small containers of mayo and relish and tuna pouches and he’s good for a week.

    • michelle says:


      we’ve always done this too. i kept a couple cans of soup and a bowl in my desk in case i forgot lunch. i’m a sahm now but i make sure my husband does the same now because he’s famous for “accidentally” forgetting lunch and “needing” to go grab a burger!

  • Melissa says:

    We are trying to get away from lunch meat for health and financial reasons, so we have been experimenting with making beef and pork roasts, shredding the meat and putting them on sandwiches. We also place chicken in the slow cooker with BBQ sauce and then shredded later for sandwich filling. My husband also likes meatloaf sandwiches. All of these are much cheaper (and tastier) than paying for lunch meat.

  • sandy says:

    We also take leftovers most of the time. I also make taco meat and freeze it. That can be made into lot’s of quick lunches (soft taco’s, taco salad, frito pie, etc.) I love the lunch bag! Did you make it?

  • marney says:

    I’ve been “brown bagging” for years. Not only do I bring my lunch, but also all my snacks and beverages for the work day. Vending machines are expensive too. Sometimes it means I have to decline lunch out with my coworkers, but I can’t see spending all that money on one meal when I can buy groceries for several meals from the same amount (using coupons of course!) I bring leftovers, sandwiches, canned soups, etc.

  • Dana says:

    Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches freeze great! I usually try to keep a few of these in the freezer as “emergency-I-didn’t-have-time-to-pack-anything-so-I’ll-just-grab-it” lunches. I just toss it in my lunchbox and it thaws by lunch.

    I would suggest putting the peanut butter on both pieces of bread and the jelly in the middle, cause sometimes the jelly soaks into the bread and is icky.

    • Amber says:

      @Dana, Great tip, thanks, Dana! I’ll have to remember that for school lunch on the days we are running late!

    • Nikki says:

      @Dana, My mom always mixed the peanut butter and jelly together so it doesn’t seep through the bread. It looks gross, but I really do think it tastes better that way.

    • Brandy says:

      @Dana, I use the pampered chef pastry cut and seal to make homemade uncrustables. I make a ton of them and like another commenter said, I just mix the pb&j in a bowl so the jelly doesn’t make the bread soggy. This makes some of our lunches much easier. I even take the yummy Kings Hawaiian Sweet Rolls and put turkey and cheese in them to freeze. with the uncrustables. These also thaw by lunch time and offers another quick alternative.

  • CityFlips says:

    I’m good about packing lunches about 80% of the time. About a year ago, I started keeping instant oatmeal packets in my desk for days I don’t have time for breakfast. This prevents me from running up to the cafeteria. I also try to get the microwavable canned soups when they are on sale and keep a few in my desk. This way when I forget to pack I have something to eat. I might spend $1 on pretzels in the cafeteria, but it beats spending $6-8 on an entire lunch!

  • Nat says:

    Leftovers are great. We also bake a baked potatoes to reheat at lunch time.

  • Vanessa says:

    My husband takes his own lunch and snacks every day. For snacks he takes fruits and veggies and a single-serving size 8 oz. yogurt cup. The store brand yogurt cups are usually about half the cost of the snacks in the snack machine {$.45 vs. approx. $.80 each} and a lot healthier too.

  • Holly says:

    My top 2 favorites are a
    BET sandwich (whole wheat english muffin, with 1 hard boiled egg sliced, 1 med tomoto sliced and 1 piece of bacon crumbled…. mmmm) and apples are always a good throw in.

    Another is a throwback to Lunchable… I take a few slice of deli turkey, 6 triscuits, some small slices of cheese, and a cup of tomato soup and I ahve that with apples or grapes or some sort of fruit… this is good on cold days!!!

    My fiance loves peanut butter and honey sandwiches and would eat them everyday with carrot sticks and fruit!

  • Danielle says:

    i’ve also been making more lunches recently. usually get some good deli meat to make sandwiches, pb&j is super cheap and easy too. i also do the soup thing – leave a soup in my desk just in case. I made my husband’s lunch last night (i bought some chicken salad as a treat and packed that with some lettuce and tomatoes and yogurt and fruit…and he left it in the fridge and didn’t bring it to work 🙁
    so he’ll probably have to buy lunch today – but he works in a hospital so the one good thing is the food there is pretty cheap 🙂

  • Shannon says:

    I have a question on this topic. My fiance works as a carpet cleaner, and the vans get really hot he has no way to warm up food as they are on the road all day, and ice packs just dont cut it. But I hate seeing how much he is spending on fast food. Anyone got a great idea?

    • Diana says:

      @Shannon, Maybe one of those Igloo coolers and LOTS of ice?

    • Beth says:

      @Shannon, I have many hot summer work days where I am in the car and have no way to heat up foods. However, I’ve never had a problem with ice packs not keeping my stuff cool. I bought a slightly larger insulated lunch bag at Dollar General and I put 2-3 frozen ice packs in the bottom and them top with food. I also do a lot of overnight trips where I do not have any access to a fridge. I usually pack up some blueberries, carrotts, apples, and bottled water for those long trips. When I get back my food is always still cool.

    • Antoinette says:

      @Shannon, Invest in a good Thermos and he can have stew, Spaghetti, lasagna, stir fry, etc. for lunch. Throw the food in the microwave in the morning and toss it in a Thermos and voila – hot lunch.

      Insulated (or mylar lined) coolers should keep foods cold until at least lunch time if not afternoon snack time. We put meats/cheese closest to the ice and then layer the food up from there with breads at the top of the “pile”. That way the bread doesn’t get cold/soggy and the fruits/veggies don’t freeze :-). It takes about as much time to assemble your sandwich/salad as it does to wait in the drive-thru.

      We like to throw CapriSun packets in the freezer and then use them as the “ice” when we go on road trips. Keeps the food cold and, as they thaw, it makes a nice drink treat for the kids (or your fiance :-).)

      Good luck!

    • Alison says:


      Maybe freeze some empty water bottles and use those as extra “ice packs” ?? I would invest in a larger lunch box as suggested before- you can you pack the freezer packs or water bottle ice packs on the top or bottom. I hope this helps!

      • Beth says:

        @Alison, The only problem I have found with frozen water bottles is as they thaw they can get your food all wet. I use those freezable gel packs and keep each in a freezer bag. I have also found that keeping the bag in the fridge over night before I leave also helps to keep it cool longer.

        • Rebecca says:

          To help with the sweating water bottles we wrap the bagged food in a clean towel. Then place the ice packs under or on top of the towel, sometimes both depending on how hot it is that day.

    • @Shannon, My husband was an HVAC tech until recently and would leave his lunch in the van in 100*+ weather. I had a really insulated lunch box, and used a weekender ice pack. I also froze drink in the bottom 1/3 of his drink bottles. I found some salad containers at big lots for $2 that are insulated with ice pack material, so you freeze them – my husband loved having those containers since they kept salads and fruit chilled until lunch time. I would make his salad or what have you in a separate container the night before, and just dump it into the frozen one in the morning. 🙂

    • becky says:


      The best I have come up with is sandwiches. My husband is in the heat all day too. He has a fridge @ the office but he is in and out all day so he keeps what he can in the office but always has vienna sausages, beenie weenies or something in a bag in his truck so if he gets hungry before he gets back

    • Jessica says:

      @Shannon, I freeze parts of the lunch too … sandwich, yogurt, bottle of water.

    • Homestead says:

      @Shannon, My mom just bought a tiny fridge thing that plugs into the cigarette lighter…. I don’t know much about it or what it cost but you could google it. She got it so her ice cream would stay frozen on the 90 mile drive home from the store.

    • Allison says:

      @Shannon, If he REALLY hates the ice pack thing, but you hate the expense of the fast food line, try something in the middle. If he has time to wait in the fast food line, he has time to run into a grocery store. Lunchables, yogurt, fresh fruit, something from the deli counter… yeah, yeah, they are cheaper when you buy in bigger quantity or wait to have a coupon or whatever. But a piece of oven baked chicken from the deli counter is better than the mac-attack at the drive thru and can cost about the same if you are careful. Just another idea…

    • Andrea Q says:

      @Shannon, Invest in a good cooler and use twice as many ice packs as you think you’ll need. Put ice packs on the bottom, then put the food in and then another layer of ice packs on top. Cold air is heavier than warm air, so putting ice packs on top of the food works better than only putting them on bottom.

    • Michelle H. says:

      Not sure if this would work in your situation, but around here I often see landscapers inside 7-11 heating their lunches in the microwave at lunch time. It’s obviously stuff they brought from home since it’s in tupperware containers, and they buy cold drinks from the store to go with it.

    • Rebecca says:

      My husband worked outdoors year-round (with no access to microwave, fridge) for the past several years. Here’s what has worked for us:

      For keeping things cool: a small, personal size cooler with ice packs. Freeze the items you can and then expect to thaw by lunch time.

      For keeping things warm: find a thermos container with a wide mouth. This will work for soups, casserole leftovers, etc. As you are preparing things in the morning fill the thermos with hot water and let it sit for several minutes so the container itself is warmed. Heat the food as much as possible before putting it into the thermos container. Put the hot items/hot thermos in a separate insulated bag from the cold items. The insulated bag will continue to keep the food warm. You could also experiment with wrapping heated items in aluminum foil and then placing them an insulated bag (might keep items warm for a few hours).

      This is the biggie for keeping things warm, though: use a warm pack that you heat up in the microwave. Add the warm pack to the insulated bag for warm items. I have a warm pack that came with a casserole carrier.

    • Tina says:

      @Shannon, As far as warming things up, I worked at a convenience store several years ago and we used to have construction workers come in quite a bit in the summer to use our microwave and my boss never said a word. In talking to some of them they said they’d never had an owner/manager tell them that they couldn’t use the microwave to heat up their food from home. Just a thought…..

  • Diana says:

    Melanie, I have a question: when you make up your sandwiches the night before, how do you keep the bread from getting soggy by lunchtime the next day? I have to pack the bread separate from the “goody” or my mouth rebels against the texture of soggy bread. But that makes extra plastic bag use or extra dishes to wash. Any tips? 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      I pack my husband’s lunch daily, but have always had to do it in the morning. He hates a soggy sandwich. We have noticed that white bread becomes the soggiest. Crescents or sub rolls seem to be the best. Maybe those would work packing the night before.

      • Lisa says:

        @Jennifer, Why not buy individual mayo packets? Or, to save money pack a tiny tupperware with mayo and knife.

      • Rachel says:

        @Jennifer, A friend also recently shared a tip with me for this exact same problem. If you put lettuce or spinach on the outside, and everything else in between, it helps keep your bread from getting soggy. This helps with tomato slices too!

        So now I have:

      • Vanette says:

        @Jennifer, A friend told me that spreading a thin layer of margarine on the bread before making the sanwich prevented the bread from becoming soggy.

    • Holly says:

      They have these really cool lunch boxes that have a bottom compartment for a sandwich then an ice pack in the middle and two “side” containers that sit on top. Sometimes I just put the bread in the bottom and put the “fillings” in the top two compartments so the crispy parts stay crispy and the wet parts don’t get the dry parts soggy and assemble before eating

  • Beth says:

    I always have canned soup and crackers on hand or Easy Mac (or Easy Mac cups which are on SALE this week at Kroger!!!) I use water from our water cooler at work and bring any snacks. Once a month or so I treat myself to lunch at a local place.

  • Kristine says:

    When I used to work full time I would pack cereal and milk most days for lunch. I know that isn’t for everyone, but I love eating cereal 🙂

    • Beth says:

      @Kristine, I do that for my breakfast! I have to be at work very early and so both Breakfast and Lunch take place at work. I keep cereal and a bowl at work and bring in some milk every morning. It’s also nice the have the cereal on hand if there is a lunch disaster (like the time I dropped my soup as I was getting it out of the microwave) or for a little snack during the day.

  • Martha says:

    I am now made hungry for pbj lol!

  • Rachael says:

    If you are in a hurry, frozen dinners are nice to keep at work, too. They are more expensive than a sandwich, but they are much cheaper than eating out, and sometimes nice on a cold day.

  • Christina says:

    We have packed our lunches the entire six years we’ve been married. These days, I work full-time from a home office and my husband works as an independent sales rep, often working out of his car all day. Our two-year-old goes to half-day preschool twice a week, and packs his lunch on those days. Some ideas we’ve found – especially since DH went on South Beach and I had to stop packing PB&J for him.

    -Wraps with leftover chicken, beef or pork. We buy the special Flat Out wraps because they’re higher in fiber and easier to roll, compared to flour tortillas (but pricier: $2.89 for 6). Add a slice of cheese, chopped tomato, bell pepper and no dressing (calorie reasons and because they’re pre-made the night before).
    -PB and banana “quesadilla” for our two-year-old. His school allows PB; many do not.
    -Thermos makes hot and cold containers that work REALLY well against outside temperatures. They’re pricey ($12-15 per piece), but are excellent for sending cold milk, warmed pasta, warm chicken and veggies, etc.
    -Salads with leftover dinner meat, chopped veggies, etc.
    -Leftovers from dinner. When I was working at an office, I did this at least once a week. Leftover pastas, enchiladas, casseroles, etc. reheat very well. You need access to a fridge and microwave, though.
    -Rice and beans. It’s simple, easy and cheap. Crystal inspired me to steam large quantities of rice (and cook large quantities of beans), then freeze them in single-serve bowls. I’d pull them from the freezer and into the fridge the night before, add some salsa and sometimes cheese, and reheat for lunch.

    • lindsey says:

      @Christina, My DH and I also like the wraps for lunch. I make a giant batch of a couple different varieties of Crystal’s southwest roll ups. I use the flat out wraps too (even though they are a bit more expensive i can fit more in them andthey roll nicely). one of the varieties of the southwest rolls up i make is chicken, frozen borccoli, cheese and brown rice. I have about 30 of these frozen in my freezer at a time. they are easy to grab frozen out of the freezer in the morning and they defrost nicely in the firdge until lunch time, then microwave and they are done! this is a favorite of my DH and it is easy for me in the morning bc we both work full time out of the home!

    • Fay says:


      Wow, the rice and beans frozen separately is a great idea! I think even my husband would fall for that one. 😉

  • Mommieof4 says:

    However, if you are doubling up your dinner cooking for lunch that actually isn’t saving 20 bucks, rather $12-$16.:)the cost of extra portions.

    And its totally worth it. My problem is that I need to budget and adjust for that extra cost, because I tend to make only exactly what we will eat for that one meal.

    • Lana says:

      @Mommieof4, I can testify to the fact that it is very difficult to make just enough for 2 people. Everything seems to be geared toward 4 servings or more and you just end up with leftovers everytime you cook a meal. It is more expensive and time consuming to try to cook only 2 servings unless it is baked potatoes or meats that are in individual portions.

  • Antoinette says:

    My hubby works 12-hr graves and takes 3 meals per night he works. It’s important to him to have hot meals and it’s important to me that he has variety (to avoid as many “ugh I need pizza” moments as possible :-)…).

    We keep one shelf in our freezer for “leftovers”. Whenever we cook, if there are any leftovers, they go on that shelf so we can grab and go on our way to work. We will also specifically cook “big” sometimes just so we can restock our supply: lasagna, other casseroles, roast, turkey pot pie, creamy chicken enchiladas, etc.

    For me, I LOVE soups with “weird” things that my family won’t eat (cabbage, eggplant, zucchini, barley, etc.), so I’ll cook up a big pot, freeze part, and then bring the rest to work in either individual tupperware containers or a big container that I just ladel from throughout the week. That way, I get my soup/veggie fix and the family isn’t tortured :-).

  • Lisa says:

    During the Fall/Winter I buy canned soups and keep them in our pantry. For those mornings when you’re running out of the house, they work best. The majority of the time hubs and I pack sandwiches in the morning.

    In addition to lunch, we bring in oatmeal packets, fruit, breakfast bars and snacks! Even bringing in your own soda cans saves money! The cafeteria charges $0.90 per can! Baby carrots drizzled with lemon juice are great too! To save even more money we reuse our glass jars from pasta sauces/jellies/etc and pack our homemade soups in that!

    Here’s the math:
    We save $200 / month by packing our lunch. And that’s just how much we spend on groceries per month – go figure! $200 gets us TONS of food for the month rather than unhealthy lunches once a day.

  • Lucky says:

    I keep crackers, peanut butter and nutella in my desk for those days. I also have a jar of jam in the fridge. It’s not fancy, but it works!

    I also have 1 1/2 cup size containers that I use to freeze leftover soup from dinner. If I throw one in my bag in the morning, it’s defrosted by lunch.

  • Alison says:

    I have never been into eating out much anyways. I like to think of it as a treat rather than incorperating it into my weekly routine. I have lots of hefty bags that I got for free; however, I also have tupperware that I got for cheap so I have been using that inside of my ziplock bags. It breaks my heart using the ziplock bags for sandwhichs than throwing it away. When I worked in an office I would keep oatmeal, granola or cereal bars, preztels, crackers, etc. That helped for when I needed something extra during the day. For lunch I would pack fruit, salad, left over homemade pizza, etc. Saves me a lot of money and calories. 🙂

    Also, a lot of stores are majorly discounting lunch bags and summer items right now. You can get lots of tupperwear, lunch bags, freezer packs for very cheap!

  • Kelly says:

    Funny! I just wrote about this on my blog!

    We love doing this as a way to save money! I really appreciate your tips!

  • carla says:

    I enjoyed this post and all of the responses. Although I am not working, it was a big help to me to figure out what to do while we are on vacation! We are planning on spending *zero* on eating out while we are gone. I don’t want to be stressed about what to eat, or spend a lot of time cooking/preparing food, etc. These ideas are great. Thanks!


  • Erin says:

    My husband and I do the same thing, but I think the $20 amount is a little inflated. I’m not sure how you can each spend $10 on a lunch unless you’re eating at a restaurant, which would definately provide leftovers. Fast food meals cost $8 with tax tops. Also, you need to factor in the money that you spent on food to make the lunches. Doubling your dinner for the night probably cost at least $6 in extra food. So, you’re actually only saving $10 a day, not $20.

    • Anitra says:

      @Erin, It depends on what is available where you work. My husband used to have a job where lunch in the cafeteria was about $5… but now he works in a small office in a big city, where there are only high-priced restaurants nearby. If he forgets his lunch, he has to spend $10 for “fast food” like a calzone, or $20 to have a sit-down meal with his co-workers.

    • Amanda says:

      @Erin, Eating out at a restuarant or getting fast food also includes gas money to go get the lunches they are eating. So, that would also be money they are saving. If they doubled their dinner portion for leftovers, they would be paying more money for the extra food, but still saving time with cooking/cleaning up once and then have the meal ready to go the next day.

      • Erin says:

        When you do the math, it costs about 17 cents per mile to drive somewhere. So unless the fast food restaurant is more than 6 miles round trip, you’d be spending about a dollar or less round trip. Please don’t misunderstand me- I am 100% for packing your own lunches, I just think the author of this post has overestimated the savings.

        • Crystal says:

          I think it depends upon where you go to eat. Around here, most business lunches are going to cost you at least $7 to $8 plus a tax and tip. And that’s on the low end. Of course, if you’re grabbing fast food off the dollar menu, it’s likely going to be less. But, in most cases, I’d say that going out to lunch at a sit down restaurant is going to cost you an average of close to $10 per person when you factor in the tip (sans a coupon).

  • Meredith says:

    For my husband, he rarely eats out unless it’s a business lunch. That happens about 1 time a month and in 3 years, he’s only had to buy one time. Other than that, I typically make him a hot lunch of leftovers. We eat pretty cheaply anyway, chilis, soups, pastas…so it’s cheap to give him a hot meal. I always have some produce on hand that I give him as well, apples and grapes are the cheapest here right now. I also make our sweets homemade so sometimes he will get one of those (we don’t eat a ton of sweets but do indulge from time to time).
    For my daughter, she has playschool two days a week. I make her a bento style lunch, I found some kids bento boxes at the Disney store for 2 bucks, and just pack her finger foods. It usually includes a couple of crackers, some cheese, a few grapes, and a graham cracker. Most moms in her class send lunchables. I figured I pack her lunch for 15 cents and a lunchable at the least costs 1 dollar.
    For me, I stay at home and eat whatever is here, leftovers, weird rice mixes I got for free, or a peanut butter sandwich!

  • Shelly :) says:

    One of my favorite things for lunch is the following:
    Peanut Butter (or you can use Almond Butter)

    Take the peanut butter and spread it on the tortilla and sprinkle granola on it. Then slice the apples into small pieces and put those on the tortilla. Wrap it up and eat! 🙂 It’s very filling (especially if you have the bigger tortillas)

    Another thing we love the is the laughing cow cheese that can be spread on crackers or bread.

    Also to “change things up a bit” I’ll get pitas and fill those instead of bread for a sandwich.

  • Heather says:

    My husband doesn’t have a microwave available on his days that he has class all day, so I’ve taken to making pizza and calzones more often. Leftover cold pizza still makes a descent meal, throw in some fruit, a yogurt and cookies and we’re in business. Bagel sandwiches are also pretty satisfying

  • Jamel says:

    For winter school lunches we pack warm leftover something….soup, lasagna, chicken-n-noodles….etc. We pack this in the kid ones that are plastic and stainless steel. Yesterday was at Meijer looking for a larger (bigger than 10oz) thermos (to eat out of) for an adult. There weren’t any that were BPH or whatever free. Is this only in plastic or does it also pertain to the stainless ones too?

    • chris says:

      Stainless is BPA free. I have a Kleen Kateen that is insulated and most days I send DS1 milk in it to school. It’s a quality item. Thermos makes an insulated food jar too. Both are spendy but worth in IMO.

  • Lisa says:

    My husband is always on the go, so sandwiches are all I can really back for him, instead of leftovers. I’ve been doing deli meat, egg salad, pb and j, and tuna salad in the past. Now I’m also doing breakfast burritos–tortillas filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon, and anything else you want! 🙂 Super yummy and easy! Tortillas are also good with just cheese or just peanut butter–plus they don’t get soggy!

  • Emily says:

    I bring my lunch to work too! I try to make extra for dinner so that I have left overs for lunch. As a back up, I keep a couple of Lean Cuisine frozen meals on hand (I buy them on sale for less than $1.50, or $1 if I can find them at 99 Cent Only), just in case I forget my lunch or don’t have left overs.

  • My favorite idea? Preparing my chicken as I discuss here:, and then using it throughout the week for pitas, burritos, sandwiches, etc. Saves me soooo much time! 🙂

  • Susan says:

    I’m single and have decided that I also need to be taking my lunches to work with me. I just did a ‘freezer cooking’ weekend for myself this past weekend. I made: chicken & wild rice bake (6 servings); cheesy vegetable soup (10 servings); lasagna (12 servings); pulled pork (9 servings); beef & noodles (6 servings). I also already had chili in the freezer as well as a couple other meals from previous cooking sessions that I just need to pull out. I ‘shopped’ my pantry & freezer prior to shopping, but spent about $100 for my groceries. This should cover me (lunches alone) for almost 2 months. And I’m hoping it will not only save me from spending on eating lunch out, but also save me from having to much more in grocery shopping in the coming weeks as well. (total savings = at least $200)

    • Amber says:

      @Susan, This is my general theory as well. I’m basically making my own frozen dinners which are tastier, cheaper, and better nutritionally than the store bought ones.

  • Erin says:

    We always ate leftovers for lunch because there were only two of us, and most recipes feed four or more. Now, with a four year old who eats like a man while remaining quite slim (sorry–don’t know what his trick is!), we have fewer leftovers, so I try to stock up when there are good deals on Lean Cuisine/Smart Ones/Healthy Choice meals and my husband leaves up to five in his office’s freezer. I also buy soup or canned pasta (like Chef Boyardee–yuck!–but he likes it!) when it is cheap or free that he stashes in his desk. Anytime I can get those little snack-size boxes of cookies or crackers free, he gets those, too. (I try to avoid the bigger ones because he tells me he has no self control when a full-size box of Wheat Thins is right there–plus, we don’t need it in the house, either.) When I get good deals and/or overloaded with inexpensive oatmeal packets or Pop Tarts, those go, too (otherwise my four year old would want to eat the Pop Tarts!). I also got free single-serve applesauce that I just sent to work with him. Lots of times, those weird little freebies make great supplemental lunch items.

    • @Erin, I love what you said about the wheat thins – that sounds just like my house. I’ll think I have a bag of chips, pretzels, or crackers, and lo and behold my husband and son ate the whole thing in one sitting after dinner. I have to portion out a weeks worth of lunch baggies of that type of stuff and set it aside so it doesn’t disappear on me, LOL.

  • Lana says:

    My husband has telecomuted from home for the past 5 years so he just comes downstairs when I tell him that lunch is ready!

    When he did work in the office it was not unusual for him to have to stay late because of some crisis and then he would have to go out and get some supper. I started having him keep some shelf stable microwaveable entrees and cans of soup in his desk drawer so he could eat and just keep working. He appreciated that because he likes to get things taken care of so he could come home and didn’t want to stop and go out anyway.

  • Jen G. says:

    I bring my lunch everyday – my favorite are torilla roll-ups. Whole wheat tortilla with herb cream cheese, lunch meat, and cabbage (I like something crunchy) and tomato. I also take burritos on a regular basis, too.

  • We too pack lunches for my husband, but I tend to do it a little differently depending on how much time I have. I keep a section of the freezer available just for his lunch meals. Since he prefers to have hot lunches, he takes them frozen and then reheats them at work. He does *NOT* like leftovers or the repeat of anything during the week. So I make sure that I have a variety of foods on the shelf for him.

    Sometimes I’ll batch cook, and the freeze them up into lunch size portions and then freeze them, only putting two on his lunch shelf, and moving them over to his shelf in following weeks.

    Sometimes I’ll package up a meal the kids and I had for him to use another day and freeze that for him. Other times, I’ll make a large meal for dinner and then package that up in lunch size portions, and make sure the right mix of variety is on his shelf and save the others on another shelf for later weeks.

    For fresh foods, once a week I’ll package up his shelf stable and fresh foods into one large gallon or 2 gallon size ziploc bag, with 5 little bags of each so he can just grab and go. So he’ll get 5 cheese sticks, 5 bags of fresh broccoli, 5 little bags of dip for the broccoli, 5 packages of fresh fruit or a fruit cup.

    So once a week he takes the week’s snack foods into work, and every day he just grabs a frozen meal from the freezer for that day and heats it up at work.

    He also keeps at work a small container of sour cream, salad dressing, and salsa, as those things don’t freeze well and he won’t eat some things without them.

    As long as we keep it with lots of variety and as easy as possible, it saves us at least $25-30/week.

  • Sarah M. says:

    I’ve always been a ‘bring lunch from home’ gal. Lately I am doing multi-grain Cheerios for breakfast AND lunch (I’m on a diet). I take my milk in a leak-proof Rubbermaid beverage container. But I have a bunch of other standard lunch items I would otherwise bring, such as fruit, PB&J or deli meat sandwiches, salads with dressing in a separate small container so it doesn’t get soggy, cheese & crackers, sliced veggies and ranch dressing to name a few.

  • Jess says:

    I fix a lot of salads…. mostly topped with chicken. I put all my cold ingredients into a main bowl, place dressing in a small container (in a ziploc bag), crutons in a snack bag, and chicken in another small container. If I don’t have any leftover chicken from the night before, I will microwave 2-3 chicken nuggets and cut them up. This whole prep usually takes me less than 3 minutes. (I would spend more time waiting in line for food out).

    I take my lunch almost everyday. I have two cute lunch sacks that I use to help make it fun and easy to identify which bag is mine. I have brought everything from a small cutting boards (to cut fruit that I didnt have time the morning before to do) to a tub of PB.

    The savings is unreal. I do budget for one meal a week out, but I usually save this money to go out with friends instead of eating fast food.

  • I make a little extra dinner each night so that my husband has lunch for the next day at work. We’ve been doing this for a while now & found that it is obviously cheaper than eating out, but it is also cheaper than buying lunch meat ($1.99/lb for chicken breast vs $6.99/lb for deli meat). If I don’t have leftover side dishes, he just scrubs up a potato & make a microwaved baked potato to go with his lunch. Add something sweet (usually homemade) and it hits all the notes of a perfect at work lunch!

  • Janice says:

    I buy the boxes of Green Giant vegetables. I pack an apple with that. I know that I am getting at least 3-4 servings of fruit and veggies that way. I stay away from the Green Giant veggies that are heavy on any cheese sauce~~~just plain veggies~~please. The boxes are usually on sale for a 1.00 and normally I can find coupons for those, so it is a healthy inexpensive meal.

  • WiliamB says:

    I brownbag for three reasons. In no particular order:
    – There’s nothing good to buy that’s conveniently close to my office and the tasty stuff is inconveniently far away.
    – I prefer not to spend an arm and a leg for lunch.
    – I like my own cooking.
    And reason 3.5: sometimes I’m too busy to leave the office.

    I freeze leftovers in lunch-sized portions and I keep food at work in case I forget: cans of soup, cheese and crackers, frozen dinners. I keep breakfast at work also: cereal and yogurt. I don’t buy boxed cereal of course – too expensive and only available for junky cereal. I use 1c. tupperware and keep the yogurt at work. Usually some of the yogurt is wasted but that’s better than buying an expensive unhealthy breakfast every day. I also keep snacks. My file drawer looks like a convenience store!

  • Steve Jobs says:

    My wife and I from the very start of our marriage also plan everything before hand to save money when the time we got kids. We do this as well to cut off some high food expenses at work and save the money for the future.

  • Wani says:

    I think breakfast is a great one to make extra (pancakes, french toast, even breakfast meat, etc) and pack as lunch.

  • birthrightrose says:

    In the winter you can’t beat making a big batch of chili or our favorite, dal to have to heat and eat for lunches. It is warm and spicy and sticks with you all day. Epicurious has a super recipe for brown rice and lentil soup…it tastes like beef stew but is vegeterian. We eat SO well for pennies per bowl!! Lentils are a life saver!

  • Hollaina says:

    When I was working outside of the home, and whenever I have errands to run, I love packing a healthy lunch consisting of: fresh fruits, fresh veggies, a chicken pita, and water in my refillable bottle.

    My husband’s lunch is put together the night before, and is usually a different concoction of leftovers. We don’t like things to go to waste in this house.

  • Heather says:

    My husband should probably go gluten free, but we haven’t taken that plunge, yet. However, we do know that a lunch that includes flour (whole grain is better than white, but none is best) is likely to make him sleepy in the afternoon, when he needs to be able to work. He likes a good protein lunch that is easy to munch on at his desk (he’s a computer programmer), so I usually send him a sandwich bag with mixed nuts, cubes of cheese (the sharpest cheddar around, by preference), and maybe bits of hard salami, along with some fruit or veggie.

  • Patti says:

    Is your husband on board with this? I know it took me years to convince my husband that taking his own lunch was the way to go. Finally he got the dollars and cents part when he started keeping the money he was saving us. Now he does his own grocery shopping for his lunches on Sunday afternoon and whatever is left in his work food budget is his to keep (does not come out of the family food budget money). This way he can spend his $ on what he wants and I don’t cringe when he chooses not to coupon or to buy expensive one serving sizes. It has made him realize when he takes leftovers that they are basically “free” to him. What a change in his attitude! Now he never goes out for lunch!!

  • amy peca says:

    while we are on this subject…anyone have any great container ideas to share…i use the rectangle ziploc container which has 3 openings–i love this but was just looking to put a little spice in my am lunch packing routine,,,,:) i love all the bento sites but cannot bring myself to spend 20-40 bucks on these ….thanks

  • Kelli says:

    I don’t buy a lot of the canned soups because they are so full of sodium, but I often freeze portion sizes of soup and stack them in the square Ziploc tupperware. They stack easily in the freezer, and if I don’t have time in the morning to pack something more complex, I just grab a container of soup from the freezer, add an apple, and go!

    I also try to keep nuts at my desk – sometimes they can help tide me over and are more filling (to me) than most of the granola bars I like.

  • Rebecca says:

    I keep a case of Ramen noodles in my breakroom and a bag of frozen mixed veggies in the freezer for “oops I forgot to pack lunch” days.

  • Melissa R says:

    I like to make a whole roasted chicken on Sundays and it will make enough for chicken salad for 2 during the week. I also use variations of different chicken salad so it doesn’t get boring. You can add pears, apples, or grapes for a Waldorf chicken salad or make a Thai chicken salad with sliced carrots and veggies. In the winter months I might make chicken soup or chilli. But always roasting a whole chicken/turkey goes a long way!!

  • Nic F says:

    When my son was eating baby food we stocked up on the small baby food jars and we use them for condiments when we pack lunches. then we pack the meat and bread separately and when we get to lunch everything good to go.

  • kimme says:

    We save tons of money by eating a home-cooked dinner every night and bringing lunch every day. When I make dinner, I make dinner for 4, not 2 and that is because I need the other 2 servings for our lunch the next day. Even after a long day at work, I still force myself to make dinner for 4. We both eat ours and immediately after we’re finished eating I pack the other 2 portions for our lunch for the next day. This method has worked in saving us A LOT of money not having to eat out for dinner or buy lunch every day.

  • Amy says:

    I always package any leftovers from dinner into lunch containers. This way it is all ready to go and there is no excuse about having time in the morning to make up a lunch plate. It works great for us!

  • Tammy says:

    I hate eating the same thing for lunch as last nights dinner so I bought a couple of containers with compartments @ Target. Each night I make extra for my husband’s lunches and then freeze them for the following week. By lunchtime everything is thawed and ready to go into the microwave! Before he leaves in the morning he decides what frozen dinner he’s in the mood for! For a little variety try filling each compartment on a different day, Monday’s chicken with Tuesday’s veggies and so on!

  • Erin says:

    When I make Brown Bag Burritos, I take a few in to work and keep them there in the freezer. On days when I don’t have time to make my lunch, I have one ready!

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