Save money and have craveable lunches each day with these scratch cooking tips.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
July 19, 2020
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where Assistant Nutrition Editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

Lunch can sometimes be the forgotten meal of the day. Whether you are still spending more time at home or back to work, the days can get away from you before you realize. Without planning ahead, lunch cravings come on fast and lead you to buying overpriced takeout from the nearest restaurant. Not only is it expensive to eat lunch out, but it also takes a lot of time and may not be the healthiest. Skip the pickup orders and have a tasty, healthy lunch and save money while you're doing it with these four things you should be making, not buying.

Sandwiches

This can be tempting for a go-to takeout order, but several delis and restaurants add huge portions of meat and cheese with minimal vegetables. Make your own sandwich at home for an easy portable, grab-and-go lunch with exactly the flavors you want. Whether you are a fan of Chicken Cacciatore Hoagies or prefer a loaded Veggie & Hummus Sandwich, we have ample recipe inspiration. Prep all of your sandwich ingredients in advance so lunch can be quickly thrown together. Avoid putting the ingredients on the bread more than a day in advance to keep the bread from getting soggy.

Loaded Salads

We aren't talking about any old salad here. Especially when you make a salad from scratch, the flavor combinations are endless. Aim to include some protein, like cheese, beans, meat or an egg, some grains, like quinoa or croutons, and some healthy fat, like avocado or nuts, to make it a well-rounded meal. Salads are a great place to load up on vegetables, fruits and other things you need to use up. Salads can be prepped ahead, but leave the dressing on the side until you are ready to eat, so the greens and veggies stay crisp. Making them at home means you can add as many toppings as you want for a full-flavored salad, without the expensive cafe or grocery store prices for piling them high. Check out our healthy salad formula for more.

Grain Bowls

Buddha bowls have had their moment in the sun for how versatile, filling and nutritious they can be, but grain bowls go well beyond this fan favorite. From Greek Salmon or Korean BBQ Tempeh, the flavor possibilities are endless. Grain bowls can be prepped in bulk at the start of the week for a grab-and-go lunch you'll look forward to all morning. Similar to loaded salads, but sure to include protein, healthy fat and ample veggies over the grain base of your choice. Making your own grain bowls saves you the money out at a fancy cafe, and also boosts nutrition over a typical takeout burrito bowl.

Leftovers

Last but certainly not least, leftovers are the unsung hero of lunch. Though I know it's efficient and helps save money, I am not much of a meal prepper, if I am being honest. Instead, I usually make twice as much dinner as I think I will eat, and save the rest for lunch the next day. This leaves me with craveable lunches that I actually want to eat each day. Similar to meal prepping, leftovers are simply a microwave or some quick assembly away from being a delicious meal.

Bottom Line

Lunch can get overlooked, which can lead you to getting expensive, less-than-healthy takeout in a pinch. Avoid dreary midday meals with these tips for flavorful, affordable lunches that are ready fast to keep you fueled for what your day has in store. For more lunch inspiration, check out 30-Day Healthy Lunch Challenge.