For the last post in my Real Food on a Budget series, I want to a few simple tips for packing lunches to save money.
Whether you’re packing lunch for your husband to take to work, packing school lunches for the kids, or even packing a picnic lunch to take to the park, doing it yourself can save you money.
By packing lunch yourself, you can know your family is getting wholesome foods throughout the day.
I’m definitely not against buying lunches when you need to (hey, sometimes you just need a break from cooking), but when you only rely on it sparingly, your grocery budget will thank you.
Don’t complicate your lunches
Between college and my husband currently working away from home, we’ve been packing our own meals pretty consistently for almost 3 years now.
We don’t do overly complicated lunch boxes or meal prep that requires 10 steps to put in the fridge. Not only can this stress you out by adding more work, but if you’re buying more ingredients to make special new dishes, it might not actually be saving you any money.
Instead, we follow these two tips:
1. Follow a formula
For most of our meals, we will follow a simple framework to make sure we’re packing enough food for the day.
Here’s what we include:
- Protein, main dish, or sandwich
- Something sweet
The main part of the meal is usually leftovers of what we had the night before or some summer sausage and cheese if we didn’t have enough leftovers. My husband used to take ham sandwiches 5 days a week for over two year, so no wonder he’s tired of them now.
“Snacks” are usually pretzels, tortilla chips, or crackers depending on what we have on hand. They can also be (and often are in our house) fresh fruit, such as apples, bananas, or cantaloupe. Depending on how hungry we are, sometimes we’ll even pack both fruit and something “carb-y” like pretzels.
I’ll usually add something sweet to my husband’s lunch for times when I’ve baked something or we’re finishing Christmas or Easter candy. This isn’t necessarily an everyday thing, but it’s fun to look forward to or to have as a surprise at lunchtime.
2. Don’t go over the top
You don’t have to have 5+ different components for each meal.
Simply including one or two items can suffice as long as you have some protein to get you through the day.
These meals don’t need to be complex and an attempt to copycat something you’d buy in the frozen aisle or a restaurant. The goal isn’t to be like a restaurant. Instead, packing nutritious meals without stressing yourself out is the goal.
My favorite “hack” for packing lunch for work or school is to use leftovers from the night before.
Not only does this make sure your leftover get used, but you don’t have to cook separate meals.
Tip: When you put your leftovers into the fridge after supper, packing them into individual portions in containers you can use to heat them up in. This saves you a step in the morning.
My favorite containers to use for packing lunches are Pyrex glass containers with plastic lids. We’ve gotten so much use out of ours over the years!
Freeze ready-made lunch items
I talk about this concept a lot in my post on healthy breakfast items you can make ahead of time, but this same concept works just as well for lunch!
If you don’t like eating leftovers right after you just had them, freezing them allows you to eat them later. You can also mix up some batches of foods specifically for freezing and grabbing when you pack lunch!
Some of my favorite lunch items to freeze are:
- Breakfast Sandwiches
- Calzones or Runzas
Bonus: If you stick any of these foods in your lunchbox frozen, they can act as their own ice pack and will probably be mostly thawed by the time you get to lunch!
Pack what you can the night before
While some foods need to be refrigerated until it’s time to leave for work, you can get some of the leg work done before you had to bed to save you some stress in the morning.
For example, you can put your snack and/or sweets in the lunchbox(es) the night before if they don’t need to be refrigerated. You can also do this if you’re packing fruits like apples or oranges.
Make “lunch stacks”
For cold items, I like to do “lunch stacks” if there are multiple components in the fridge. This can be sauces, sides, etc.
I’ll get those ready in their own containers and stack them together so my husband doesn’t have to search for them when he’s getting ready for work in the morning. He can simply grab the whole stack and we both know that we has all the parts of his meal without having to search for them at 6 in the morning.
I hope these tips help you pack lunches without being overwhelmed! Packing our own lunches doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. Instead, it can be delicious and save money at the same time!
This concludes the Real Food on a Budget series. If you want to learn more about eating wholesome, homemade food without breaking the bank, check out the rest of the posts linked below!
Check out my Real Food on a Budget series:
- How to Afford Healthy Food on a Budget
- How to Save Money on Grass-fed Organic Meat
- Where to Find Affordable Organic Produce
- How to Get the Most Nutrient Dense Foods for Your Money
- Where to Buy Natural and Organic Products on a Budget
- How to Build a Grocery Stockpile on a Budget
- Super Simple Tips for Packing Lunches (So You Can Save Money)(you’re here!)