American Dietetic Association spokesperson Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, says planning ahead is essential for quick lunch assembly. “A planned menu with all the ingredients in the kitchen will make it easy to put together tomorrow’s lunch after dinner,” she says.
She compiled this grocery list for a week’s worth of lunches costing $5 or less a day (assuming you already have salad dressings on hand):
Whole wheat pita bread
1 bag baby carrots
1 bag of apples & oranges
1 can of light tuna in water
1 can of salmon (split for two meals)
1 prepared grilled chicken
3 cans of low-sodium, broth-based soup
With this list of foods, you can prepare:
- 1 pita with lettuce and grilled chicken with light Caesar dressing; baby carrots; and an apple.
- Salmon lettuce wraps with light sesame Asian dressing; 1 can of broth-based soup; and an orange.
- Tomato & cucumber salad with olive oil and vinegar; tuna salad on pita; baby carrots; and an apple.
- 1 can of soup; and grilled chicken on a bed of romaine with sliced apple and light vinaigrette.
- Garden salad with salmon, tomato, cucumber, and baby carrots; an orange; and 1 can of soup.
Diekman offers 5 more cheap lunch options that are also simple to prepare:
- Whole-wheat tortilla wrap of hummus, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and black olives; plus a carton of fat-free vanilla yogurt, and berries.
- Whole wheat pita stuffed with vegetarian refried beans, salsa, lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese; and apple slices with peanut butter.
- A green salad loaded with canned chunk light tuna, carrot strips, pepper slices, tomato wedges, red beans, and dried cranberries topped with balsamic vinaigrette; with a cup of low fat chocolate milk.
- A peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread; a piece of fresh fruit; and low fat yogurt.
- Whole-wheat tortilla roll with sliced turkey, sliced low-fat mozzarella cheese, red pepper strips, and lettuce leaf (chill and slice into bite size pieces); with fruit salad and a glass of skim milk.
To save money on beverages, use the water cooler at work instead of buying bottled water or a soda from the vending machine. And bring coffee in a to-go mug instead of stopping at your favorite coffee shop. Got a sweet tooth after lunch? Have fruit, a few pieces of hard candy, or a few low-fat Graham crackers or vanilla wafers.
Keep Your Lunch Healthy and Safe
Don’t forget: Lunches that include meat, fish, poultry, or dairy need to kept refrigerated. Toss your lunch in the refrigerator at work. If you don’t have access to refrigeration, invest in a lunchbox, Thermos, reusable plastic containers, plastic baggies, and ice packs to keep your lunch at the proper temperature.