I probably get asked about lunch ideas more than anything else on social media. It’s hard to come up with healthy, cheap lunch ideas when you’re working, or at home with the kids – and having the same thing gets really boring.
I once read an article that said that the average UK worker spends around £2,500 a year on lunches, snacks and drinks. My husband laughed when I read it out loud to him, until I pointed out that this actually works out at £9 a day. By the time you’ve bought a cup of coffee, lunch, maybe a bottle of water – £9, although at the steep end – probably isn’t far off. It’s easy to lose track of small purchases, but they’re the ones that add up.
We all know that the best way to save money on lunches, is to make our own. This won’t be a revelation to anyone! I hate making lunches. Breakfast, dinner, I have no problem with, but for some reason, making lunches the night before, seems like a real chore. So, if i’m taking the time to make a lunch, it needs to be quick, healthy (ish) and better than anything I can buy from the shops.
So here are some ideas and recipes to help make lunch planning a little bit easier……
Meal Prep: Planning out 5 days of lunches doesn’t have to be stressful. You can have roughly the same lunch for the week and prep it on a Sunday. Cook up batches of rice, noddles, couscous or pasta that can form the basis for your lunch and vary what you have with it. Store in Tupperware containers and freeze what won’t keep for the week. Think about the dinners you’ll be eating and the leftovers you might have to work with.
Invest in some good quality Tupperware containers, with clip fasten lids, that are dishwasher safe and BPA free. These are the ones I have and they’re ideal for dividing portions or storing different types of food.
If you’re looking for a great Sunday recipe to batch cook for the week, try my Pork Ragu It will feed the family and give you plenty of leftovers for lunch.
Heatproof mugs: These are ideal for storing noodles, stews and soups, keeping them hot until lunchtime. Alternatively, you can use it for hot drinks, rather than buying from coffee shops. They’re less bulky and more convenient than a flask. A great way to save money, especially if you’re out and about during the day, without access to a kitchen.
If you don’t have a heatproof mug, think about getting a good quality one that’s spill resistant. There is nothing more annoying than knocking over a leaky mug of soup in the car when your driving – trust me! I’ve found this one it ticks all of the boxes and it’s a really good price – I’ve seen some that are over £20!!
Bread: Most of us who take a lunch to work, or make packed lunches for the kids, will have a sandwich. You can obviously vary the filling to make it more interesting OR, you can vary the bread! Wraps, bagels, sandwich thins, croissants, pitta bread and ciabatta, can make sandwiches more exciting and a great accompaniment to soup. If you’re looking for something a little bit different, have a look at my Red Pesto & Ham Bakes they’re so easy to make and they freeze really well.
I love croissants with ham and cheese, popped in the oven for a few minutes so that the cheese melts. Sandwich thins are perfect to use in toastie bags or if you’re at home, add the sandwich filling, before frying them in a griddle – not massively healthy, but a wonderful Friday treat!
Toasties can make a nice change to a plain old sandwich. I do like toastie makers, but I can’t bear cleaning them afterwards! I use Toastie bags If you’ve not used them before, they’re heatproof pouches that you can put sandwiches in and can go in the toaster – you can also wash and reuse them.
If you’re just sick and tired of bread, why not try my Lentil, Tahini and Tomato Bake it’s really easy, totally veggie and you can prep it on a Sunday and freeze individual portions.
Buddha Bowls: If you’ve not heard of these before, the idea behind Buddha bowls is: Greens + Grains + Protein. They’re a great way to use up leftovers and an easy method of putting together a healthy balanced lunch. Think about preparing extra vegetables and grains when you make dinner, to set aside for lunches. Then you just add your protein. Here are a few ideas for ingredients:
- Kidney beans
- Brown rice
- Tinned Tuna
- Cold roast chicken
- Butter beans
- Steamed green beans or spinach
- Unsalted nuts
- Hardboiled eggs
- Roasted vegetables
- Smoked mackerel
The photo below is of my very unimaginative Buddha bowl, but you can make it much more interesting! Tupperware with different compartments is a useful thing to have for these, as are salad dressing bottles to stop your salad from going soggy in transit!
Snacks: It’s not just lunches we spend our money on, it’s snacks. The cost of buying individual snacks every day, can really add up. Go to work prepared. Buy multi packs of crisps, dried fruit, such as raisins and apricots and snack bars when you do your supermarket shop. Big bags of nuts and crackers can be portioned into individual containers.
Salads are great for warmer months, but a plate of lettuce rarely fills us me up until dinner time. Think of carbs like potato, pasta or rice that you can add to a healthy salad to make them a bit more satisfying. Homemade croutons are a great way to use up stale bread and make salads more filling and exciting. Just cut the bread into cubes, drizzle with olive oil and season, before baking in the oven for a few minutes. They will get crispier as they cool.
One of my favourite salad recipes is the Fiery Peanut & Honey Chicken Noodle Salad from my cookbook if you don’t have it yet – here’s the recipe:
- 2 nests of medium dried noodles
- 2 carrots
- 4 spring green leaves
- 3-4 cold cooked chicken breasts (or equivalent leftover roast chicken)
- Salt and ground black pepper
For the dressing:
- 4 tsp smooth peanut butter
- 4 tsp honey
- 4 tsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 2 tsp cold water
- 4 spring onions very finely chopped
- 1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
- Put the noodles into a saucepan, cover with boiling water and simmer for 4 minutes, with the lid on. Drain the noodles and immediately immerse them in cold water. Leave them in the water for a couple of minutes, before draining.
- Chop the ends off the carrots and peal them. Discard the skin and continue to peel, creating ribbons, using as much of the carrot as you can. Add to the noodles.
- Put the spring green leaves together, fold them in half length ways and then in half again. Slicing width ways, cut the greens into thin ribbons. Add the greens to the noodles.
- To make the dressing, combine all of the ingredients together in a bowl. Pour the dressing over the noodles and, using your hands, combine all of the ingredients, making sure that they are all coated in the dressing.
- Divide the noodles between 4 bowls, then slice or tear the chicken over the noodles. Season with salt and pepper.
Couscous makes the perfect lunch. It’s cheap, filling and only takes 10 minutes to cook. Place 100g of dried couscous, in an airtight Tupperware container and add to it a handful of greens such as spinach or shredded spring greens. Then add whatever dried spices or herbs you like. You can then add either feta or mackerel or tuna as the main ingredient. Stir the ingredients together, season and pour 230ml of boiling water into the tupperware container and put the lid on. You can eat it 10 minutes later, or take it with you and eat it at lunch time. It’s a great lunch if you’re short of time and need to put something together before work or the school run.
Spiralizing is a quick way to make a salad with a bit more bite and a great way to use up vegetables. Usually you would boil or steam the spiralized veg, but, if you’re prepping them to eat later in the day just work the dressing through them, place them in a sealed container and they will be the perfect texture by lunch! I love raw courgetti with shredded spring greens, tossed in pesto and a little olive oil. Then, just crumble some feta cheese over the top!
Essential Lunch kit:
If you’re spending more money than you want to on lunches, it’s worth investing in a bit of kit. There is a bit of outlay to begin with, but in the long run it’s going to make lunches quicker, easier and cheaper.