School is back in session and trying to figure out what to have for lunch can be frustrating and expensive. We’ve put together a huge list of Bag Lunch ideas for kids, tweens, teens and adults alike. If you’re tired of the same ol’ lunch, give these ideas a whirl!
Big Savings with Brown Bag Lunches
When the lunch hour rolls around at the office and stomachs start growling, those without a lunch plan may find themselves spending a good chunk of the day’s hard-earned wages on eating out. Co-workers huddle together to pick a lunch spot, and the socialization begins. But the cost of unplanned, restaurant meals adds up quickly and impulse meals out over the lunch hour may end up sabotaging your monthly budget.
Say the average cost of lunch on the go is around ten dollars per trip. You rush out of the office for an hour to get to the restaurant, eat, travel back to the restaurant, all while using gas and trying not to be late back to your desk. Typically, you spend the rest of the afternoon sluggish, wishing you would have chosen something smaller and better for your diet. Say you only repeat this routine three days a week. That would be over $120 a month spent on lunches alone! What if you ate out all five days of the week?
If your monthly budget doesn’t support restaurant expenses, you may want to consider brown-bagging it. You can save some bucks, make healthier decisions, avoid the lunch rush hassle, and maybe even get some extra work done at your desk. Assuming the ten-dollar lunch price above, if you eliminated indulging in lunch out three days a week that would be $1440 a year in savings by bringing your lunch from home.
Brown Bag Lunches Tips for Success
To make the change and get the best out of your brown bag experience, here are some tips for success. Prepare your lunches at least the night before to avoid forgetting to leave time to prepare it in the morning or to avoid convincing yourself to give up on your lunch-making endeavor at the last minute because you have nothing planned.
Plan your lunches in advance so you have a plan to stick to and so you can plan your grocery shopping trips ahead of time. Buy larger or bulk sizes of the items you will use often and purchase some small, individual-sized baggies to portion out the amount needed for a single lunch serving. Pre-portioned packages are less cost-effective as you are primarily paying for convenience.
Get creative and make healthy decisions for maximum energy throughout the day. Try wrapping your sandwich in lettuce instead of bread or including some nuts as a snack instead of a handful of chips. Fruit, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, or yogurt are all low-cost choices that you can incorporate into your lunch menu.
Maximize leftovers by portioning them into individual containers. Home-cooked food is often healthier, and you can make the most of your grocery budget by not letting food go to waste. You can even adjust your dinner recipes to make a little extra for leftovers.
Have a Back-Up Plan
If your lunch planning has fallen off course or you find yourself without a lunch ready to go in the morning, have some pre-purchased backup plans on hand to substitute in a pinch. A frozen meal, can of soup or chili, or a packaged tuna salad kit are all far less expensive options than an unplanned meal out.
Don’t forget to plan for beverages as well. If you are a coffee, tea, or soda drinker, these items can be purchased much cheaper at the grocery store than impulsively at a convenience store, coffee house, or vending machine. A daily coffee or soda habit can be a budget killer itself.
Skipping the lunch lines and bringing your own from home has many advantages. You might see an improvement in your waistline, be more productive not leaving the office, and most of all, save a few dollars for a rainy day. If you are going to splurge on something special, it’s nice to do it on something more exciting than lunch.
100+ Brown Bag Lunch Ideas
To keep things fresh, different and tasting great all week long, start with a sandwich base, add a filling of your choice, and a few items to accompany it. Here’s a giant list of ideas:
Sandwiches made with:
- Pita Bread
- Tortillas – (corn or Flour)
- Bacon Tortillas
- English Muffins
- Dinner Rolls
- French or Italian Bread
- Keto Sandwich Bread
- Raisin Bread
- Sub Rolls
Sandwich Filling Ideas:
- BLT’s (Or Bean LT’s)
- Cheese Whiz & Deli Meat
- Cucumber Slices with a dash of salt & pepper
- Eggs 18 different egg salad variations
- Ham- sliced, or diced in ham salad, finely chopped with onions, celery mayo- or olives
- Chicken Salad
- Cold Cuts, Various
- Grilled Chicken (leftover from previous nights dinner) with Apple Slices (or Homemade Chunky Applesauce)
- Peanut Butter & Dill Pickles
- Peanut Butter & Banana Slices
- PB & Jelly, or Fluff
- Pot Roast Sandwiches
- Salmon Salad
- Tuna- add variations to tuna salad- finely diced onions & celery or grapes cut in half
- Turkey, sliced, or chunk in turkey salad, again add cumin or grape halves, mango pieces, etc for variation
Make your own “Lunchable” style lunches:
- Veggies or Fruit- pre-cut into cubes or coins
- Left-over Dinner – such as Meatloaf Sandwiches, Cucumber Sandwiches
- For younger kids, to make the sandwiches more appealing use cookie cutters to cut them into shapes, triangles, or mini squares.
- Tortillas spread with Fruit Butter and rolled up
- Dried Fruits (or homemade fruit rolls)
- Unsalted nuts
Hot Lunch Ideas:
A Thermos Can often be found at thrift stores or at Walmart for less than $5. Fill it with:
- Baked Beans
- Soups- any & all!
- Chop Suey
- Pasta’s (Even Mac & Cheese)
- Seasoned Rice
- Ramen Noodle Soup
Here is the Idea that Laurie Shared:
- Bin 1 – popcorn or veggie straws (I’ll mix it up with what they call “junk food”)
- Bin 2 – goldfish, rice and ritz crackers
- Bin 3 – fruit to go and fruit & veggie source bars
- Bin 4 – fruit cups and apple sauces, fresh fruit
- Bin 5 – cheese strings, Babybell cheese and yogurt tubes.
- Bin 6 – Meat & veggies
- Bin 7 – granola bars, banana muffins or cookies!
Make it Special!
To Make Lunch more Special – add a little note to their bag…
- “Thanks for your help last night with dishes”
- ” Thanks for being a great kid”
- “You look wonderful today”
- Decorate their bag with stickers!
- Make it a Surprise Plate!
When our boys were little, both of my kids LOVED Surprise Plates… these are little items they didn’t know about but are fun to eat, such as ants on a log.
Cold Lunch Ideas
- Gogurts: MYO
- Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Juice Bags
- Muffins: Any kind (make’m, wrap ’em in saran wrap & freeze’em, they reheat in the micro in 15-20 seconds) or thaw in a lunch bag by lunchtime
- Fruit & Yogurt Parfait– layer yogurt, then slices of fruit or berries, more yogurt in a 1 c. container. Cover. These freeze great and with slowly thawing by lunchtime.
- Fruit Dips & chunks of melon, pineapples, apples, etc
- Grilled Veggies
- Pasta Salads- add cubed cheese or ham for variety
- Make Freezer Packs or Freeze kids Juice Boxes to keep items cold until lunch.
- Salads with lunch meat cut into slices, cheese
- Cottage Cheese with Fruit Slices or Berries
- Cereal Yogurt Bars
- Autumn Apple Bars
- Honey Crunch Granola Bars
- Chewy Granola Bars
See also these Additional Ideas and Recipes from our Members:
- 50 More Back to School Lunch Ideas
- Ideas for Packing Lunches
- More Back to School Lunch Ideas
- Afterschool Snack Ideas
- Make your Own: 100 Calorie Snack Packs
(C) Canstock Photo/ monkeybusiness