Easy Work or School Lunches for Any Budget


If you’re struggling with your food budget every month, you’re not alone. Overspending on food is one of the most common personal budget busters. If you’re not sure if you’re overspending, track your grocery and restaurant spending for a month and see how you feel when you see the total number. You might be surprised to see that you spend hundreds of dollars more than you thought on food. A Chipotle lunch here, a snack run there, it adds up!

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Meal planning is one of the easiest ways to cut your personal food spending. Eating food that you make at home is a lot cheaper than eating out for every meal. According to a recent money article, the average cost of a meal from a restaurant is $13 and the average cost of a meal prepared at home is $4. That’s a $9 difference per meal!

If you’re busy like me, cooking every single meal at home is unrealistic. Sometimes I’m excited to prepare a delicious dinner, and other times I’m on-the-go and need something I can eat quickly in between meetings. This is why I love to meal prep every week. Meal prep means planning specific recipes that can be made in a big batch and then portioned out for meals throughout the week. For example, I recently made a batch of breakfast burritos that I wrapped up and put in the refrigerator. Every morning, I had a yummy and filling breakfast waiting for me.

While breakfast burritos are a great example of meal prepping, I think packing lunches is something that many of you can relate to. Whether it’s for yourself, for kids, or for a significant other, most people who are watching their food spending are packing a lunch every day. I have some easy work or school lunch ideas for you that will help you stay on budget and eat well!

First up, the main course.

A filling lunch meal should have a main item. It should provide the nutrition and energy you need to make it to dinner. Whether you’re packing a lunch for kids or for yourself, this main course is the main event! Here are some ideas.

Veggie Lasagna (or whatever’s leftover)

Leftover dinner is a great option for lunch the next day. Veggie lasagna and other pastas are nice because they can be enjoyed cold if you don’t have access to a microwave. Try this recipe for a zucchini version that has lots of cheese. Yum.

Homemade Cold Pasta Salad

A deli-style cold pasta salad is usually made with bow tie pasta and some chopped up veggies, like red pepper and cucumber. Slice up some salami and cheese for a hearty option. This is an easy option because it can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner.

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Mason Jar Salad
Have you ever packed a salad that looked great in the morning, but soggy and wilted come lunchtime? This mason jar salad idea (recipe, here) is a great way to pack a salad because all the ingredients stay fresh. The dressing goes on the bottom and the lettuce is on the top. I like to add a tiny piece of paper towel at the very top of the mason jar to capture any residual liquid from the lettuce or spinach.

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DIY Snack Box

Make your own snack box with cheese cubes, pretzel crisps, grapes, and tuna salad. There are so many ways you can create a snack box using your favorite fruit and snack items. Switch it up each day so you don’t get bored of eating grapes every day. This is an on-the-go favorite for park days, picnics, or lunching on the patio at the office.

Toasted PB&J

Have you ever had the toasted version of this childhood classic? Toast the bread first and then add the spreads. This is a great option for when you’re eating lunch at home, but it will also hold up if you’re packing it. Switch it up by experimenting with different butters (almond, cashew, etc.) and breads. One tip is to use fresh raspberries as a spread if you don’t have jelly on hand.

Don’t forget the sides.

The trick with buying fruits and vegetables is to cut it up all at once so you’re more likely to eat it. Think about it, if you have to chop up a cucumber or carrot sticks every morning, you’re probably not going to do it. If you have baggies prepped with fruits and veggies cut up just how you like it, it’s so easy to grab and pack!

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Fresh Seasonal Fruit

Plums, pears, peaches, bananas, blueberries, and more! Add some color to your lunch with your favorite fresh fruit.

Dried Fruit 

Dried mangos and strawberries are delicious and nutritious. If you haven’t packed dried fruit for lunch before, it’s an easy way to incorporate fruit without needing a napkin. 

Crackers or Chips 

You’ll need some crunch in your lunch. Some people think crackers or chips aren’t that great for you, but there are so many baked and “free of” versions.

DIY Granola Bar

Make your own trail mix-style granola bar with your favorite nuts, seeds, and peanut butter. Add some dried fruit and chocolate if you’re into the whole sweet and salty thing. 

Cheese Slices 

String cheeses or pre-sliced cheese is so easy to throw in your lunch box. Plus, it’s filling and can be paired with crackers for a fun snack box option. 


To dessert or not to dessert?

Here are some fun options for those days you’re craving a dessert. 


Homemade or store-bought, you can’t go wrong with a delicious cookie at the end of your lunch.

Homemade Protein Bites

One way to taste something sweet while still getting some nutrition is to make these homemade protein balls.

Here’s a recap of these budget-friendly work and school lunch ideas: 

  • Veggie Lasagna Dinner Leftovers 

  • Homemade Cold Pasta Salad

  • Mason Jar Salad

  • DIY Snack Box

  • Toasted PB&J

  • Fresh Fruit 

  • Dried Fruit

  • Crackers or Chips

  • DIY Granola Bar

  • Cheese Slices

  • Homemade Protein Bites

  • Cookie

If you haven’t noticed, meal prepping is also a great way to eat healthier. Most home cooked meals have a lot less sodium. Even when you pack something sweet, chances are you’ll feel better about your health and your wallet when you prep your weekday lunches.

For more meal planning ideas and ways to stick to a food budget, make sure you’re following me on Instagram!