Save Money and Your Waistline with These Healthy Budget-Friendly Lunches
If eating lunch out is breaking your budget and busting your waistline, it might be time for you to start making your own lunches. Despite what fancy health food store prices might lead you to believe, eating healthy isn't expensive. With a little planning, possibly a few leftovers and the right recipes, your lunches can be tasty, good for you and easy on your budget.
1. Grilled Cheese for Moms
Your kids like grilled cheese and you probably do too. But you can also fancy it up and make it a little healthier with a few adult-friendly tweaks. Coat a grill pan with olive oil and cook over medium-low heat. Place a slice of crusty whole-wheat bread on the pan and layer it with Swiss cheese, sliced tomato, spinach, red onion and another slice of Swiss cheese. Top it with another slice of bread and drizzle with olive oil. Cook until the cheese is melted and the bread is browned. Flip and repeat. While grilled cheese is best right away, you can pack it in your lunch box and enjoy it cold as well.
2. Beans and Greens
Beans and greens are not only chock full of nutrients, but are also super cheap. Any bean or green will do, so buy what's on sale. In a saute pan on medium-high heat, brown garlic in olive oil, toss in chopped greens such as collards, kale or bok choy, and cook until soft. Add your beans, such as chickpeas, black beans or blacked-eyed peas, and heat until warm. Remove the beans and greens from the heat and season with lemon, salt and pepper. Add a slice of crumbled turkey bacon. This is a perfect make-ahead lunch that's good whether it's hot or cold.
3. Leftover Chicken Salad
If you're grilling or baking chicken for dinner, be sure to grill up a few extra breasts to use for a quick and healthy lunch salad. Layer a mason jar with torn lettuce leaves, cubed chicken breast, sliced strawberries and chopped pecans. Top with your favorite salad dressing when you're ready to eat. Or, make your own simple dressing whisking together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
4. Spicy Avocado Wraps
When it comes to avocados, a little goes a long way. High in healthy fats, an avocado adds flavor and moisture, and makes a good substitute for mayonnaise. In a whole-wheat wrap place thinly sliced, cold leftover London broil. Top it with horseradish, sliced red onions, romaine lettuce and a thinly sliced avocado. Roll your wrap and pack in your lunch bag for a healthy, high-end lunch on the cheap.
5. Turkey Chili Topped Baked Potato
This one definitely requires a little planning, but you can do some of the work while you're at the office. In your slow-cooker, mix browned ground turkey, chopped onion, garlic, diced canned tomatoes, canned chili beans, tomato paste, chili powder, salt and pepper and cook on the low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours. For your lunch, microwave a baked potato until soft, top with your chili and chopped green onions.
6. Flatbread Pizza
This one is so easy that your kids can make it for you. And it's a good use for any leftover veggies or meats. Simply sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil on whole-wheat flatbread, top with grated mozzarella cheese and bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and bread is crispy. If you don't have sun-dried tomatoes, halved grape tomatoes work well. For extra flavor, top with diced chicken or leftover veggies such as spinach, onions or cooked broccoli. If you want to bring it to work, you can eat it cold too.
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and sharing her love of food, nutrition and health with anyone who'll listen for almost 20 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and Working Mother.