Healthy Lunches from Home and Save

One of the best ways to keep a frugal budget is obviously to reduce or eliminate needless spending.  Convenience does come at a price. One very easy way to save money is to bring your own healthy lunch from home with you to school or work and avoid purchasing lunch on a daily basis.  We’ve already discussed that it makes a lot of financial sense to brew your own coffee and the same logic extends to lunches.  An added bonus is that when you bring your own healthy lunch food you have ingredient and packaging control. As the saying goes, brown bag it! Better yet, re-usable lunch bag it!

Why healthy lunches from home?

Most convenient food is not healthy, that’s why.  Sure there are exceptions if you hunt for the healthy restaurants but more than likely a quick lunch out consists of some kind of fast food, potentially fried, lathered in some sort of sauce and loaded with trans fats.  A place like Subway, with it’s legendary “6 grams of fat or less” has small print – don’t you dare have cheese or sauce on that sandwich! And at the nicer places? Those who have worked in a restaurant kitchen will tell you the golden rule of tasty food: fat tastes good – bring on the butter.

When you make your own lunches you have total ingredient control.  You’ll know if the vegetables came fresh from your garden or the market instead of having been shipped from half way across the globe.  You can avoid processed or low grade cheese by using a slice from the block in your fridge.  Not all whole wheat bread is the same – at home you can opt for the healthier brands (or better yet, home made).  And if you eat meat on your sandwich you can opt for the low fat types.

Do healthy lunches cost more?

healthy lunch from homeNot if you bring it from home.  You would be hard pressed to find a fast food meal, let alone a decent restaurant meal or healthy meal for lunch at a lower cost than what you can put together at home.  For 5 lunches I need the following foods:

  • Loaf of bread – I would need 10 slices, about 1/2 a loaf.  At $2.50 a loaf I would spend $1.25 – $0.25 a day
  • Head of lettuce – again about 1/2 a head.  At $1.19 per I would spend $0.60 on the week or $0.20 daily
  • 1/20th of a jay of light mayonaise.  At $4.00 per jar, I would spend $0.20 per day
  • 250 grams of turkey (50g per sandwich) for $5.00, so $0.50 spent per day
  • 1/2 bag of organic baby carrots for $3.00, $1.50 for the week or $0.30 a day
  • one of Mrs. SPFs Bake Your Own muffins at about $0.45 each
  • one can of diet coke (my guilty mid-day pleasure) which I buy in cases for no more than $0.30 per can.

So lunch costs me $2.20 each day and i’m eating relatively healthy lunches.  I likely pay much less when I use a glass storage container after we cook in bulk and I re-heat leftovers for lunch.

not a healthy lunchTaking a look at the alternatives in our downtown core the cheapest “meal” I can find would be a McDonalds McDouble and a small fries + the diet coke.  This unhealthy option costs $3.12.  A more filling meal at the same grease joint, a Big Mac combo would cost $6.69 + 13% tax (yes – you read that correctly non-Canadian readers, we pay 13% sales tax here) for a total of $7.56 and REALLY far from healthy.  Down the road I can go to Subway and get one of their “low fat” subs for $5.65 w/o cheese or mayonnaise.  At the local vegetarian restaurant (which is really quite tasty) I am looking at $8-$10 for a take out meal.  This is a very healthy option but 4x more expensive than my brown bagged lunch.  Last but not least I can go to a sit down restaurant, likely using lots of fats and butter, and expect to pay about $15 for lunch, after tip and beverage.

I always like to look at the impact our personal finance decisions do or could cost us over the course of a year.

Here is the data assuming 5 days a week for 52 weeks eating the same type of lunch daily:

  • Mini McD’s junk meal:  $15.60 per week / $811.20 per year.  Affect on health – very bad.
  • Full size McD’s junk meal: $37.80 per week / $1,956.60 per year.  Ditto.
  • Subway: $28.25 per week / $1469 per year.
  • Yummy healthy vegetarian place: $45 per week / $2,340 per year.
  • Sit down lunch restaurants: $65 per week / $3,380 per year.
  • “Brown bag” lunches: $11 per week and $572 annually.

The difference in lunch costs is quite evident.  You can make  a financially prudent decision regarding your food/dining out budget and control (knowledge is power) what you are eating all the while re-using food containers instead of purchasing food in disposable packaging.

photo credit: VirtualErn

photo credit: Like_the_Grand_Canyon

17 comments to Healthy Lunches from Home and Save

  • I have decided to start eating healthier this year. For my lunch, I have two turkey breast sandwiches and a banana. The loaf of bread cost me 80 cents, the turkey cost $3.59, and 8 bananas cost $1.59. This will last me the week for a grand total of $5.98 – that’s for the week! :) If I went out to eat, not only would it be much more unhealthy, but one meal would cost more than my whole week of lunches!

    • Precisely! It sounds like everything else in the U.S you pay less than we do here in Canada. I have a sweet tooth and like some mayo on my sandwich so some increased cost there too. You will bore of turkey sooner or later but just make sure you pick a decent alternative – and even if it is roast beef you’ll have a few more calories but still save a bundle.

  • brad

    I work at home, so it’s very rare for me to eat lunch out, but most of what I make for lunch could be brought to work or made there if your workplace has a rudimentary kitchen. My general strategies are:

    1. Leftovers from the previous night’s supper are great lunches, and if I’ve made a big batch of stew or soup for supper one night it usually serves as lunch for the next several days.

    2. Carrots, celery, and hummus or babaganoush are great for lunch, followed by an apple or orange for dessert. I have this for lunch at least once or twice a week and never tire of it. In summer when tomatoes are in season, lunch is often one or two big tomatoes sliced and put on a plate, topped with basil leaves from the plant on my porch and slices of fresh mozzarella, a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

    3. If I feel like cooking my lunch, I have a few simple, fast, and delicious recipes that I fall back on; none of them take more than 10-15 minutes to make. Lunch yesterday was a portobello mushroom sauteed in olive oil and placed over a piece of homemade whole-wheat toast rubbed with a little garlic, and then I topped that with a fried egg, sprinkled on some salt, pepper, and fresh tarragon. Simple to make but incredibly delicious.

    4. If I need a real energy boost, I make a smoothie — if you go to the New York Times website and search for the phrase “substantial smoothies” you’ll find four or five wonderful recipes from Martha Rose Shulman for incredibly thick stick-to-your-ribs smoothies that give you lasting energy and will satisfy your hunger for hours. Sometimes I have these for lunch or for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up when I’m starting to fade.

    • Great response as always Brad.
      Are you a vegetarian by chance?
      Those lunches sound extremely tasty!

      • brad

        Not really a vegetarian, but we aren’t big meat eaters — red meat maybe four or five times a year, chicken maybe twice a month, and fish once a week or so. It’s really more out of habit than any conscious choice; we find veggie dishes more interesting and flavorful in general. We are pretty serious in our exercise habits (rowing machine in winter, bike in summer; last summer we biked from Toronto to Montreal for our vacation), but we seem to get more than enough protein in our diet despite the low meat content. I was just reading about Jack Lalane, the exercise guru, who died earlier this week at age 96 — he only ate two meals a day, no snacks, and the only protein he ate was egg whites and salmon. He worked out intensively for four hours a day, every day. I wouldn’t want to live like that but it gives you some perspective on how little protein you really need even if you’re an athlete.

  • Finanzas Personales

    This is a particularly difficut topic when you live in a country like Peru. Food is soooo good here that it’s a permanent temptation to leave work at one and head to a nearby restaurant. However, if you do so, you might end up spending much more money than you’d ever intend to.
    Controlling “impulse eating” was an important objective for me a couple of years ago, when I realized I was basically working to pay for lunch. That didn’t only create a big hole in my wallet, it helped me accumulate several pounds (it’s hard to eat out and avoid dessert!!!).
    The home made lunch, when possible, is the best alternative from a financial and a health point of view!! Besides, cooking can be a fun family experience.

  • David

    My information on bagged baby carrots is that they are washed in formaldehyde and are best avoided. Not all these lunches are necessarily good for diabetics. Also, some work cultures cast a jaundiced eye on bringing leftovers for lunch.

    • We purchase organic baby carrots that are not treated.
      What specifically, in the example we provided, is bad for diabetics?
      Please tell us about which work cultures you are referring to.
      We encourage discussion but please back up your statements!

  • Gary Katch

    Great financial advice, but the “healthy” diet has to be questioned as being unnecessarily fat-phobic. There is a sea change in nutritional thinking pointing towars sugars and starches (hi-glycemic carbs) as the major health issue, not fat. The only bad fat is a man-made (trans) fat.

    There are two huge areas of my life that I’ve taken over: my finances and my diet, and both go against the experts. I’m managing my own portfolio, and I’m eating a low-carb/high-fat diet. Both so far have paid good dividends.

  • Julie

    I love making my own soups and taking them to work or eating them at home if I am working there. They are so simple, cheap and healthy as you know exactly what has gone into them. My favourite is tomato and bacon. It is so filling and lovely on a bitterly cold day.

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