Save some money – stop buying your lunch
Do you buy your lunch at a café? I challenge you to add up how much this costs you over the week and justify it. You can make yourself a quick, nutritious and cheap lunch to take to work really easily. Here are some ideas.
Salads can be made from basically anything you have in your kitchen. Just pick a carbohydrate source, some vegetables and a sauce. This is a really easy way to use up leftover potatoes and vegetables and is very quick to throw into a plastic tub and shake to combine. Here are some ideas of things to add:
- New potatoes – just boil for 20 minutes, or use up leftovers
- Cous cous – place in a small bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for 5 minutes then fluff with a knife
- Pasta – again, easy to cook the night before
- Grains like pearl barley and bulgar wheat
- Classic salad vegetables like cucumber and lettuce
- Chopped peppers
- Roasted vegetables – just chop, drizzle with oil and cook for about 40 minutes. Try courgette, aubergine, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and red onions
- Raw red onion
- Chargrilled chicken – there are loads of flavoured varies available in the shops
- Leftover roast meat
- Prawn or tuna mayonnaise – you could even buy ready made sandwich fillers to save time
- Chopped ham
- Coronation or Cajun chicken
- Mixed beans
- Sweet chilli sauce
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salad cream
- BBQ sauce
- Honey and mustard dressing – buy from a shop or make your own
Sandwiches don’t have to be boring.
Firstly, vary your bread, You could try a local bakery, where you can buy individual rolls, or just buy packs and keep in the freezer so you can defrost and use them individually. If you want to recreate the just-baked taste you get from your café, buy part-baked bread, which just needs a short time in the oven. Bread ideas include:
- Pitta bread
- Breads with added olives or sundried tomatoes
- Cheesy rolls – rolls baked with a cheesy topping
- Tiger bread
- Potato bread
- Soda bread
- Rye bread
Also vary your filling so you don’t get bored. If you’re in a rush in the mornings, try buying sandwich fillers. These come in a really wide variety of flavours, from seafood cocktail to chicken and stuffing. You could also make up your own batch of a filling, like tuna mayonnaise, and keep in the fridge to use for the week, saving you time in the mornings, though you lose out on the variety!
There are lots of products which make it easy to make a soup for your lunch using just a sachet and a kettle. If you prefer, you could make a batch of your own soup, using vegetables and stock as a base then adding any meat you like. You can also add noodles and small pasta shapes to make it more filling. If you make a large batch, you can decant it into smaller containers and freeze, then just get a pot out of the freezer every evening and it will be ready by the next morning. All you need to remember to take is your soup pot and a bread roll!
If your workplace has a microwave, there are so many options for you. Why not make extra when you cook your dinner and put some in a microwaveable pot for the next day? You could freeze it then take it in a few days later if you don’t fancy the same meal two days running! Things which microwave well are pasta bakes, risottos and curries, so why not give it a try?
Extras and snacks
You know at the café till they have all those little packets of crisps and biscuits to tempt you? There are loads of little extras you can add to your lunch box without adding a lot of extra cost!
- Buy a large bag of crisps and put a single serving in a pot or sandwich bag every day. The bigger packs are usually much cheaper than the individual packets. If not, you can often get really good deals if you buy lots of bags in one go. The buy big and use gradually rule also works for yoghurts, dried fruit, nuts and sweets. The single serve packs are almost always more expensive so keep a look out for big packs.
- Chop up some vegetables like cucumber, carrots and peppers and serve with your favourite dip. Again, avoid single serve dips and bigger tubs are much better value.
- Make your own fruit salad. Shop bought fruit salads are very overpriced so just buy and chop your own fruit at the start of the week. Add some orange juice and keep it in the fridge and it shouldn’t go brown.
Top tips for making your own lunch
- Collect wrapped disposable cutlery from cafes and takeaways and keep in your bag or work desk so you’re never caught without a knife and fork
- Try to keep it varied – if you get bored you’re less likely to stick to your new resolution
- Make your lunch the evening before if you’re always rushed in the mornings
- If you have a partner or housemates, draw up a rota so someone makes lunch for everyone on certain days, sharing the job around and meaning you still get an element of surprise
- Take your own tea bags and coffee to work. You could even keep some squirty cream in the fridge to recreate your favourite café drinks for a fraction of the cost!
- If there’s no fridge at work, buy a mini fridge to keep near your desk. They can be very cheap and very useful in the summer. If not, could your colleagues all club together to buy a bigger fridge for the whole office to use?
- If you really can’t bear to cook your own lunch, look for cheaper options. Some cafes have loyalty schemes which get you free drinks or money off. Another option is to buy your sandwiches at a supermarket. It’s still not cheap but the prices are generally better than cafes. Also look out for “meal deal” offers where you get a drink, sandwich and often another product for a reduced price.
- If you miss the ice-cold drinks you get from the café chiller, put your drink in the freezer before you go to bed and get it out in the morning. By lunchtime, it will have melted but will still be nice and cool. Of course if you have an office fridge you can just keep your drink in there.
- The buy big rule also applies to drinks. Don’t buy a bottle of drink everyday – buy a large bottle at the supermarket and keep it by your desk with a few cups. You can often buy a 2 litre bottle of soft drink for the same price as a 500ml bottle would be in a café. Avoid single bottle fruit drinks and just make your own with squash.
I hope you’ve found this article useful. My final tip is to put the money you would have spent on buying lunch in a jar and save it up for a month then see how much you’ve saved. I hope you get a nice surprise.