Brown Bag Lunches: Caviar Taste on a Peanut Butter Budget

Thursday, February 19, 2009 - 05:13 PM

Some lunch equipment from the Roving Gastronome blogger, Zora O

Some lunch equipment from the Roving Gastronome blogger, Zora O'Neill

One uncommon economic indicator that several listeners have noticed is how crowded the office refrigerator is getting with everyone trying to save money by bringing lunch from home. Saving money is great, but boring lunches are not. So help us all out and submit your ideas for simple, tasty packable lunches in the comments section below. We’ll also get some ideas from local cooks and food bloggers on the show this week and combine them into one handy list of delicious lunch ideas.

**You can also vote for your favorite lunch comment and send it to the top of the list! Click on the 'thumbs up' icon to select your favorite.**


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Comments [134]


I have been baking bread (using a bread machine) since mid-January. I costed out the expense of a two loaves of home-baked (and tasty) baguettes to be .50 each vs. 2.49 + at the store, I haven't bought a loaf since!

It's been an adventure, as now I have moved onto hamburger rolls and the best Pita bread I have every had. (So easy!)

Have a breadmaker? Have time? Use it -- you'll be living well, saving $, and actually putting an otherwise useless possesion to use.

Bon Appetit!

Mar. 25 2009 11:05 AM

Two of my favorite things:

Toast for breakfast.

For lunch, avocado cut in half spray some brags in center and just scoop it out with a spoon with a side of rice.

Mar. 12 2009 09:45 AM
Tanya "T"

If you want to eat something on the lighter side and have a fridge at work, I typically buy a bunch of salad stuff and take it work on Monday and then just prepare everything in a large tupperware container. Bagged lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, bell peppers, cucumbers and sometimes canned tuna or sliced deli meat. Toss in a little olive oil and lemon juice. Put the top back on the tupperare and shake! Then for something crunchy I keep a bag of sesame rice cakes and hummus around as a side. Voila! Healthy & cheap!

Mar. 10 2009 08:21 AM
Haute Lunch

I admit this is a shameless plug for my own small biz. Packing a lunch is fashionable with Haute Lunch. Chic totes are fully insulated and large enough to pull double-duty if you want to use it as a purse, too. Check us out at Also available at

Mar. 04 2009 09:47 AM

For people like me who seem to be running late no matter what, I usually just grab some shredded wheat cereal and a pack of raisins or a banana or other fruit I happen to have. You can have it cold or warm and it fills you up without the sluggish feeling of heavier meals. Plus, less to carry home at the end of the day.

Mar. 02 2009 09:37 AM

I take a small avocado slice it in half and scoop it out. I then fill it with tuna or chicken salad I made Sunday night. Sometimes a pc. of wheat flat bread and I'm all set. Easy and tasty.

Mar. 01 2009 01:04 PM

I get healthy snacks delivered to my office in bulk. I like Peeled Snacks, which are fruit and nuts, and rice cakes (I like the Quaker ones with Peanut Butter on top). It saves me money, get me through the day, and insures that I eat healthily.

Feb. 27 2009 01:56 PM

Didn't have time to read all comments so if this website was already mentioned, excuse me for the repetition.

It will link you to a whole new world of making and bring lunch!

Feb. 27 2009 01:18 PM

I always make double or triple portions (or more) with the express intent of having lunches. I eat a lot of grains and legumes, which I pack up in old plastic take-out dishes. A favorite trick is that I always keep in my freezer a bag of Trader Joe's frozen french green beans. I throw a handful of those on top of the grains/legumes - they've defrosted by lunch time, and they cook in the microwave along with the rest.

If I don't have anymore leftover grains/legumes, in the evening I throw into the crock pot legumes, chopped onion, carrot & celery, bay leaf, spices and water (about 3 times as high in the pot as the beans, etc.). In the morning, it's ready. When I wake up, I throw rice and water into the rice cooker and by the time I've showered, dressed and had breakfast, the rice is ready, too.

Chunk up, then steam or roast a couple of big sweet potatoes to keep in the fridge. Throw them into a microwavable dish along with some frozen veggies (see above), and by lunch the veg is defrosted and you can eat them either cold or heated.

Feb. 27 2009 12:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

1. I called this in last week, but it sounds like it "counts" more if I post it! When I was a full-time employee working near a health-food store, I used to go there on my lunch hour on Monday & buy assorted cooked items from their salad bar (not really salads, but I'm not sure what to call it), all in 1 container, which I'd keep in the company's fridge all week. Then I'd bring whole-grain tortillas or pita, & fill them w/different foods from the container (or combine them) for a different meal each day.

2. To cut down on fridge crowding & time spent cooking, you can bring store-bought prepared foods in shelf-stable packaging & microwave it at the office. Most foods that come in boil-in bags can be microwaved (just be sure to vent the bag or put the food in a microwave-safe bowl!), & a lot of just-add-water foods don't need refrigeration. (Might throw off the Uncommon Economic Indicator this whole page is based on, though!)

Feb. 27 2009 12:49 PM

Here's my "Leftover Salad" made from - you guessed it, leftovers and whatever I could find in the 'frig.
I don't really use recipes or measurements, I go by tastes and this was a great example.
Leftover brown rice + baby spinach + green apple diced (squeeze lemon juice over the apple so it doesn't brown; will also add flavor) et voila! better to wait to add any add'l dressing* until you're ready to eat; your spinach might wilt altho the rice will absorb liquid. Great mix of crunchy and chewy.
*this particular experiment was while on a temp assignment so the sauce at hand culled from the office pantry was duck sauce thinned out w/a little soy sauce and cut w/some hot mustard. not too bad for an improvisation.

Feb. 27 2009 12:40 PM

Re: Brian's comment on Ramen noodles...

There's no need to use Ramen - in NYC we've got easy access to Asian cooking ingredients, and you can but very cheap noodles (wheat, rice, even bean threads) which are so simple to fix.

Top with veggies which can be cooked ahead, season with ginger, condiments, soy sauce in moderation, crushed peanuts, handful of chopped coriander, etc....

Also - the fish flavoring - easy, buy Thai fish sauce!

Feb. 27 2009 12:38 PM
susie lewis

cook already bagged coleslae,put in pan on stove.cook .take Egg roll wrap..put cabbage mix ..and rolled cabbage in roll and fry,it doesn't need to be immersed.delicious next day,too. also egg roll wraps filled with cheddar and chopped green chilles. dip in salsa .

Feb. 27 2009 12:38 PM

I ate tunafish on dark, nutritional, Danish bread for one year for lunch. Everyday. It was great. And I didn't get Mercury poisoning either! (I was young and didn't realize the downside of eating tuna 365 days a year)

Feb. 27 2009 12:34 PM

I've had potluck lunches with coworkers before - we would plan ahead. We were the envy of the office on one occasion when we had lasagna with garlic bread and salad - all homemade! It is possible to bring your lunch and not have it be routine or boring.

Feb. 27 2009 12:34 PM

When I bring my brown bag lunch, I end up eating it shortly after I arrive in the morning and then end up needing to buy lunch, so I eat more if I bring lunch than not! Argh!

Feb. 27 2009 12:34 PM

Here are my favorite tasty, healthy, portable lunch ideas that can be eaten hot or cold. They can easily be prepared as vegetarian dishes.

Frittata - Add potatoes, meat, and/or cheese to make it filling. And lots of vegetables! Make a big one for Sunday brunch, and bring the leftovers to work during the week.

Pasta salad - An easy way to clean out the fridge and combine carbs, vegetables, protein (beans, or leftover meat), and cheese. For dressing, all you need is vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Quinoa or soba noodles with tofu, roasted vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, winter squash, asparagus, or almost any other vegetable), raw or sauteed greens, and a simple soy sauce and sesame oil dressing. Roast a large pan of vegetables all at once, and portion them out for lunch and dinner throughout the week.

Feb. 27 2009 01:12 AM

I typically podcast The Brian Lehrer Show, so I actually didn't hear this segment until today! I hope I am not too late to contribute an idea.

I work in an area where there are not many options for eating out during lunch, so I almost always bring my lunch to work with me. I teach in a school and one of my co-workers had the great idea to have a "salad bar day." Everyone who wants to participate contributes a salad item, ranging from lettuce and tomatoes, to olives, sliced meats, beans, and anything else one could possibly imagine. There is almost always enough food for 2 days, and sometimes even longer. If you bring in an item for the lunch, you are able to enjoy it. We also include people who bring in paper goods and deserts. If all it costs me is a bag of croutons to have lunch for 2 days, I'll take it!

Feb. 26 2009 09:30 PM

I don't have a microwave at work, just a small fridge. So I have to think of things that can be eaten cold. Bean salads are great--I often get ideas from delis or prepackaged foods.

Black beans with cucumbers and red onion,

chickpeas with finely carrots, spinach, and onion with some sesame oil and curry spices.

Three bean salad--kidney, green or wax beans, and chick peas with some Italian dressing or olive oil, olives, and onion.

Some beans mixed with salsa can be eaten with corn chips.

roasted/microwaved sweet potato with broccoli and feta cheese can still be good cold, sometimes I put red pepper flakes to add zing.

Also, for a snack I often bring a sliced apple and some peanut butter, I scoop the pb out with the apple.

Feb. 26 2009 05:20 PM

I am a WNYC member and passionate listener of the Brian Lehrer Show downloaded on my MP3 player. Thanks to Brian and the whole staff for the outstanding program.

Invest in a bag of oysteretts, a bottle of coctail sauce and a bag of frozen cooked large shrimp. Twice a week, on Monday to chase away the start of the week blues and on Friday to celebrate the coming weekend - treat yourself to shrimp coctail for lunch.
Get a plastic container and fill the bottom with lettuce and some salad ingredients if you like, grab about 8 frozen shrimp, fill a small zip lock bag with oysteretts, and fill a small plastic cup that fits in the plastic container with coctail sauce, slice a lemon if you like. By the time lunch comes (if you can wait that long) the shrimp will be defrosted. The aroma when you open the container will float you to a warm summer's day at the beach and you will be the envy of everyone around you.
The best part is the frozen shrimp, oysterettes and coctail sauce will last for many lunches at a bargain price.

Feb. 26 2009 02:43 PM

In addition to a thermos...invest in a 'salad blaster'(or similar container). When I'm making a salad & dressing as part of our dinner....I chop or prepare a bit more than I need. The plastic container is big enough to hold a good amount of whatever you like in your salad....and the nifty top holds the dressing seperately until you're ready to eat nothing gets soggy. Yum!

Feb. 26 2009 02:07 PM
Gordon Gekko

Lunch is for wimps.

Feb. 26 2009 02:00 PM

SOUP is the Sunday evening meal in my home kitchen....I make enough soup to have for dinner and to fill re-useable and microwave safe single serving size containers. I buy two good quality baguettes and cut into portion sizes and freeze (in a freezer baggie of course!) A piece of fruit and that's lunch! The more soups you make, the wider the selection for your "brown-bag" lunch. Lots of soup recipes on

Feb. 26 2009 01:02 PM

I pack a small container of Boursin spreadable cheese with a bag of Carr's crackers and some strawberries for my daughter to take to school for lunch. She loves it!

Feb. 26 2009 12:55 PM

2 more ideas:
1. Peel butternut squash or buy precut (which is more expensive), cut into cubes, add olive oil, maple syrup, salt, pepper and thyme (or any herbs you have at home) and bake at 375 for about 30-45 minutes. I usually use a half of that to make a butternut squash soup (add water, celery, apple, onion and then puree) and the other half to eat with grains or pasta( add kale, some nuts, chicken sausage, some white wine).
2. Bean burgers. It is super cheap! From one can of beans you can make about 8 burgers. Here is the recipe:
For the burgers
1 can of any beans (dark work better – try black, kidney or aduki)
(organic with no salt added are preferred)
1- 1.5 cup of breadcrumbs (I either make my own or buy organic with no hydrogenated oil added)
1 egg (or grounded flex seeds with water)
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
Choose any of the following or try your own additions:
Bell pepper
Pinch of salt and black pepper
Any other spices you want to add
For salsa:
1 tomato
1 cucumber (seedless, or take out the seeds)
1 tablespoon of chopped mint
1 teaspoon of honey
½ teaspoon of brown rice vinegar (any other kind will do, or skip it all together)
Small piece of red onion (optional)

Make salsa first, it needs to stand for a while to get all the juices mixed. To make salsa:
Cube tomato, cucumber into small pieces. Chop mint. You can add some chopped red onion as well. Add brown rice vinegar and honey. Mix gently and put into the fridge while you’re making burgers.
To make burgers:
Put garlic, onions, carrot (if you’re using one), egg/flex seed mixture into a food processor and pulse a little. I like to chop bell peppers, but you can use a food processor for it as well. Drain beans under water, and let it drain a bit. Add beans to the food processor and pulse a little, you don’t want it to be very mushy, you want to still see pieces of beans.
Take out the mixture from the food processor, and add corn kernels (if you’re using them). Add bread crumbs and mix everything together. Modify amount of bread crumbs depending on your mixture. It should not be too liquid. You should be able to form burgers without them falling apart easily.
Grill the burgers, buns. Put one burger on a bun and top with salsa. Enjoy!

Feb. 26 2009 12:47 PM

I make salmon croquettes on Sundays for breakfast and use the leftovers (5 patties) to make sandwiches for lunch. To make the croquettes, you need a 14oz can of salmon, two eggs, one small onion, and/or one small green pepper, salt and pepper. Mix, form patties, dredge in flour, then fry in a half inch of canola. Or you can bake them, but use bread crumbs instead of flour. A bun, lettuce, tomato, tartar sauce...delicious.

Feb. 26 2009 11:30 AM
Yonnette Fleming

I have been reading the comments with great interest and would like to share my thoughts on packing lunches as a response to the current economic trend.

Packing lunches is something that has been done in my family for as long as I can remember.This is a tradition that I maintained too as I raised my children. To me packing lunches is not just a reaction to an economic downturn but a matter of understanding food as fuel for the body and taking responsibility for one's health.

For most of us, housing, child care expenses and transportation already represent a huge chunk of what we earn. This means we do not have the luxury of purchasing two major meals at a food establishment. Also, depending on where we work, we may find that there are neighborhoods in NYC which still have limited access to fresh, healthy food establishments. In my own situation, I work in a food dessert in Brooklyn where neighborhood residents and employees who work in offices in these areas have no real food choices for their lunches. Packable lunches are the only healthy options in this case.

If there is even a remote feeling that there is some validity to the statement "we are what we eat" we will consider what is in our lunch box to be the fuel that provides us with the energy needed to cope with activities and stresses of our lives. None of us as city dwellers are immuned to the stresses of our daily lives. Whether we drive in to the city in our cars or take a bus or subway to get to our workplace, we all concur that just getting to work can be a stressful activity which depletes us of life force energy needed to function efficiently.
Although raw foods or juices do not carry the traditional form most americans have come to know as a complete meal, it is possible to derive full nutritional benefits from a simple vegetable juice or fruits,seeds and nuts. High protein foods such as sunflower seeds and nuts can help us to get through the workday without the trippy highs we derive from sugary snacks.

As a person who grows most of the food I consume, I would like to share with you an easy to prepare seasonal recipe which offers balanced nutrition and is also an easy way to get your five veggies down a day. Enjoy!

Seasonal vegetable fritatta
2 Leeks or 1 onion
2 tblsp Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced assorted seasonal veggies
6 eggs (or egg substitute)
1/2 tsp Real Salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Grated cheese and chopped fresh herbs

Clean and slice the vegetables thinly
Heat the skillet and add o;ive oil to pan. Add Leeks or onions and cook on slow medium/low heat
Add diced vegetable to the leeks and sautee until softened
While the vegetables are sauteeing, break and whisk eggs in a bowl
Add to skillet and cook on medium heat,lifting the sides to release moisture and allow to cook and set
Once the frittata is set, garnish with grated cheese and herbs if desired.

Spring vegetables
carrots,swiss chard, carrots, spring greens, snap peas, mushrooms,mustard greens,bak choi
Summer vegetables
Eggplants, collards, spinach,zucchini,beets,turnips,red potatoes
Fall/winter veggies
Acorn squash, pumpkin,sweet potatoes,beets,turnips,swiss chard,collards,butternut squash
* Egg substitues
2 tbsp arrowroot flour = 1 egg
1 tbsp mulled flax seeds + 3 tbsp water = 1 egg

Happy Eating!

Feb. 26 2009 10:25 AM

I don't really offer this as a lunch suggestion, but it's a really good fast dinner suggestion. I have a bread machine, which I use to make focaccia dough. I ultimately use the focaccia dough to make pizza crusts. I can put all the ingredients in the bread machine before I go to work and everything is ready for dinner that night. I put in enough to make a double batch of dough. When I get home, I invest the time in making up individual crusts from all the dough. I'll get about seven 5" crusts. I then freeze these and throw them in the oven as needed. I keep cheese and sauce (which I freeze in individual portions). I can thus make the pizza I for myself as well as the pizza my kids want. I sometimes use leftover vegetables as my topping. The dough has 1/3 whole wheat flour, and I use substantially less oil and cheese as compared with takeout pizza. These pizzas would make an easy brown bag lunch.

Feb. 26 2009 09:37 AM

Joanne, try to make oatmeal energy balls.
they are easy to make, and they keep in a fridge for quite a while:
Oatmeal and dry fruit energy balls.

you will need
2 cup of rolled oats (regular or quick cooking)
1/2 cup or more raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds
21/2 or more cups mixed chopped dry fruit (raisins, apricots, apples, prunes etc. – mix and match as you like)
2 tbs cinnamon
1/2 cup apple butter (no sugar added)
1 tbs vanilla extract

1. grind 1/4 cup oats and 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds in food processor until powdery. Transfer to medium bowl, set aside.
2. Combine remaining ups oats, remaining 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, dry fruit, sunflower seeds and cinnamon in large bowl. Stir in apple butter and mix, until soft dough forms.
3. Moisten hands, and roll dough into 1-inch balls. Coat balls in oat- pumpkin seed powder. Place in freezer 20 minutes to set, then serve or store in the fridge.

You need to play with the recipe and add and subtract things as you like. Sometimes I add a bit of maple syrup, just for the aroma. The original recipe called for honey (almost ½ cup) and barley malt syrup, but I don’t see any need as the dried fruit are sweet enough for me.

As per lunches, the key is to cook several different things on Sunday, and then mix and match. one of my favorite things is tuna/pasta salad. Boil whole grain pasta al dente, drain tuna, add chopped red pepper, parsley, just a bit of mayo (or mustard and lemon for less calories), and fresh pepper. A little red onion is nice too.

Feb. 25 2009 05:29 PM
I. Ncarce rated

Bologna panninis

Feb. 25 2009 04:02 PM

Bagel sandwiches with hummus, romaine lettuce, and tomatoes. I also make my own pickles.

Chickpea salad: two cans of garbanzos (drained), one can of black beans (drained), red bell pepper, and parsley; toss with a dash of olive oil and cider vinegar; pepper to taste. A portion of this salad along with a piece of fruit makes a light but filling lunch.

Feb. 25 2009 01:00 PM

I buy a week supply of frozen burritos and pre-made wraps ( whole foods have a very good variety of them--good flavor and good price). Also, I buy a box of fresh herb salad that last for a week.

Feb. 25 2009 12:54 PM

Brian - lunchtime is the bain of my existance. Always asking for hints from friends. My daughter attends private school and brings lunch everyday.. The process never stops. Need great protein ideas - no nuts allowed. What has saved us are two things - 1)metal thermos containers from Sigg - try - am not interested in $5 toxic plastic containers; 2)Laptop Lunch boxes.. Good (vs bad) plastic bento boxes with utensilsthat have spaces for bean salad, hummus, veg, berries, cheese and crackers and sausage. Thanks so very, very much for doing thism what a lifesaver!! A.

Feb. 25 2009 12:51 PM

We have a George Foreman Grill plugged into the wall, which makes it really easy to turn a very ordinary sandwich into delightful pressed panini-style sandwich. A little aluminum foil and a little heat... voila!

It's been awesome for Cuban sandwiches and anything with Italian/Mediterranean fillings.

Feb. 25 2009 12:50 PM

Get Ryvita crackers, a can of tuna and humus. Spread the humus on cracker and top off with tuna. Delicious, cheap, and healthy (make sure it is flake, not white tuna).

Feb. 25 2009 12:45 PM
Susan Slome

Munster cheese on brown bread spread with horseradish. This colorful sandwich will give your day a spark.

Feb. 25 2009 12:22 PM

I browned bagged for years, till I lost my freelance job in November -- still looking. In any event, these lunches take a little while on weekends to prepare but they last all week and make delicious, filling, low/no-fat, very inexpensive lunches. Carry and heat in a wide-mouth glass or microwave-safe container. In winter, make a pot of vegetable soup, with or without a couple of beef bones, lots of chopped onions, browned, chopped peppers, carrots, celery, canned diced tomatoes, plus barley or lentils or rice and anything else you like. A spoonful or two of mustard or vinegar adds a little zip. In winter or summer, a big skillet of ratatouille with eggplant, onions, squash, zucchini, celery, diced tomatoes, parsley/cilantro also tastes great, lasts all week, is healthy, low in calories and is inexpensive. A little melted cheese on top adds to the flavor if you like. In summer, of course, this is also good cold. No need to heat once it's cooked. Enjoy!

Feb. 24 2009 07:19 PM

I am a courier, so not only do I have to bring my lunch with me every day, but it has to be in sandwich form, because I eat while I drive a car. My latest find is the roll-up breads - a break from regular bread. I've been filling these with hummus, artichoke hearts, sprouts and slices of avacado and tomato. Yum! But even this is getting old - anyone got any suggestions for a non-messy vegetarian finger food for me?

Feb. 24 2009 07:06 PM

A good cheap lunch to carry to work is a combo of Top Ramen noodles and vegetables. A 12pack of noodles are about $2.50 at the supermarket. A few cans of mixed vegetables are around $1.50. Boil 2 packs of noodles, stir in the seasoning packet, and drain. Throw a can of veges in and you have that quick college meal again. If you are a little more daring, buy a store rotissary chicken and mix it up. Topped with some oregeno, you have lunch for a week. Also frozen brocolli is a good filler. All this can be made for under $12.00 a week.
Also if you are looking for good containers, look up my group on Facebook:
I am a dude who sells Tupperware! Yeah, you heard right, TUPPERWARE!
or go to my site:

Feb. 24 2009 06:27 PM

1) Black beans cooked in smoked paprika and caramelized onions (and bacon or chicken fat if you have any around). Eat with rice, sliced avocodo or guacamole and topped with cilantro.

2) Cold soba noodles with store bought soba sauce and wasabi. Top with cucumber, carrots, green beans (or any vegetables), canned tuna, hardboiled egg. It's like a Japanese nicoise.

3) A homemade mini pork or beed hamburger with a side of white bean salad. Put the burger in the toaster oven.

4) Fried Rice- egg, Chinese sausage, sesame oil, scallions, garlic and any vegetable.

5) Chana - Indian chickpea curry cooked in tomatoes. Eat with rice and spicy mango pickle.

6) Buy the giant frozen dumplings orders from the $1 dumpling shops or supermarkets. Pre-cook the night before, and then add a tablespoon of water when you cook it in the microwave.

7) Meatballs with rice. Make Asian meatballs with scallion, sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger or make Middle Eastern ones with turmeric,egg, paprika and onion. Eat with side of boiled green beans.

Feb. 24 2009 06:08 PM

I bring lunch to work every day, and have found that a baked sweet potato with homemade lentil soup/mung dhal inside is an incredibly satisfying and healthful lunch - it goes hand in hand with my weekly routine of cooking up a big pot of a legume-based soup or sauce and a pot of brown rice or quinoa, and finding creative combinations of both throughout the week. My favorite combos include adding fresh avocado chunks, tart lime pickle (truly makes any meal extraordinary), fresh steamed veggies like kale or broccoli, or nestling the soup inside a baked sweet potato. Just wrap the potato in tinfoil and bake until soft the night before, and pack it up the next day - presto! Jealousy-inducing, cockle-warming, hearty fare.

Feb. 24 2009 04:40 PM

oops I forgot to mention I put a tbsp of miso paste in a baby food jar with a splash of raw soy sauce and a drop of toasted sesame seed oil - and maybe a few frozen peas - I add hot water in a mug and voila - a soothing soup.

Feb. 24 2009 03:16 PM

8 oz of fresh creamy whole milk yogurt from my farmer, raw milk from my farmer, (for coffee I make at work) 8 oz kombucha I made (fermented tea that tastes like cider+lemonade and cured my diet coke jones AND it's really cheap!)1 oz cheese from my farmer (for 4 PM slump) and veggies. I keep homemade mustard vinaigrette at the office for the veggies. It's all really good food and I don't get bored. I do have to add cold packs to the neoprene bag.

Feb. 24 2009 03:11 PM

I concur with the egg salad, but instead of salt & pepper I use a generous dash of dried onion powder. Also for quick yummy sandwiches: Applegate Farms uncured turkey bologna [no nasty preservatives and very affordable at Trader Joe's]- with a bit of mayo, or better yet, with a smear of one of Trader Joe's yummy veggie spreads such as Eggplant Garlic, or their Ratatouille. Their boxed soups such as low-sodium creamy tomato make a great soup & sandwich mix. I also just discovered Kitchens of India heat & eat meals - those plastic pouches in a box that you just toss in boiling water for 5 minutes: their Basmati Rice Pilaf and Navratan Kurma taste better than any of the other 'instant Indian'entrees I've tried.

Feb. 24 2009 03:00 PM
david zelman

I too make egg and tuna salad's for sandwiches using the same basic ingredients, but I chop the eggs very well, and add just a thin slice of onions chopped, salt, pepper, and a bit of chopped parsley.
I find that mashing the eggs or tuna fish very well makes a better sandwich.
I also never use tuna packed in water. Ugh!
You may be interested to know that bumble bee is not the only producer of tuna. I like progresso a lot better, but have recently discovered that more expensive tuna is a good deal.
I'm looking for a good chili recipe/with meat. Anyone?


Feb. 24 2009 02:08 PM

Plain bag of cut green beans-- cheap store brand for 99 cents. Pour half into a microwaveable tupperware dish, add a dash of olive oil, dash of pepper & salt, a pat of butter and two tablespoons of meat gravy from the dinner pot. Doesn't matter whether it's pork, beef or chicken-- though it helps to HAVE a pot of something that you cooked.
Microwave frozen at work for 10 minutes or microwave at home and just warm at work. The cut green beans are a natural sop for meat gravy and take the flavor thru & thru. One 99 bag can last for Three filling lunches.

Feb. 24 2009 01:34 PM

Oh, and: tamales! Chances are, you're not going to make them yourself (though it's fun!). But you can buy a huge batch of them from your local Mexican joint for less than $1 each. Stash them in your freezer, wrapped up in packets of however many you want for lunch (two are plenty for me). They steam up nicely in the microwave.

To go with the tamales, I take a nice crunchy salad: celery, parsley, almonds, maybe some orange pieces, with a really vinegary dressing. It doesn't wilt, and the fresh, acidic flavors are good with the meatier tamales.

Feb. 24 2009 01:29 PM
Karen Ogle

Here are a couple of favorites from a veteran brown bagger:

Tortellini Salad-

Package of dried tortellini cooked as per directions
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1/2 diced red pepper
5 chopped artichoke hearts
5 chopped sundried tomatoes
1/4 cup of toasted Pine Nuts
1/2 cup of peas
Olive Oil
Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

Add a couple of swigs of olive oil to a frying pan over medium head. Add the garlic and red pepper. After about 3 minutes, add the frozen peas and toss around until just tender. Cool.

Add all ingredients together with olive oil,lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Delicious. This can make about 6 servings.
Soft Tacos
Corn or Flour Tortillas
Any kind of filling (ground beef, shredded chicken, tofu, avocado, lettuce, cheese, salsa, really anything)

Pack the filling and tortillas separately. Warm up and serve.

Cheese and crackers.

Baked chicken with a little tarragon and lemon. It's great cold.

Feb. 24 2009 01:17 PM

Tired of complicated planning, equipment, recipies? a large container of salad greens with dressing in the bottom to mix in later is perfect. Toss on chunks of meat or fish left over from last night (plan for it)along with a bit of cheese or leftover vegetable. Canned salmon or tuna work for your protien fix if you have no leftovers.
Easy to do the night before, too. My freezer has brownies which I also take along to test every day.

Feb. 24 2009 01:14 PM
Sunshine Hernandez

I am a big believer in seasonings to make anything boring interesting in food. Making an initial investment in these will make brown bagging lunch easier and cheaper. For example: Tuna salad sandwich with Tarragon,cheddar and a bit of lime juice on Rye toast. Chicken salad with rosemary & olive oil on whole wheat.Roast beef sandwich with horseradish/sage Mayo(you can make at home)and alfla sprout. Organic 365(found at Whole Foods for $3-2 servings)frozen Ravioli already partially boiled so only 2 minutes to boil with fresh basil,broccoli and sauce.

Feb. 24 2009 01:11 PM

My husband and I enjoy these environmental sandwich wraps that we can use for years and years to come:

If more than one person in your household orders them, I recommend not repeating our mistake of getting matching ones--color coding is better if you're not eating the same sandwiches and need to grab your lunch quick from the fridge in the morning without confusion.

Feb. 24 2009 01:09 PM

I make a soup over the weekend that can last for the week.

Saute an onion. When slightly browned I add garlic, chopped ginger,and vindaloo curry paste. Continue to saute until all are combined.

Add water to cover, bring to a boil, and add any leftover cooked or raw vegetables. Simmer until all the veggies are cooked.

Put in a food processor and chop up until sort of smooth. Pack in separate containers.

The soup can be heated in a microwave in the winter or eaten a room temperature in the summer.

Feb. 24 2009 01:08 PM

My go-to sandwich, when I don't have dinner leftovers, is egg salad, which sounds dull but is really tasty. Simply chop up hard-boiled eggs (not too fine) and mix with a bit of mayonnaise--just enough to moisten. Start small--it takes less than you think. Add a generous amount of salt and a bit of black pepper, and you're done. I like a tiny smear of butter on my bread, and a good crisp leaf of lettuce as well.

For the lettuce, buy a head at the beginning of the week, wash it and put it back in the bag with some paper towels--it will last the rest of the week. You can also boil eggs ahead of time and keep in the fridge--they last for at least a couple of weeks.

And then I always round any lunch out with a piece of fruit, and maybe some nuts and raisins and chocolate. It adds variety, and

Feb. 24 2009 01:07 PM

Change the traditional egg salad recipe by adding an avocado instead of using mayonnaise. It's healthier and yummy too!

Feb. 24 2009 01:00 PM

I make a wrap w/ sun dried tomato flavored hummus, muenster cheese, lettuce, vegetarian turkey slices and cucumber. It's easy & healthy - plus using hummus instead of mayo won't make your bread soggy so you can make it the night before! Bon Apetit!

Feb. 24 2009 12:58 PM

Cottage cheese and the crackers of your choice. Filling, healthy & cheap when bought on sale.

Feb. 24 2009 12:58 PM

forgot to add--I've accumulated a lot of recyclable plastic containers for the brown-bag lunches. My husband calls the the "dustbunnies of the kitchen!"

Feb. 24 2009 12:56 PM

I like to roll veggie sushi, once it is in the roll it keeps for a few days, and with some soy sauce and wasabi, makes a great lunch. You don't even have to cut it, just eat it like a candy bar.

Feb. 24 2009 12:55 PM
Laura Brooklyn

Another benefit from bringing my lunch to work every day,besides the savings, is that it is usually much healthier, and i have lost about 5 lbs in the past month or so!

Feb. 24 2009 12:55 PM

Tips from making brown-bag lunches for my husband almost everyday for years:

1)a tab of Trader Joe's Tomato Chutney will make anything taste better. So will a bit of the brine from kalamata olives.
2)wash half a bunch of lettuce (anything but iceberg), spread out on clean dish-towels, roll up and store in ice-box, and use for salads, sandwiches for several days
3) don't throw away the cores of the lettuce bunch--trim any brown bits off, chop it up and add to salad, soup, stew...

Feb. 24 2009 12:50 PM
I. Ncarce

Super Veggie Boigahs.

4 oz Chopped Spinach
4 oz Carrots, Diced
8 oz Vegetarian Beans

drain all vegetables well
4 oz Applesauce
1 oz Tomato Paste
1/2 cup Potato Flakes
1 cup Bread Crumbs
1 T Margarine
1 tsp Garlic Powder or Flakes

Combine drained vegetables. Gradually and gently blend in remaining ingredients until well combined but do not over beat. Mixture should be stiff but moist enough to spread. Each loaf should weigh 1 1/2 pounds precooked weight and be scaled to insure proper weight. Place mixture into a loaf pan that has been sprayed with pan release and lined with filter paper.

Each loaf should bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit in convection/steam oven for approximately 40 minutes or until the loaf reaches 155 degrees internal temperature.

Feb. 24 2009 11:09 AM

I pulled out my Crockpot last night and was reminded of this project. Crockpots are a working frugal gourmet's best friend. I made gumbo last night and woke this morning to a great smelling apartment and a week's worth of meals! Here's the recipe:

Also - buy a pressure cooker. I can't live without mine. Super healthy one-pot meals in a fraction of the time.

Feb. 24 2009 10:22 AM

There are many reasons why I bring a bagged lunch to work everyday--I disdain going outside in the cold weather, spending too much on food that gives me indigestion, and choosing between all the available options. Being Asian, I can definitely relate to comment #4, and I bet that that commenter can agree that bringing lunch (in the form of last night's dinner) to work is not a "frugal" thing to do. I think it's a learned cultural and family thing. In return to my co-worker's "dismay/amusement/awe" AND approval, I find THEM strange that they can purchase and eat "outside" food on a daily basis.

Feb. 23 2009 10:52 PM
The Brian Lehrer Show

When my pantry is completely bare, I'll do something called ketchup fried rice. I learned this from my grandparents, who refer to it as Americanized-fried rice (they immigrated to Hawai'i from Vietnam). Three ingredients - day old rice, garlic, and ketchup. I swear, it is awesome!

Feb. 23 2009 04:13 PM
Bobbi Greenfield

Here's a lunch for ice cream lovers that I discovered by serendipity. After placing my Dannon coffee yogurt against the common wall of my new side-by-side GE frig, I ddiscovered it had frozen solid. Twenty to thirty seconds in the microwave (more if necessary) produced a creamy, semi-frozed dessert that I've eaten every day since. Paired with fruit and/or salad, it's an inexpensive, nutritious, quickly packed meal I've never tired of!

Feb. 23 2009 01:31 PM

My husband's absolutely favorite food!

microwave, then mash:
Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers
vegetarian burgers

filling options:
shredded cheese
shredded lettuce
diced tomatos, zucchini, peppers, olives, onions
sour cream

Put everything in a flour tortilla wrap (we especially like Mission cheddar/jalapeno wraps), folding in the sides so nothing escapes. Put the wet items (tomatos, salsa, sour cream, guac) in the middle so they don't touch the wrap and make it soggy.

Eat warm or cold, and enjoy! (Husband's coworkers love these as well, so I frequently make extras.)

You can also make this as a salad, with the salsa and sour cream mixed together as a dressing.

Feb. 23 2009 01:13 PM

Make your own TV dinner! I am spoiled when it comes to food. I need a substantial meal (hummus and carrots just wont do!) So every time I cook dinner I make 3 or 4 times more food than I need for one meal. Then I have about 20 identical Gladware containers. Identical containers are important because then they stack together, saving space in you cubboards and finding lids is 20 times easier. Whatever food is leftover, goes in the containers and into the freezer. After a couple weeks I have a variety of delicious frozen meals in the freezer. On my way out the door I just grab one that fits my mood. I microwave it at lunch time and it's so much better than the overpriced lunches in the Flatiron district. My coworker prefers using ziplock bags to keep her leftovers in. She throws them in her purse and tosses them when she's finished.
A few meals you might find in my freezer are:
- Pasta with caramelized onion and deglazed white wine reduction.
- Mashed potates, string beans and chicken
- Eel over rice
- Linguine with cauliflower in cream sauce
- Lentils and rice with salted duck egg from china town.

On the many days when I don't bring my lunch. I've found a few places that give you portions so large, it's good for two days lunch!

Feb. 23 2009 01:12 PM
Michele gc

On the lines of cooperative lunches... A coworker and I who both cook large batches over the weekend trade lunches by the end of the week. That way, we are using up our own offerings by the time we are sick of them, and enjoying a surprise of something new. Of course, this takes careful choosing of your swap partner!

Feb. 23 2009 12:55 PM

Last August, even before it became evident that our economic "downturn" had pulled up a chair would stay for awhile, I stumbled across a site called “Just Bento,” ( which has dozens of tasty recipes for bento boxes, single-portion meals from Japan.

The site’s host, Makiko Itoh, a native of Japan who lives in Switzerland, provides many helpful preparation suggestions – for instance, how to freeze rice so that it isn’t dry when you thaw and reheat it (freeze it while it is hot so you the moisture doesn’t evaporate. It works!). She also suggests ways to create nutritionally balanced bento meals, how to organize making the different dishes that comprise each box so that you use your time efficiently, which dishes freeze well, etc.

Recent recipes include those for miso marinated eggs: orange juice carrots (carrots cooked with soy sauce, red chili pepper and maple syrup), black bean “burgers” and about 60 other recipes, many of them vegetarian or vegan. Mmmmm, yum!

The other thing I do for lunch – actually all my meals, since I live alone - is make regular recipe portions – usually feeding 4-6 – freeze them as single portions and thaw as needed. I do this with chicken, chili, soups, as well as a variety of sauces, which I use to flavor red and/or yellow potatoes that I zap for five minutes in the microwave.

Feb. 23 2009 12:38 PM

My mother did me the greatest favor in the world when she taught me to cook and to appreciate thrift in a kitchen.

I prefer brown bag lunches.

Learn to cook! It's an amazing gift to yourself (and beats the heck out of Ramen noodles).

Shop the greenmarkets for inspiration & amazing local produce, meats & dairy products. The farmers at the markets are so helpful and usually have amazing information about their goods.

Not only will you feel better, but you'll eat better and support the local economy.

Feb. 23 2009 11:35 AM
Jessica Silver

My husband is diabetic and a dentist, so between dietary challenges, limited space in his office and his limited time at lunch, we have had a lot of fun trying to devise healthy, low-carb, low-cost brown-bag lunches which require no reheating to make them palatable. The current winner is shirataki noodles with sauteed ground chicken, turkey or sausage and low-carb pasta sauce. Here is the trick to making things with meat in them inexpensive. You make friends with the person who runs the meat department and find out when the stuff that is getting to be close to short dated will be marked down. Packs of chicken breasts, ground turkey and the like are marked down 60-85% at our supermarket when they get to the "sell-by" date. Since the sell-by date is just that, and I can freeze whatever it is, I can wind up buying Ottomanelli premade hamburgers or Perdue prepacked marinated chicken breasts for literally pennies on the dollar. Shirataki noodles are a common item in Japan. Made of yam fiber or tofu and yam fiber, they are a filling and low-carb, fiber-filled pasta substitute that comes in virtually every shape for adding to soups, making lasagnes, etc. If you buy them in bulk they become extremely cheap, but places like Sunrise Mart and JAS Mart often stock them for very little money.

Feb. 23 2009 11:24 AM

It is easy to cook a sweet potato in the office microwave. Make sure you cut it in half length-wise before packing it up.

Cover with a damp paper towel to keep it from drying out and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until it is tender all the way through. I like to add some chili to it during the last minute of heating, then top with cheese.

You can also add salsa, sour cream, plain yogurt or your favorite potato toppings.

Feb. 23 2009 10:59 AM

My favorite cheap lunch is really healthy too -- cooked lentils, organic brown rice, shredded cheddar, frozen chopped broccoli, diced fresh tomatoes, and sauteed carrots/onions/garlic/olive oil, all thrown together and mixed up. It's delicious, and aside from the cheese, is very low in salt. Plus, all the fiber and protein help keep you full and fueled for a long time.

For snack at work, I have yogurt, granola, and diced strawberries for a "parfait" that is also very healthy, and sort of cheap.

Feb. 23 2009 10:19 AM
Mary Grunmeier

In my Real Estate office, food has always been a great tradition. Our focus on it has changed a bit...On Valentine's Day, rather than having some treat (like chocolate covered strawberries) we had a Brownie bake-off. (I won second place, thank you.)

We are also cooperating for lunches...we chip in to buy a rotisserie chicken, and make a huge chicken salad based on ingredients people bring in. Saturday's was my favorite so far...people contributed walnuts, celery, and the BEST--orange flavored cran-raisins. We each added the amount of mayo we wanted, and put it on baguettes we found in the freezer! (Not sure where the baguettes came from, but nobody's name was on them, so what the heck!) Great lunch, great fun, and very little money.

I'm single, so getting a group together to split a rotisserie chicken always works for me!

Feb. 22 2009 09:29 PM

The hummus works real nicely.

I like doing the sliced peppers, onions, mixed vegetables all in a bag, plus another bag with some spinach/salad and then throw in the canned salmon when you make the lunch - it's a nice salad/protein meal.

Especially if you're snacking on the nuts/seeds/dried fruit throughout the day.

Feb. 22 2009 08:30 PM

Cooking Wild Sockeye bulk salmon (or canned), peanut or almond butter sandwiches on sprouted whole grain Food for Life bread, plus an apple, orange and/or some carrots and throw in homemade trail mix (almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried blueberries and other good things). Bought bulk (a lot organic, but only on the heavy pesticide stuff like apples)

I've been making my own lunches now and feeling healthier than ever.

Personally, I've cut out party and going to bar expenses but have slightly increased whole foods supermarket expenses to aim for quality, healthy meals that keep me satisfied and desiring less consumerist things in general.

I don't need to go out to dinner or the bar after work/school because I'm feeling healthy and satisfied from the good quality meals. I've also been going outside and visiting parks, free or cheap art exhibits, walking in the woods, and other free forms of fun.

Feb. 22 2009 08:18 PM

Irrespective of the economy, I have ALWAYS brown bagged my lunches. This way, I can eat whenever I want and have exactly what I like. Furthermore, I dislike waiting in line and fumbling around with money and change. So I have my custom prepared lunch at work, on plane or train, while out during the day for errands and appointments - just about anywhere. As for content, I use leftovers and whatever is available to create tasty combinations. Hard boiled eggs are always good since they serve as a foil for foods such as cheese, pate, shrimp, sardines, chicken, and various vegetables and salads. And I always carry my own drink, usually tea or a tea bag. So for me, brown bagging is literally the way to go.

Feb. 22 2009 06:42 PM

I like to do the whole "cook for the week" thing. Maybe a big batch of wild rice maybe have some beans with it one day and a thermos full of a brothy soup. Maybe have some chicken or fish with it another day. Adding different spices and proteins to the grain to make it new and interesting everyday. Roasting a chicken for Sunday night dinner can become, chicken salad sandwich on Monday and chicken pot pie on Wednesday. Break it up so you have a day off from a certain food and it doesn't start to feel monotonous.

Feb. 22 2009 05:18 PM
Roger Weir

I am not a very big home-cooker at all, but I've been doing more and more roasting lately. In particular, a roast chicken recipe which features:
- Very thinly sliced lemon stuffed under the skin.
- Fresh rosemary under the skin.
- Rub the bird with garlic cloves.
- Lemon thirds, whole rosemary sprigs and whole garlic cloves inside the bird.
- About 15mins. before the bird is done, brush lemon curd over the skin. The curd caremalizes on the skin, and along with the lemon slices and the lemon inside the bird, the whole chicken takes lemony, herby, and delicious.
- I've tended to put brussel sprouts and onions around the bird and let them roast up as well. Brussel sprouts are a recent favorite and only need salt, pepper, olive oil and about 45mins of roasting to taste amazing.

I can get one great dinner out of this, then tend to wrap the remaining chicken in a tortilla along with refried beans for a lunch-time burrito the next day.

Feb. 22 2009 04:59 PM

I make this recipe in a slow cooker, but you can also use a regular stock pot.
Toss in veggies(fresh or frozen, can of black beans, jar of tomato sauce, ground meat or turkey(I use ground boca burgers), spices. Cook on slow for 7 hours. Makes a great healthy, inexpensive chili. Take a portion to work and freeze the rest in several small plastic bags; one portion per bag. You can improvise with different veggies, proteins, and seasonings.

Feb. 22 2009 01:35 PM

Frittatas are easy to make: try slowly sauteeing onions and swiss chard in a skillet, when soft, add 6-8 scrambled eggs, cook over medium heat and at the last minuted cook the top under the broiler.

You have 4 good size meals with veg/protein.

Feb. 21 2009 08:08 AM

Boiling it down to the very basics. You can't beat the boiled egg for packability. Delicious, maybe not, but I find it satisfying to my hunger and budget as well as to my lazy tendencies.

Feb. 20 2009 10:00 PM

Food Coops worked great in college. Every person in the hall had a specific day to cook a meal for everyone to share. I tried this in a few small offices I worked in and it was great! Saves lots of money, and time considering you only have to think about lunch one day per week.

Feb. 20 2009 09:16 PM

I buy and cook extra chicken breasts when I make dinner. I cut it up and stick it in tupperware over salad greens. Sometimes I add cooked pasta too. Serve with salad dressing. My co-workers think I'm a genius!

Feb. 20 2009 09:14 PM
Nicholas Quennell

Well, it's not exactly a brown bag lunch but for the last couple of years we have had a "Once a Month Lunch Club" in our office. With twelve members this means each member cooks lunch once a year. Recipes are usually invented by the "cook of the month" and are then submitted to the Office Recipe Collection.

It's been a great success and people really enjoy cooking and eating together.

Feb. 20 2009 06:37 PM
K in NJ

A little can of sardines and some rye crackers. My mom (who is from Sweden) used to send my sister and me to school with this lunch, which embarrassed me then (1950s, small-town America) but is one of my favorites now.

Feb. 20 2009 06:20 PM
Jordan Weisinger

I'm resorting to my ole college favorite Raman Noodles. You can buy 12 for $2.29. Thats breakfast and lunch for nearly a whole week.

Feb. 20 2009 05:54 PM

Make a big pot of chili or a hearty soup on Sunday night. Invest in some good containers and pack it up for the week or freeze it. It's the easiest thing to reheat and the taste usually gets better as it ages.

Feb. 20 2009 05:17 PM

Salads from leftover roast chicken are great; the key is to have a variety of tastes and textures, combining - among others - apple, bell peppers, celery for crunch; chopped nuts; dried cranberries or raisins for more sweetness; canned corn or peas; boiled rice or cubed potato if you need to stretch the food and don't mind the carbs; a chopped hard-boiled egg; etc etc. I finish it with a bit of mayonnaise and lime juice (and lots of white or black pepper). Works for school lunches and at home, too. Can also substitute imitation crab sticks for chicken. Another thing that works well is roasting a lot of different vegetables in a hot oven with olive oil - bell peppers, red onions, yams, beets, eggplant, garlic - they keep well in the fridge and are delicious when added to salads/salad dressings, soups, roasts, sandwiches. You get the deli taste for very little effort and money.

Feb. 20 2009 03:39 PM

i'm only thirteen so it wasn't that long ago that i was in elementary school making brown bag lunches regardless of the economy. i am kind of (totally) a health freak so i am used to having healthy and delicious home cooked food...
here are my ideas for lunch in a down economy

gourmet sandwich-
for this some kind of nice sour dough or french bread is best. spread goat cheese on both sides (its pretty cheap a trader joes) sprinkle salt, pepper, thyme, and dried basil on top of goat cheese. Slice tomato and place it one one side of the sandwich. place a heaping pile of baby spinach or fresh mixed greens on top of tomato. it tastes best with vinaigrette but can get soggy by lunch time to i recommend mixing oil vinegar and lemon juice in a separate container and adding a small amount when you eat lunch.

another great lunch food is chili...
you can make a big pot for dinner and it tastes great the next day

Feb. 20 2009 01:52 PM

Two years ago my husband's boss wanted to loose weight and "eat better".Even though where they work has a wonderful cafeteria the boss thought food from home was better so he set up their department with a refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven and up graded the coffee maker. Now that investment is really being used by more on a regular basis.
We have always brown bagged and leftovers are the basis in general for our lunches. Sunday we usually roast a big chicken for dinner with lots of vegetables and I use up the leftovers over the week. As I am clearing up dinner I take the leftover chicken, meat or fish, mix it with the sauce supper was served with and add the dinner vegetables just chopped smaller. In a good microwaveable Tupperware I lay a base of left over rice, pasta or potatoes and put the new stew over it. My husband has an electric kettle for tea so I can send him off with udon noodle kits supplemented with meat, chicken or fish and vegetables leftover from dinner. Of course if all else fails soynut butter and jam on good bread is our fall back.
Favorite pasta salad: chopped artichokes from a can, tuna fish (canned), capers, lemon juice, salt & pepper tossed with pasta and splash of Olive oil. Keeps well.I am looking forward to what others pack - thanks for this segment.

Feb. 20 2009 01:31 PM

This one's downright revolutionary (4 meal or snack) thank me later.

1. half and half either brown rice or sherry vinegar plus plain water;
2. broccoli stems (that's right!), anything else ya want -- cauliflower (frozen works too), carrots, corn, any veggies;
3. some spices if you want, like salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, hot pepper, coriander seeds, pickling spices -- tho none needed.

Dunk in the vinegar filled cup or jar, let sit in fridge for a few hours up to a couple weeks; eat. Bam! You have hereby doubled or tripled vegetable consumption...and all without the aid of seinfeld's wife's kwestionable kookies (or even weird supermarket dips)! For work or school just wrap up a handful and stick them in some tin foil. Noice.

Feb. 20 2009 01:24 PM

Get your vain corporation to improve its caf then subsidize it. Conde Nast's lunches cost out at about the same as preparing it yourself -- w better selection.

Feb. 20 2009 01:14 PM

I prepare a big dinner every weekend and make a few servings in microwaveable containers in the freezer. That way I don't have to eat the same leftovers everyday. I can eat last months gnocchi Monday, and last weeks lamb shanks on tuesday. I also use all of my leftover bones to make soup and keep pints frozen. A pint of home-made broth or soup, some kimchee and an uncooked egg is also one of my favorites. I nuke the broth with some kimchee in it until it's boiling and then break the raw egg into it and cover it until it poaches.

Feb. 20 2009 01:02 PM
Rebecca F. Cadet

As a beer budget-champagne taste picky eater I have devised a cheap plan for incorporating vegetables into means with the hard work done in one weekend. I go to the super-market or whatever organic market-place is in my weekend travel path and buy veggies that are either on sale and/or in season and/or “manager’s special.” I buy prepared pesto (ideally I would make) roast the veggies and then freeze them on a baking sheet in the freezer, usually overnight. Then I put the veggies in separate freezer bags and keep them in the freezer. Sometime I make a quick pasta sauce by sautéing a portion of the veggies in olive oil and pasta water, then adding the pasta and finishing with a cheese of my choice.
Recently I have rediscovered eggplant, when warmed on nice bread & topped with fresh cheese like mozzarella as a lazy way to make an eggplant parmesan-style sandwich.

Feb. 20 2009 12:52 PM

I buy vegetarian takeout from my favorite Pakistani restaurant on Coney Island Avenue. I can get three different dishes plus made to order naan or roti for around $8.00. I can get at least three filling lunches from this modest purchase, and the food is truly delicious. The menu varies daily, so I don't get bored. Warning! This food is not made for people with white bread taste. Complex spicing and lots of chilies. Yum.

Feb. 20 2009 12:51 PM

Cabbage History -
If you look at the old country (Eastern Europe) they did lots of dishes with cabbage. Go to the green market get a nice cabbage or a red and a green cabbage and make a good cabbage soup. Add extra veg's tofu, sea weed, what ever you like and put it in something an take it to work. You can also do simple cabbage salads. For the more adventuress make lots of stuffed cabbage and take a one or two to work and eat it cold or nuke it. It is a very low cost vegetable which you can do a lot with.

Feb. 20 2009 12:49 PM
chris Van Dyke

I've been cooking big meals that make great left-overs for my partner and I for years, and even more so since we joined a CSA three years ago, The only problem was the typical NYC hurdle -- space for the tons of CSA veggies; left over soups, stews and stocks; and frozen meats from the CSA and Farmer's Market. So this summer we bought a mini freezer from an RV supply site, It's only the size of a dorm fridge so it fits nicely in a corner, but still more than doubled the freezer space. Not only can I stretch a chicken carcass to 14 cups of stock for future soups, but in February we're still eating frozen summer corn that tastes as good as it did in July.

Feb. 20 2009 12:49 PM

Very simple, tasty and healthy sandwich:

Spread generously avocado on Ezekel bread, top it with lox (wild alaskan salmon from Trader Joe's), add some sliced purple onion, squeeze some lemon jiuce, romaine (or any other) lettuce and there you go..
Good for either breakfast or lunch.

Feb. 20 2009 12:47 PM
joy whelan

My coworkers and I formed a "soup du jour" club, where four or five of us would bring in lunch for the entire group once a week. The "soup" lunch eventually morphed into arroz con pollo, or spagetti with meatballs, or a nice chicken salad. The good news was that we each had interesting meals together, and we only had to prepare lunch once a week.

Feb. 20 2009 12:47 PM

Since I cook dinner for my family every day, I usually take leftovers for lunch the next day. For snack, I'll grab an apple or two or any other fruit I have at home. If not leftovers, I'll make a sandwich on a wheat bread, usually a roasted red pepper spread with some cheese.

Feb. 20 2009 12:46 PM

I second the thermos suggestion: I'm still using a slim Nissan stainless steel thermos that I first used to bring coffee to classes during grad school, over 10 years ago. If I don't have time to make the coffee at home, the next best thing is to fill it at a cafe near work (one where you pay for the coffee and then pour your own cup). The coffee stays hot, and no paper cups and plastic lids are sacrificed to feed my caffeine habit.

Feb. 20 2009 12:45 PM

I buy cheap $1 ramen bowls that have rice noodles, and then cut up raw tofu, sliced cabbage or brocoli, green onions, ginger, or any vegetables, bring some miso/soy sauce/sesame oil/hot sauce (instead of using the packet that usually has MSG). I also bring dried wakame seaweed or other seaweed and sesame seeds, the options are limitless! Also, to save even more and waste less, you can buy bigger packages of rice noodles, and just put one of the small portions in a large tupperware of your own..Healthy, easy and delicious!

Feb. 20 2009 12:43 PM

Roasted chicken is one of the easiest, tastiest, and most economical meals you can make. Rub the chicken with salt, pepper, and pressed garlic, then roast on a rack in a roasting pan at 450 for 10 mins/lb., or until internal temp is 165. Surround with vegetables if you'd like. Not only will you get a few dinners, but the leftovers can be used for sandwiches, stir-fries, and soup.

Feb. 20 2009 12:43 PM
Dan F.

I like to prepare various basic meals at the beginning of the week, that I can combine throughout the week and create a little variety.

My favorite is a santa fe rice meal that I borrowed from the "smartOne" microwave meals. I cook a large pot of rice, mix in one diced green and red bell pepper, a can of black beans, a cup of corn and two envelopes of taco seasoning. I'll also dice up some chicken breasts and cook them in some more taco seasoning.
During the week, I'll make some rice bowls with a layer of my taco chicken, some shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and dice tomatoes.

I also often wrap up these same ingredients into a wrap and make burritos, which I freeze for another week.

I spend about $30 on what ends up making about 10 hearty meals.

Feb. 20 2009 12:43 PM
Tiny Banquet

I posted a recipe for a farro salad on my blog a little while ago and I think it makes a great lunch:
It's not something I would be able to make in the morning before work (too much chopping of vegetables) but if you make it on a Sunday afternoon it will keep for a couple days.
Another recipe that keeps really well is Mario Batali's marinated zucchini:
I've made this several times and it's easy, healthy, and tastes great. Zucchini on its own isn't much of a lunch but with good bread and maybe some cheese it's perfect. And when you get tired of eating it as-is, just toss some type of salad greens with it and maybe some toasted walnuts or almonds and it's a whole new salad.

Feb. 20 2009 12:42 PM

Cook a grain for the week, like couscous or quinoa. Cooked grains last for a while and can be easily reheated. Add a quick mixed veggie saute OR greens - collard, kale OR cooked meats as you like throughout the week for variety.

Feb. 20 2009 12:42 PM

At a previous job, my coworkers and I had a salad day where each person brought one or 2 ingredients (sometimes just newly bought at the corner fruit/veggie stand). We would meet in the conference room kitchen at lunch time and each help chop up the veggies. It was a fun way to socialize and share a cheap lunch.

Feb. 20 2009 12:42 PM

Not a shameless plug, since I don't really know the guy behind this website, but I know he is local. Here are the Indian lunchboxes (and great bags):

Feb. 20 2009 12:41 PM

The way to prevent a sandwich from getting soggy is to put the spread on the lettuce, not on the bread.

Feb. 20 2009 12:39 PM
Camille Hartwig

Buying pre-cut/sliced vegetable is not cheaper than buying at a salad bar. Pound for pound they are often 100% more expensive. An altenative is buying fresh baby carrots, celery hearts and spring mix in a super market. Super market salad bars are also generally cheaper than deli or restaurant salad bars. I poach several chichen breasts in the microwave and add them to above mention veggies and use different dressings and bread for variety.

Feb. 20 2009 12:39 PM

homemade chili. Inexpensive to make and makes several servings. You can freeze leftovers.

Feb. 20 2009 12:39 PM

Isn't it easiest and cheapest just to steal someone else's lunch from the office fridge?

Feb. 20 2009 12:38 PM

I had a thermos, but it wouldn't keep soup warm enough for me. Now I use a plain old glass peanut butter jar which can go in the microwave.

Also, strong spices make foods much more palatable if you're eating it cold.

Feb. 20 2009 12:38 PM

I usually brought hummous wraps or hummous and pita and or veggies to work in the past, but I've been trying to get more creative lately. Yesterday I combined Near East Sesame Ginger Rice and some Trader Joe's cooked shrimp. It's easy to cook and thaw both and you can get a couple of meals out of it. I also have been making other rice dishes using brown rice, various seasonings, and adding peas, shrimp, you can add chicken, other vegetables...and you can make it all last :)

Feb. 20 2009 12:37 PM
Claire Wilson

My favorite lunch these days is grated carrots with a hard-boiled egg and small can of Progresso (or other brand) tuna fish mashed into it. I dress it with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I alternate it with a salad of fresh red beets that I boil in bulk weekly, greens, a little goat cheese and vinaigrette made with walnut oil and lemon juice. I throw in a few walnuts sometimes, too.

Feb. 20 2009 12:37 PM
Mickey Bitsko

Corner Cut Sandwiches

Make sandwich (your choice of ingredients). Using a sharp knife, cut the corners off of the sandwich. While eating sandwich, pity the now unemployed stockbrokers who caused the raise in rents and leases in your neighborhood.

Feb. 20 2009 12:37 PM

A tip! Buy some glass storage containers so you can take your lunch right from the fridge to the microwave. Plastic containers shouldn't be put into the microwave - health risks but also because your food will heat the plastic and stain it beyond repair.

Feb. 20 2009 12:36 PM

I left out sesame oil and seeds, a little bit is enough, since sesame can be really overpowering.

Feb. 20 2009 12:36 PM
Lou Tally

This is for the folks at the bottom (I'm a broke actor). I work temp jobs where purchased food is far too expensive. Buy an inexpensive wide-mouth thermos to bring soup. For extra savings, use a Ramen noodles pack. Don't boil (noodles will be mushy). Break up dry noodles enough to fit in the thermos, mix the flavor pack in boiling water and pour over the noodles and seal. Will be ready by lunchtime.

Feb. 20 2009 12:36 PM

Cold Sesame Noodles are a great lunch that you can make ahead of time quite easily. All you need is some noodles, I use Soba. As those are cooking, mix up some soy sauce, peanut butter (or oil), chili sauce (if you like spicy), minced garlic. Shred some carrots and maybe bring some bean sprouts.

Mix the noodles and sauce, add in the carrots and sprouts when you are ready to eat. They are meant to be eaten cold, so you can eat them straight from the fridge.

Feb. 20 2009 12:35 PM

Your guest has spread a common misconception about Mayonnaise, Mayo does not go bad easily especially the packaged variety will no go bad if let out for a few days wide open so people shouldn't worry. Home made mayo is more worrisome, but because of the high fat content, lemon juice sugar and salt, not much can live in it so the time between preparation is not really a risk.

Feb. 20 2009 12:34 PM

I'm a big fan of hummus and cheese sandwiches but I also enjoy cous-cous with frozen soybeans/sesame oil/veggies/seasoning - all I have to do is add hot water and let it cook for 10 min - easy and cheap!

Feb. 20 2009 12:34 PM

From the dollar store & left in the work refrigerator: loaf of bread, relish, mustard, cheese, meat, jam, etc. In the freezer, frozen entries, burritos, etc. At my desk, soup, tuna, peanut butter, etc. I always have a choice for lunch and the convenience of making it at work.

Feb. 20 2009 12:33 PM

I make a batch of chili on Sunday nights and take throughout the week with some sour cream, avocado, cheese and onions (which are prechopped and proportioned out).

Sometimes I'll make gumbo. I will also cook rice and freeze it into preportioned plastic baggies.

Feb. 20 2009 12:32 PM

I keep it simple:

Sunday night I make a big bowl of rice for the week, and cook a bunch of chicken cutlets.

Every night I steam fresh veggies, and throw them in a container with my already cooked rice and one of the cutlets cut up.

1:45 in the microwave at work, and I have a nutritious, light lunch that doesn't have me dragging at 3pm in the afternoon.

Feb. 20 2009 12:32 PM

I like to make a huge batch of fancy macaroni and cheese. When it comes out of the oven I divide the portions and freeze or refrigerate. I just reheat 2 minutes at work.

I also make spaghetti with sauce, deviled eggs, meat loaf, etc.

I usually cook my lunches on sunday night so that I don't have to think about it during the week.

Feb. 20 2009 12:31 PM

I prepare for a lunch bag for my husband almost everyday (I myself don't need it as I work at home.) It's been 5 years since I started doing it. His lunch bag contains nothing special, usually a leftover from dinner of the previous night. With 10 minutes or less for packing a lunch container, he can enjoy a tastier, healthier(not greasy, not salty, having a good amount of vegetables and proteins; never mille-feuille of pastrami:) and cheaper lunch than the one from a cafe or a restaurant. A bonus:He lost some weight!

Feb. 20 2009 11:33 AM

To save money I would eat cereal with rice milk everyday for lunch, but ended up being too hungry to get through the day. I've begun to bring peanut butter and banana sandwiches (sometimes with dried cranberries). To get around the scare of Salmonella, I've purchased Trader Joe's Better 'N Peanut Butter, which is peanut butter substitue and healthier than regular peanut butter. Its cheap, it taste great, and its healthy(ish). How can you beat that? Another tip, Clementines, one box will last all week as a snack and it makes you popular in you office (people flock to free citrus fruits). Everyone loves Clementines.

Feb. 20 2009 11:27 AM

I am a frequent quasi-brownbagger. If I don't get out of the office for at least a few minutes in the middle of the day I'm completely stir-crazy by about 4, but if I don't have hunger as motivation, I never get around to taking a stroll around the block. So, I often bring lunch meat and cheese from home, and then go out to buy a bagel to put them on. It's not AS economical as getting all the ingredients from the grocery store, but it's still pretty cheap, and keeps me sane!

Feb. 20 2009 11:15 AM
Brian Lehrer Projects

My Indian friends and family have been packing their lunches all these years, much to the dismay/amusement/awe of their American co-workers. It is usually their last evenings dinner. I am sure once Americans start bringing cooked food, they will not make a big deal about, curry, garlic and similar strong smelling food wafting around the air conditioned/ heated and cloistered office spaces at lunch times.

Feb. 20 2009 11:05 AM
Brian Lehrer Projects

If I have time to cook on the weekend, I try to make a big batch of soup, chili or maybe Indian dahl. Those leftovers last a few days and make a great lunch.

Feb. 20 2009 10:44 AM

* Combine cubes of cheese and salami, ham or turkey; sliced raw peppers, mushrooms and tuna fish (olive oil packed but drained); sliced raw fennel, sardines, and curls of parmesan cheese. The idea is to combine protein and raw vegetables that won't easily get limp.

* Hummus, which is a chickpea puree, is delicious and wonderful with raw carrots and celery

Feb. 20 2009 09:19 AM
Kate T.W.

Invest in a very good thermos. Stanley, long favored by construction workers, is a good one. Also a stainless steel 3 piece round fitted box like the ones commonly used in India is also very useful. These 2 items make it possible to pack a gourmet lunch, snack, and even dinner. My favorite winter lunch: homemade soup, such as mushroom barley, with some excellent crusty bread, a side of roasted vegetables, and a baked apple for dessert. Greenmarket fare that will be the envy of any office.

Feb. 20 2009 04:05 AM

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