10 under $10:  Healthy and Packable Lunches on a Budget 
Cooking

10 under $10:  Healthy and Packable Lunches on a Budget 

August 7, 2017 | Sylvia Fallas

Spending $10 daily on lunch adds up quickly. It's cheaper to pack your own, but that can get messy and boring. Salad dressing leaking in your work tote, soggy sandwiches, and standard PB&J aren’t exactly appealing. But brown bagged lunches can go way beyond the cream cheese sandwich! These tips and recipes will keep you going all day, and they'll also keep cash in your pocket! 

 

Tip #1

The key is planning ahead. With a little bit of time and preparation, components for a week's worth of lunches can be prepared in a few hours. 

 

Tip #2

Quality containers are a big deal! Flimsy containers will crack and leak, but a good snap-top container will withstand even a thorough dishwasher cleaning. I like Snapware and Rubbermaid, and I have different styles for meat, dairy, and pareve. Travel coffee mugs are great for smoothies on the go. 

 

Tip #3

My basic lunch "plan" has three components - protein, complex carbs, and vegetables. Complex carbs (sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains) will keep you fuller longer. There's less of a blood sugar spike, which means you won't be reaching for the office candy jar at 3 p.m. 

 

Tip #4

Protein is probably the most expensive part of the meal, but played right, it doesn't need to burn a hole in your wallet. Chicken cutlets are an excellent option, but think outside the box. Salmon, canned tuna, tofu, cheese, and quinoa all make the list of complete proteins. You can also combine two items that are not complete proteins—like beans and whole grains—to create a complete protein source. I don't generally plan for meat lunches – I typically cook some extra protein when I make dinner for my family and freeze it. Pull out the extra protein when you need it, warm it up, and add it to a salad or grain bowl. 

 

Tip #5

Vegetables: the most time-consuming part of every meal. For many people, the vegetables in the fridge just don't end up getting used before they go bad. The key to veggie prep is to buy them and prep them right after buying. Use the most perishable vegetables first and save the hardier stuff for later in the week. Say you shop on Sundays? Wash and clean the greens, chop the carrots, and spiralize the zucchini. Store the tender greens in the front of the fridge and the longer lasting veggies in the back. With some patience and effort, a system will soon be second nature. Bonus: your shopping list will be streamlined and no more waste!

 

I think of each of the recipes below as a template or a springboard. Feel free to play around; switch up the protein, add your favorite vegetable, or utilize leftovers. Cooking is an art form – there are no absolutes. 

 

1- Hot Off the Grill

 

Firing up the grill for dinner? Add an extra chicken breast and some vegetables. When it's all nice and charred, dice it into bite size pieces and store in a leak-proof container. Adding the lemon juice right before serving prevents the salad from turning to mush. 

 

Italian Chicken Salad 

1 chicken cutlet 

1/2 zucchini or 1/4 eggplant 

1 onion 

1/2 cup grape tomatoes 

1 cup baby arugula or spinach 

1 cup cooked whole wheat pasta 

Salt & pepper 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1/2 fresh lemon 

 

Slice the zucchini or eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Peel and slice the onion into 1/2-inch-thick rings. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over the chicken and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Grill on an outdoor grill or indoor grill pan until vegetables are charred and chicken is cooked through. 

Dice the chicken and vegetables into bite size prices and mix with the grape tomatoes, greens, remaining oil, salt, pepper, and oregano. Transfer to an airtight container and place the lemon half on top. Seal the container and refrigerate. Before serving, squeeze the lemon half over the salad, and toss to combine. 

 

2 - Build a Better Bowl

Everything is better in a bowl, right? Especially a burrito! There's all the favor and none of the mess. I use pareve ground beef here, but ground turkey or beef would be great, just skip the dairy topping. Any simply seasoned leftover protein would be perfect here – nothing like a great shortcut! 

 

Brown Rice Burrito Bowl 

1 teaspoon oil 

1/2 cup ground "beef" crumbles 

1 teaspoon smoked paprika 

1/2 cup frozen broccoli

1 package steamable brown rice

1/2 cup canned black beans 

1/2 avocado 

1 teaspoon lime juice 

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup salsa 

Salt & pepper 

 

In a skillet, heat the oil and sauté the ground "beef." Add in salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and the broccoli. Sauté until "beef" is cooked through and broccoli is tender. Steam the rice according to package directions. Cube the avocado and toss in lime juice to coat. In an airtight container, layer the rice, beans, "beef" mixture, avocado, salsa, and yogurt. Seal and refrigerate until ready to eat. 

 

3- Tuna Salad, Revisited 

 

This isn't the boring, mayo-laden tuna salad of your childhood. Lots of chopped vegetables up the crunch factor, and lemon juice and olive oil take the place of mayo. For a creamier tuna salad, add some mashed avocado to the mixture. I serve the tuna salad with lettuce leaves and whole grain crackers.

 

Veggie Tuna Salad 

1 can tuna 

1 carrot 

1 rib of celery 

2–3 radishes 

1/2 cup jicama 

1 teaspoon capers

1 half sour pickle 

2 tablespoons olives 

2 tablespoons lemon juice 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

Salt & pepper  

Lettuce leaves & crackers 

 

In a medium bowl, mash the tuna with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Peel and finely dice the celery, jicama, and carrots, and add to the tuna mixture. Dice the radishes and olives, and add to the tuna. Lightly crush the capers, and add to the tuna. Mix and season tuna mixture and taste. Transfer to an airtight container. Serve with crackers and lettuce leaves. 

 

 

4- Asian-Inspired Salmon Salad 

This salmon dish reminds me of an inside-out eggroll. The base of the salad is a warm eggroll-style filling- cabbage and carrots with a sprinkling of bean curd. Frozen pre-portioned salmon is perfect for this recipe. Just grab a piece from the freezer, no defrosting needed. I serve this with wonton crisps, but half a sweet potato or brown rice would be great too. 

 

Inside Out Eggroll Salad 

3 cups coleslaw or broccoli slaw mix 

1 cup bean sprouts 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

2 tablespoons soy sauce 

1 tablespoon rice vinegar 

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil 

Hot sauce to taste

1 tablespoon roasted peanuts 

5 ounces salmon fillet

Salt & pepper 

 

Wonton crisps: 

10 wonton wrappers 

Cooking spray 

Salt 

 

Preheat the oven to 450˚. Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper and place on a greased baking tray. Bake 12–15 minutes for fresh or defrosted salmon or 15–18 minutes for frozen salmon. Leave whole or break into pieces.

 

In a large skillet or wok, heat olive oil. Add coleslaw mix and bean sprouts, and sauté until slightly wilted. Drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce, and cook on a medium flame until wilted. Add hot sauce if desired. Transfer to an airtight container and place salmon on top. Sprinkle peanuts over. 

 

Wonton crisps: 

Arrange wonton wrappers on a greased baking sheet in a single layer. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 400˚ until crisp, about 5 minutes. Store in a separate container.  

 

5- Let's Make a Toast! 

Avocado toast is seriously the hipster food of the moment. I love avocado, and the healthy fats will keep you satisfied all day. A sprinkling of sunflower seeds and feta adds incredible texture. This meal works best in a bento box or with each component packed in a separate container. 

 

Amped Up Avo Toast 

2 slices Ezekiel bread (or other whole grain bread) 

1 avocado 

1/2 lemon

Pinch of red pepper flakes 

Salt to taste 

Thinly sliced radishes 

2 tablespoons salted roasted sunflower seeds 

2 tablespoons crumbled feta 

 

In a small bowl, mash avocado with lemon, salt, and red pepper flakes. Transfer to a container and press a piece of plastic wrap over the avocado, pressing out any air bubbles. Cover and refrigerate. Place radishes, sunflower seeds, and feta in small containers. Before eating, build your toast! 

 

6- Israeli Sandwich, American Style! 

 

I love a good Israeli sandwich, especially a sabich. My version adds some chickpeas for texture and greens for nutrition. The roasted eggplant can be exchanged for any roasted veggie – although it won't be traditional! I keep it pareve, but feta would be a welcome addition. Pack the components separate from the sandwich and assemble before eating. 

 

American Style Sabich 

2 eggs

1 whole wheat pita 

1 tablespoon olive oil 

1/2 small eggplant 

1/4 cup canned chickpeas

1/2 cup fresh spinach or chopped romaine 

Salt and pepper 

Hot sauce 

 

Place the eggs in a small saucepan with water. Bring to a boil, and immediately turn off the flame. Cover the pot, and let sit for nine minutes. Remove the eggs, and rinse under cool water. Peel and slice eggs, and place in a small container. 

 

Slice the eggplant into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Drizzle with oil and hot sauce. Broil, flipping once, until lightly charred. Wrap in foil. 

 

To assemble: slice pita in half. Stuff with egg and eggplant slices, greens and chickpeas. Add more hot sauce if desired. 

 

7- Wrap It Up

I love tofu – it's like a blank slate. It takes on whatever you add to it and can be cooked in almost any way imaginable. Here, I brush it with oil and soy sauce and bake it. The texture is chewy and "meaty." Any type of cooked protein would be great here – not everyone is a tofu fan! The quick peanut sauce adds a ton of flavor, and the slaw ups the veggie game. 

 

Tofu Peanut Wraps  

1 whole wheat wrap 

1/3 cup broccoli slaw (raw)

1/3 pound extra-firm tofu

1 tablespoon soy sauce 

1 tablespoon olive oil

 

Peanut sauce: 

2 tablespoons peanut butter

1 tablespoon rice vinegar 

1 tablespoon water 

1 teaspoon honey 

1 tablespoon soy sauce 

 

Remove the tofu from the packing liquid and pat dry. Place on a greased tray and brush with oil and soy sauce. Bake for 10 minutes at 425. Flip, brush with oil and soy sauce, and bake another 10 minutes. Allow to cool and slice into matchsticks. 

 

To assemble: wrap the tofu, half the peanut sauce, and broccoli slaw in the wrap. Wrap up in foil and refrigerate. Pour the remaining sauce into a small container and use for dipping. 

 

 

8- Yogurt, Remastered 

 

Yogurt is probably the most boring breakfast on the planet. But with some savory ingredients, it makes a great packable lunch. Buy small containers or portion out servings from a larger container. I prefer 2% plain Greek yogurt. Skip anything with added thickeners. The pita chips make great dippers – double or triple the recipe! 

 

Yogurt Veggie Bowl

1 whole wheat pita

Cooking spray 

1 tablespoon za'atar 

1 cup canned chickpeas 

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin 

8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

1 small cucumber

1 teaspoon dried mint 

Salt & pepper 

  

Line a baking sheet with parchment pita. Split pita in half and cut into wedges. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with za’atar. Bake at 400˚ until crispy- depending on the size of the pita, this will take 7–10 minutes. 

Grease a 9- x 13-inch tray. Toss chickpeas with olive oil, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper and transfer to baking tray. Bake at 400˚ for about 30 minutes. 

Grate cucumber, and mix into yogurt. Add in mint, salt, and pepper.

To serve, top yogurt mixture with chickpeas. 

 

9- Pizza, Handheld 

There's nothing like a warm slice of pizza. Even better is a pizza pocket, full of veggies. Portable and delicious, these are easily freezable. Freeze raw or baked on a cookie sheet and transfer to a zip-top bag. This recipe makes enough to pack lunch for a crowd. 

There may be leftover filling. It depends on how thinly the pockets are rolled out. If there is leftover filling, add an egg or two and bake in greased muffin tins. 

 

Pizza Pockets 

1.5 pounds pizza dough 

1/2 cup marinara sauce 

1 cup ricotta 

1 cup shredded mozzarella 

1 cup finely chopped steamed spinach or broccoli 

1 egg 

1 teaspoon oregano 

Salt & pepper 

 

Divide dough into six equal parts. Roll each out into a circle. 

In a medium bowl, combine sauce, cheeses, vegetables, egg, seasonings. Stir until combined. Place an equal amount of filling in each dough circle. Dampen the edges of each round of dough. Fold to form a half moon and crimp edges firmly with a fork. Make a slit in the top of each pocket. Bake at 425˚ until pockets are golden and filling is steaming, about 30-35 minutes. 

 

10- French Made 

Years ago, at a now defunct Los Angeles restaurant, I tasted a life changing sandwich. Back then, it was epically different – fruit, cheese, and a bit of honey on a baguette. Today, it seems like every corner bakery and cafe has gotten in on the game. Make it at home for a fraction of the price! 

 

French Brie Sandwich 

6-inch piece of French baguette 

4 thin slices Brie cheese 

1/4 cup thinly sliced seasonal fruit (apple, pear, peach, plum or figs)

1 tablespoon honey 

1 teaspoon horseradish 

Fresh cracked black pepper. 

 

Slice baguette lengthwise. Scoop out some of the bottom half to form a "boat." Thinly spread the horseradish. Layer the cheese and fruit and drizzle honey on top. 

Sprinkle pepper over honey. Tightly wrap sandwich in plastic wrap and foil. 

 

Hopefully these tips, tricks, and recipes will make lunches this year both easier and more imaginative!

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