UK lunch box ideas under £1.50

I recently worked out my annual lunch and breakfast cost for the days I'm at work. I spend, give or take, five pounds per day feeding myself for those two meals. At an average of twenty days worked per month that is £1200 a year for me, and even more for my husband who works in central London and pays a premium for his food. We're saving for our own home right now so I had to get this under control.

It's stating the obvious to say that if you bring you breakfast and lunch from home then you'll save money, but what you choose to take with you makes a difference too. This is a collection of cheap lunch box ideas that are £1.50 or less and don't require growing your own vegetables or making your own bread.

I can make lunch cheaper than £1.50!

Yes you can but if you buy lunch every day then this is probably the minimum you'll spend and therefore, my point of comparison. You can still pick up packaged sandwiches for £1. It will be plain, with egg, cheese or ham and no salad; the sort you could make at home for a fraction of the price, even though £1 seems very cheap. You can grab a bag of crisps for 50p and there's your lunch for £1.50 and you've not had to lift a finger. Not very exciting or nutritious, though.

Buying your lunch food in bulk is the best option. Again this sounds obvious, but if you're single or a couple then bulk buying can lead to a lot of waste so you have to be careful about what you buy otherwise all that food is going to end up in the bin. Lunches can get repetitive if you're eating the same thing every day just to eat it up before it goes off.

If you choose to work around £1.50 per serving as I've suggested then you have £7.50 per week for singles and £15 for couples. With only five meals to buy, this will go further than you think and you can make your lunches as healthy or otherwise as you want.

Sample menu one

This is a week's worth of lunches for a single vegetarian who is focused on getting their five portions of fruit and veg per day. The total for the week is £7.36.

Quantity
Shopping List
Cost
1
3 pack Warburtons wholemeal rolls
£1.00
1
Light Choices tomato soup
£0.46
1
Tesco tinned sweetcorn
£0.55
1
Light Choices potato salad
£0.66
1
Roast mushroom pate
£1.00
1
Banana, loose
£0.12
2
Oranges, loose
£0.60
2
Braeburn apples, loose
£0.53
2
Salad tomatoes, loose
£0.60
1
2 pack little gem lettuce
£0.84
1
Cheese and onion quiche
£1.00
 
Total
£7.36

Putting together lunches out of this, you've got the following five meals:

  • 2x Wholemeal rolls with roast mushroom pate and a portion of salad,1 piece fruit.
  • 1x Quiche with a portion of salad and 1 piece of fruit.
  • 1x Soup with a wholemeal roll and 1 piece of fruit.
  • 1x Potato salad with a portion of salad and 1 piece of fruit.

You have to eat the same sandwich twice, but you don't have to do it consecutively. This is a much bigger, healthier lunch than you can get ready made for £1.50.

Sample menu two

Some of you are thinking, I don't eat rabbit food, no salad for me thanks! This menu is for the singleton who is not watching their waistline.

Quantity
Shopping List
Cost
1
Tesco 5 pack of original bagels
£1.25
1
Tesco Value smoked salmon trimmings
£0.98
1
Tesco Value soft cheese
£0.54
1
Tunnocks 6 pack of milk chocolate teacakes
£1.00
1
Tesco 6 pack meaty variety pack crisps
£1.18
1
Tesco pastrami
£2.00
1
Tesco Cornish pasty
£0.55
 
Total
£7.50

Your five meals:

  • 2x Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels with crisps and teacake
  • 2x Pastrami and cream cheese bagels with crisps and teacake
  • 1x Cornish pasty with crisps and teacake

This is more repetitive but I've picked expensive sandwiches, the ones that would cost a premium in Pret a Manger or even a supermarket. Also crisps and chocolate are costly: just those two items take up one third of the budget. However, this menu will provide enough food for a six day week so, though it might not be good for you, you can get an extra portion out of it.

Sample menu three

This is focused on shopping for a couple who will eat a variety of foods. With £15 to play with you can get some treats to go on the side.

Quantity
Shopping List
Cost
1
Tesco 10 pack cheesy chilli beef mini pasties
£1.70
1
Tesco goats chese and red pepper quiche
£2.39
1
Tesco coronation chicken sandwich filling
£1.45
1
Creamfields 6 pack of yoghurts
£1.00
1
Tesco Market Value punnet of white grapes
£1.19
1
Braeburn apple 6 pack
£1.50
1
Kettle variety 5 pack
£1.59
1
Tesco finest farmouse multigrain batch loaf
£0.85
200g
President French brie from the deli counter
£1.15
1
Bag Florette mixed salad
£1.38
1
Tesco creamy coleslaw
£0.48
 
Total
£14.68
  • 4x quiche, salad and coleslaw with fruit, mini pasty and crisps/yoghurt
  • 3x brie and grape sandwiches with fruit, mini pasty and crisps/yoghurt
  • 3x coronation chicken sandwich with fruit, mini pasty and crisps/yoghurt

These are some big lunches, as there's lots on the side, so you could easily cut out an item and buy another sandwich filling if you didn't think there was enough variety.

What's your favourite sandwich?

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Sample menu four

So far I've focused on ready prepared foods. If you currently buy lunch out every day because you're too busy (maybe even too lazy!) to make your own lunch, then they will feed you without much more effort than five minutes spent making a sandwich, plus you will still save money.

If you choose to make your own lunch at from scratch at home then you can eat lavishly. Leftovers are the easiest way but if you don't budget your evening meal then it's hard to gauge how much it's costing you. For a long time I thought of leftover lunches as being freebies, because it was all food that would have gone in the bin had I not rescued it, but of course it has an original cost which can be calculated.

Alternatively you can cook specifically for lunch, either totally from scratch or using a few cheats. This sample menu has a bit of both and caters for two.

Quantity
Shopping List
Cost
2
Tesco Greek style low fat yoghurt
£1.00
1
Tesco 4 pack of oat topped wholemeal deli rolls
£0.70
1
Potato, loose
£0.39
1
Fresh coriander
£0.80
1
Leek, loose
£0.50
2
Carrots, loose
£0.16
1
2 pack skinless chicken breast fillets
£3.00
1
Tesco tinned sweetcorn
£0.55
1
Red onion, loose
£0.18
1
Sacla chargrilled aubergine pesto
£2.19
1
Mixed peppers 3 pack
£1.80
1
Tesco couscous
£0.69
1
Tesco tricolore fusilli pasta
£0.95
 
Total
£15.03

I have assumed that you have the following ingredients already in your store cupboard:

  • Vegetable stock (chicken will also do)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

This will make you the following five lunches:

£1.50 per serving is still too much money! What is the cheapest lunch I can get?

If you want a really cheap lunch then you have to eat the same thing every day. Times are tight however, and if you need to save every penny then this might be your only option. I've worked out a lunch that consists of a sandwich, fruit, yoghurt and crisps for 61p per serving. I call it the Tesco Value lunch menu.

This is based on a single person who has very little money to spend on food.

Sample menu five

Quantity
Shopping List
Cost
1
Tesco Value low fat strawberry yoghurt
£0.15
1
Tesco Value 12 pack variety crisps
£0.68
1
Tesco Value mixed fruit jam
£0.29
1
Tesco value crunchy peanut butter
£0.62
1
Tesco Value thick sliced white bread
£0.47
1
Market Value bag of oranges
£0.50
1
Tesco Value 4 pack yoghurts
£0.33
 
Total
£3.04
  • 5x Peanut butter and jam sandwiches, orange, yoghurt and crisps.

This can be even cheaper if you do without an item or two:

  • 49p per serving without peanut butter (just jam sandwich)- £2.45 per week
  • 55p per serving without jam (just peanut butter sandwich)- £2.75 per week
  • 48p per serving without crisps- £2.40 per week
  • 35p per serving without peanut butter and crisps- £1.75 per week
  • 42p per serving without jam and crisps- £2.10 per week

You can make a very cheap lunch indeed, with a little effort and some savvy shopping. What are your favourite lunch recipes?

Prices are correct as per March 2012. I've used Tesco to calculate costs as they are at the lower end of the mid range in price and are the biggest supermarket chain in the UK. If you do your shopping in Asda, Morrisons or one of the discount supermarkets then it is likely your prices will be lower than mine, alternatively if you shop exclusively in M&S and Waitrose then they may be considerably more.

Image credit to Rawich at www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Comments 5 comments

Doc Wordinger profile image

Doc Wordinger 4 years ago from Manchester, UK

Awesome hub. You've clearly put a lot of effort into designing these sample menus and calculating their cost.

Cycling/walking to work and making my own lunch probably save me £500+ each year.


Hayley Richardson profile image

Hayley Richardson 4 years ago from London, UK Author

Thank you! It's amazing how such a small amount of effort can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping costs down.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I know you wrote this for the UK, but with a simple change in brand names, this could apply to U.S. lunches as well. Voting this Up and Useful.


Hayley Richardson profile image

Hayley Richardson 4 years ago from London, UK Author

Thanks! I did consider researching a US one with but I know prices can vary regionally as well as nationally so it's too big a task to have a go at myself. It would be nice to read a US version as I am quite curious about the cost of foods over there. Lots of quintessential American foods I see mentioned online are very expensive here in the UK.


Indian Chef profile image

Indian Chef 4 years ago from New Delhi India

Hi Hayley this is very excellent hub and it is clear that you do a lot of research in writing your hubs. Not only very interesting but also very informative.

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