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Lunch Ideas for Work

Updated on March 27, 2015
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Dr. Penny Pincher founded the popular personal finance blog Penny Pincher Journal in 2013 and has published two books about saving money.

Lunch Ideas for Work

Lunch can be a challenging meal if you are at work during lunchtime. Unlike meals at home, you don't have access to your pantry, refrigerator, and cupboards of food. If you want to eat lunch at work, you need to either bring food with you or eat out.

If you bring food with you, you can either pack food that is ready to eat, or you can bring ingredients and prepare your lunch at work. In most workplaces, you will have very limited cooking appliances and utensils available. There are some lunches you can cook at work using a microwave oven and some simple ingredients.

Pack a Healthy (and Inexpensive) Lunch for Work
Pack a Healthy (and Inexpensive) Lunch for Work | Source

How to Pack a Lunch

Packing a Lunch for Work

Bringing a lunch to work is my preferred option. I can pack a healthy lunch at a fraction of the cost of eating out. Once you are in the habit of packing a lunch every day, it becomes almost automatic. You learn to keep a supply of fresh fruit such as apples and bananas at home. At dinner, you pack up any left-overs in Tupperware containers. You keep a loaf of bread and some sliced turkey or beef in the refrigerator along with some cheese and mayo.

I have a giant lunchbox. This gives me plenty of room for Tupperware containers or even boxes of cereal. Having a big lunchbox encourages you to pack enough food to make it through the day. If you run out of food, you may end up spending money to get junk food at vending machines or even eating out.

My "packed lunch" article goes into detail on how to pack a lunch for work and how much you can save by bringing lunch. It turns out that you can save $165 per month by bringing lunch to work instead of eating out. You can see why packing a lunch is my preferred lunch option!

I make it easy on myself by carrying a very large insulated lunchbox. My lunchbox is literally big enough for a full-sized box of cereal and much more. The large size of my lunchbox makes it convenient to grab left-overs without the need to repack them into smaller containers.

If You Must Eat Out for Lunch, Wendy's Has Some Good Menu Items...
If You Must Eat Out for Lunch, Wendy's Has Some Good Menu Items... | Source

Save Money Eating Out

Here are 10 tips on How to Save Money Eating Out

Ideas for Eating Out at Lunch for Work

Sometimes you get lucky and find free food for lunch at work. Perhaps there is a "working lunch" meeting with lunch provided. Perhaps there is a special occasion or celebration that merits free lunch.

Most of the time, however, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you need to eat out for lunch at work, it is worth some effort to find something healthy and inexpensive.

If you eat out at a sit-down restaurant like Olive Garden, Applebee's, Perkins, Village Inn, etc. you can easily end up spending $8 or more. I recently went out for lunch for a work event and spent $12 including the tip. This covered a single entrée and I had water to drink. The food was delicious, but the paying the bill was painful and I wouldn't want to do this more than a few times a year.

My favorite place to find healthy, inexpensive food for lunch at work is Subway. Even though Subway footlongs are not really a foot long, you can get some great value at Subway. You can get a $5 footlong sub on whole wheat bread and load it up with great fresh vegetables. If you avoid adding fattening oils and dressing, it is quite healthy. Lunch at Subway is also very quick. It takes only a couple minutes to get your sub. If you are pressed for time, you can take the sub with you back to work.

If subs are not your thing, check out the value menu at fast food restaurants like McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King. You can create a lunch from the value menu for $5 or less. My favorite place for fast food lunch at work is Wendy's. They have baked potatoes and chili on their dollar menu as well as hamburgers that have fresh lettuce and onions. I'd better stop talking about this, I'm getting hungry...

One of my best tips for eating out anywhere- get water to drink. Water is free and has no calories. Here are more tips on how to save money eating out at restaurants.

With a Microwave Oven and Some Creativity, You can Cook Lunch at Work
With a Microwave Oven and Some Creativity, You can Cook Lunch at Work | Source

Ideas for Making Lunch at Work

Office cooking can be fun. With a microwave oven, a coffee mug, and some creativity you can cook some interesting lunch dishes at work.

Reheating & Defrosting

The simplest example of office cooking is simply reheating leftovers. The next step up from that is cooking a frozen meal in the microwave. This is not real cooking, I know.

Microwave Popcorn

Making microwave popcorn at work isn't really cooking, but at least you can get something hot an fresh without leaving.

Office Oatmeal

I think the simplest example of actual office cooking is making oatmeal. Simply mix some dry instant oatmeal with water in a ceramic coffee mug and cook it in the microwave for about 90 seconds. Hot oatmeal will fill you up more than anything you'll find in a vending machine at work and is much healthier as well!

Poached Egg at Work

Almost as easy- you can cook a poached egg at the office. Crack an egg into a coffee mug. Poke the yoke- otherwise it will explode. Cover the coffee mug with plastic wrap. Use a napkin if you don't have plastic wrap available. Microwave for about 45 seconds and you've got a fresh poached egg.

If you're lucky, your office break room will have a toaster and a refrigerator with a freezer. This would allow you to make some frozen waffles or pancakes to go with the poached egg. This is way better than trying to find something good in the vending machine!

Fresh Salad at Work

Another lunch I like to prepare at work is a fresh salad. I bring spinach, a fresh tomato, croutons, and salad dressing to work separately in my giant lunchbox. At lunch time, I combine the ingredients to make a fresh salad.

Cook Zucchini at Work

Another easy microwave dish to make at work: zucchini. Just bring some fresh zucchini from your garden, or buy some at the grocery store. At lunch, wash the zucchini and cut it into coins. Place the sliced zucchini in a microwavable bowl- a paper bowl will work, Cook it for a couple minutes in the microwave and you've got something good. You'll want some salt and butter to complete this dish.

Get a Good Lunch for Work

These tips should prepare you to get a good lunch at work without spending too much time or money. The best option for lunch at work is to pack a lunch and bring healthy items from home. The next best option is to cook lunch at work with ingredients you bring from home. Office cooking takes a bit of time and skill, but can result in some interesting lunches. Finally, if all else fails, you may need to eat out for lunch at work. If you have to do this, try to limit the cost and calories using the tips in this article.

© 2014 Dr Penny Pincher


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    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 22 months ago from Iowa, USA

      Ben, happy to share this- thanks for reading!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Efficient Admin, for years I kept my lunch box in the refrigerator until lunch time. I tried an experiment using the frozen ice packs and leaving my lunchbox out- this worked fine. Now I use ice packs and never put my lunchbox in a refrigerator- much more convenient! One of my lunch favorites lately is to get a 32 oz container of Greek yogurt and take around 10 oz each day in a Tupperware container. Great source of protein! Sometimes I make a giant salad when I have greens available. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Efficient Admin profile image

      Efficient Admin 4 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Great suggestions for healthy eating at work. I make a gigantic garden salad with cooked chicken (even wrote a few hubs on my salads) on Sunday afternoons and split it into 4 containers -- four days of brown bagging and then usually grab a bite out on Fridays. I do love those $5 subway sandwiches but do use the oil and vinegar and light mayo. I can easily get 2 meals out of a footlong sub. I never thought about cooking an egg in the microwave and will have to try that for breakfast sometime. In my area one would be lucky to "only" spend $8 a day for lunch which equals $40 a week and that is the cheap end. Most place with tax and tip you are looking at $15 per day lunch. Do you keep your giant lunchbox in the office refrigerator or is it insulated?

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Writer Fox, thanks for your comment and I appreciate the vote up! I talk a lot about saving money, but eating healthy for lunch is also very important. If you eat at the cafeteria or go out for lunch and get 1,000 calories and 80g of fat at lunch every day, it is hard to stay healthy...

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 4 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      I think the food you bring from home is better for many reasons, not just saving money. Generally, it's much healthier than what you get at a snack bar or company cafeteria. It's also more sanitary, if you think about it!

      You've got some great suggestions here. I also like to pack fruit and nuts to snack on during the day. Voted up!

    • drpennypincher profile image

      Dr Penny Pincher 4 years ago from Iowa, USA

      Kidscrafts, I like your idea to take soup in a thermos. Sometimes my kids take that to school instead of eating school lunch. It is amazing how fast taking your own lunch can pay back expenses like an insulated thermos or lunch box. Thanks for visiting and Happy New Year!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 4 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great ideas! I love all your suggestions!

      Usually I work from home, except the last few days where I work in a museum helping kids create chess pieces. To prepare for that and because I know the price at the cafetaria, I bought a thermos to bring my soup with me.... I more than recovered the cost of my thermos and I am sure my homemade soup was better than the soup at the cafetaria :-)

      Happy New Year to you and your family!