How to Make a Week of Healthy Work Lunches for Under $20

by Ashley Eneriz · 7 comments

healthy lunches

If you have a growing waistline and shrinking bank account, one simple way to fix these two problems is by simply prepping your own workday lunch meals for the week.

When you work a traditional job, there isn’t always time to eat healthy or to even pack your lunch in the morning. You’re busy balancing life and a career. But these tips will help you stay healthy at the office for under $20 a week.

weekly meal prep1. Pick Your Prep Day

Find a weekend where you have one to three hours to spare. Take this time to make a shopping list, do your shopping, and prep the meals. Your prep session will go a lot faster if you start in a clean kitchen with an empty dishwasher.

Then choose your tools and get out all your ingredients. A rice cooker, cooking sheets, and two nonstick large pans will be all you need.

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2. Know How Much to Buy

Typically, for a week’s worth of lunches, one bag of frozen chicken breasts/tenders will be enough protein. If you plan on doing ground turkey or lean ground beef, buy two pounds worth. For fish, buy a fillet for each day you wish to eat fish.

Brown rice and quinoa are very inexpensive and one bag or box of each will last you for two to three weeks. You can sometimes find premade brown rice in the freezer section, but with a rice cooker, it is more cost effective to buy it uncooked.

You’ll want your meals to be packed with vegetables to help keep you full and give you all of the health benefits you need. If you plan on making salads, buy raw lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers for a quick salad. You can also buy pre-chopped vegetables. They will be more expensive but save you some prep time.

Frozen vegetables can save you both time and money. Some favorites to buy in the freezer aisle include broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, and bell pepper mixes.

3. Precook the Protein

As soon as you get home from your shopping trip, turn the oven on to 350-degrees Fahrenheit. Chicken breasts and fish just need a sprinkle of oil and herbs. You can bake them at the same time, but the fish will be done within fifteen minutes, or whenever flaky.

For ground meat, simply cook it in your largest non-stick pan with a lid. If you bought very lean meat, a tablespoon of coconut oil will keep it from sticking, while still keeping the meal healthy. Cook the ground meat on low with a splash of broth and the lid on. This allows it to cook without much needed supervision from you.

4. Assemble the Containers

Once all of your food is cooked, it is time to assemble your lunches. Just simply have all of your containers set out on the counter. Start with your grain and place ½ cup in each container. Then put a mixture of vegetables in each container. Finally, put three to four ounces of protein in each container.

You can change up your meals slightly by mixing up which vegetables go with which protein. You can also add a little bit of cheese, salsa, or another sauce on top for more flavor.

All of the meals will stay good in the refrigerator, but you can also store them in the freezer too. If you store them in the freezer, just transfer them to the fridge the night before so they have time to thaw out.

Once you get a few weeks of meal prep under your belt, you’ll be able to make your lunches in batches very quickly. You can even use the same method for your breakfasts and lunches too.

How do you save money on workday lunches?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Danielle Ogilve says:

    I find that meal planning not only helps me stick with the budget but it also helps me avoid wastage. This is great advice

  • Kevin Katzenberg says:

    Back when I was working I used a similar method. I eat a ton of vegetables because their cheap and really good for me.
    Now I follow something very similar to Tim Ferriss’s slow carb diet because it is rally good and alows me to eat really cheap. Good read.

  • arun says:

    I create my own budget meals at work using a rice cooker. The meals cost around $1-2

    Brown rice –$0.5
    Fresh vegetables–$1-1.5
    Dry beans-$0.10

    Sometimes I add wheat meat or tofu, which drives the cost slightly higher.

    • Kim says:

      This makes more sense to me as $20 a week seems high for lunches. $1-$2 a day sounds much better and that cuts your bill in half. You can even buy frozen meals like Lean Cuisine for $1 (on sale).

      Personally, I like to make salads with almonds, cheese, grape tomatoes and spinach. I can add left over protein from the night before’s dinner if I want or leave it plain. It is super easy to shred chicken, pork and beef the night before and add it in last minute to your salad. But brown rice is another good option for left over protein as well.

  • Bert says:

    I have been using a crock pot and tupperware for years to cook several meals at once. Start the pot with legumes, a variety of different dry beans is best. Your first effort will teach you how long to cook (even a move from the beach to the mountains will vary a cooking time). When a sample bean is barely crunchy, add your lean protein and a variety of grains. For example, cooking on high, put in brown rice and pearl barley first, and wait about 15 minutes to add steel cut oats, which require less cooking. If you are still too liquid at the end, add a little TVP to sop up the remaining water. When the grains are done, portion the mixture into plastic containers, and freeze. I take them frozen to work. By the time for lunch, they are probably unfrozen.

  • Chella says:

    It has never crossed my mind to pre-cook protein foods immediately after shopping but the idea sounds really cool! Although i have been relying on sandwich a lot, which has really helped, it sounds even more healthier to try these tips. Am on it!

  • Ramona says:

    I eat at home (since I also work from home), but it really make sense to prepare your meals in advance. It saves A LOT of money, not to mention it’s healthier. We’re eating out very rarely, since we don’t like to eat food that we didn’t cook ourselves. We’re cooking from scratch and try to add the best and healthiest of ingredients.

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