If you’re an adult who works, it’s all too easy to be tempted by convenient but costly and often calorie-laden options such as takeout food and restaurant meals.
If you have kids, despite efforts to improve school lunches, the cafeteria can still be a place to spend money on less healthy items.
As part of our new frugal food series, we sought out some expert tips on brown-bag (or reusable lunch bag) meals that are low-cost and healthy.
Two for one: Marilyn Townsend, a nutrition education specialist with University of California at Davis, says the easiest way to prepare a brown-bag lunch for the next day is just to cook extra at dinner the night before.
“If you’re going to all the work of making the stew or casserole or the rice whatever it is, make extra,” she said.
The same is true for salads – make a little extra and you can throw it in a container for the next day.
To save more money, make a separate container of dressing with oil and vinegar instead of buying a pricier bottle from the store.
That will also keep the calories down.
“People don’t attribute … calories to dressing, so they put a huge scoop of, say, guacamole on a salad, or sour cream,” Townsend said. “I’d lump all those under the category of dressings (and they’re) pretty much 90 to 100 percent fat.”
Make it from scratch: Generally speaking, Townsend notes, the more processed a food is the more it’s going to cost. Avoid high costs by making your lunch items from scratch. Resources such as the federal Expanded Food and Nutrition Education program can help low-income families learn to cook healthy meals.
Hoard containers: You don’t have to spend money on reusable containers for your lunch. Townsend recommends saving a little money by simply reusing deli containers, yogurt tubs and other items.
Save on sandwiches: Instead of buying pricier deli meats, mix up tuna or egg salad.
Free drinks: After the initial investment of a reusable water bottle, you and your kids can keep your drink budget down by filling up on water rather than juice or soda.
Townsend notes that kids may feel a lot of peer pressure to eat school lunches, so you want to make sure what you are giving them is fun as well as nutritious.
Yogurt cups can be yummy and also provide good nutrition.
Fruits and vegetables: You can get pretty good deals on fruits and veggies if you buy locally and in-season. To make it a little more appealing, this may be where it’s worth splurging on a little container of dressing for dipping.
Buy in bulk: If you do find a food that your child likes and is nutritious, look for bulk buys to save money.
Readers, what are your tips for healthy and cheap brown-bag lunches?