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Inexpensive and Healthy Lunch Ideas for Work

By Catherine Roberts

Medically Reviewed by Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Chances are you’ve shown up for school or work only to be disappointed with what’s found inside your lunchbox. The feeling doesn’t go away when you leave grade school for university and the working world. There’s just nothing more disappointing than a boring, soggy and flavorless lunch.

The good news is that there are many ways to prepare cheap and healthy meals for your brown bag lunch. Taking a healthy lunch to work won’t just prevent disappointment, it will stop you from skipping out for a high-calorie lunch at the local burger joint…

Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

Ever heard of Elvis Presley’s favourite snack? It consisted of peanut butter, banana, and bacon, all fried inside two slices of bread. Eventually dubbed “The Elvis”, this high-calorie heart-stopping treat helps explain why the King of Rock died so young.

But you can prepare a healthier Elvis by skipping one item, bacon, and the frying. Just slap some sliced banana on whole grain bread, layer some peanut butter, and close it up tight. You’ve got potassium, protein, and healthy fats without all the salt, calories, and saturated fat of The Elvis.

Tuna Wrap

Ugh, is there anything more disgusting than reaching into your brown bag and pulling out a soggy tuna sandwich? You can avoid that problem with a few simple steps.

First, ditch the bread for a pita, which is thicker and less likely to become soggy and gross. Second, opt for light tuna packed in water rather than fatty oil. Finally, consider preparing your tuna sandwich, complete with celery bits, fat-free mayo, and a dollop of relish, right before lunch, rather than first thing in the morning.

Taco Salad

We all love tacos, which blend salty fried ground meat with oozing cheese and fresh tomatoes and lettuce. But it’s hardly the healthiest lunch idea and transportation to work or school doesn’t always work out so well.

Instead, try taco salad. It allows you to go heavy on the healthy greens–like kale and arugula–while adding in just a smattering of seasoned ground meat, cheese, and taco pieces. Use a mango and tomato-based salsa or dressing to finish things off.

Stir Fry

The healthy dinner option also makes an excellent choice for lunch. The good news about taking a stir fry to work: it transports well and isn’t difficult to bring back to life with a simple, old-fashioned microwave.

To prepare, throw as many vegetables as possible (i.e., broccoli, carrots, onions, asparagus, parsnips, and golden beets) into a small pot with half a cup of water, olive oil, and seasoning. In a separate pot, prepare rice. And in a pan, fry your chicken, pork, beef or tofu. Combine everything together when ready.

Chicken Salad Wrap

Roast chicken is an awesome meal for a Sunday evening, but it’s not always the most practical lunch item. That’s why you should consider using the leftover meat from a prepared roast chicken to prepare chicken salad for wraps or sandwiches.

Simply add your roast chicken to a mixture containing mayo, sliced apple, julienned carrots, and chopped onions. Apply this mixture generously to a pita or bread or just eat it as-is! It’s a healthy way to get your protein and fruits and vegetables.

Healthy Chili

Most people love chili, and for good reason–it’s often packed with ground beef, which is high in saturated fat and, let’s face it, flavor. But it’s hardly a healthy food choice.

But you can easily change that by switching out the ground beef for a lower-fat option, like ground chicken or turkey. On top of that, consider using more high-protein beans (i.e., chickpeas or kidney beans). And make sure to throw in as many vegetables as possible, from carrots and onions to parsnips and beets. There’s no rule saying what can and can’t go in a chili.

Old-school PB&J

Okay, so no one ever really claimed that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a particularly healthy food choice for lunch time. But that doesn’t have to be the case. You just need to make a few basic tweaks to the age-old formula.

First, swap out the white bread in favor of high-fiber whole grain bread. Second, ditch the high-fat peanut butter for low-fat peanut butter (you won’t notice the difference). Finally, get rid of the super-sweetened jelly in favor of no-sugar-added jam or fresh fruit preserves. Bring it all together and you have a rather healthy high-protein snack.

Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich

Smart people think ahead. If you know you’ve got a busy week coming up and won’t have much time for preparing dinners (let alone lunches). Consider grilling several skinless, boneless chicken on the weekend. Keep them in the fridge for the week ahead.

You can add prepared chicken breast to just about any sandwich and its taste great. Throw it on bread with Caesar dressing, onion and lettuce. Toss it on a wrap with tzatziki, cucumbers, and olives. Or just eat it on its own. It makes for a delicious, low fat and high protein snack.


Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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