Healthy, Homemade Work Lunches for $45 a Week!

Okay, today’s post is kind of amazing. But I didn’t write it. And a blogger did not write it. One of the things you guys asked for when I put together this challenge was more posts from “people with office jobs… not bloggers with flexible schedules!” When reader Katie Herklotz wrote in, offering to share her healthy, budget-friendly lunch ideas, I immediately got excited. On average, she spends about $30 for the week on food which I found to be so impressive. Today she’s sharing a week of healthy lunches… prepare to be inspired (I work from home and plan on making this next week’s grocery list, + some chicken as I’m not a vegetarian). Hope you enjoy the post as much as I did… and a BIG thanks to Katie for sharing her grocery strategy + these yummy recipes.

Recently I realized that most of the goals I set for myself center around two things: health and money. “Save $300 this month”, or “Don’t eat out at restaurants at all this week.” Life was busy. I got lazy and would routinely grab a burrito or pizza slices near my office, shelling out at least $10 for food that wasn’t filling or healthy (and would leave work needing a nap!). I certainly do NOT think eating pizza and burritos is bad, but it’s a habit I wanted to break, and needed to break if I wanted to reach my financial and health goals.

I strive to make good choices both nutritionally and financially, and while this food is in no way groundbreaking, getting in the habit of preparing them has made me much more successful in both of these areas. There is so much room for interpretation here, and by no means do you need to follow my suggestions perfectly. This is the food I enjoy eating, and of course everyone has different tastes! If nothing else, I hope I can convey to readers of The Stripe that delicious, healthy, food can fit in a budget and become part of a lifestyle that puts wellness first.

Most meal prep articles I read suggest you eat the same meal all five days of the week. When I followed this strategy, I found myself dreading lunch by Thursday, and it just felt sooo boring. You’ll notice I do try to incorporate consistency into my meals, but rather than making identical meals, I use a relatively small group of foods and combine them into different meals. Surprisingly, it doesn’t get boring, as I’ve found that dips, sauces, temperature of food, adding a wrap, etc., can make a huge difference, while still keeping the foundations of the meals healthy and filling.

Saturday or Sunday

The Grocery Haul:

This part should not be overlooked! This whole thing begins at the grocery store, and I’ve found that this step is where you really make or break your success. Sticking to a list is helpful to avoid getting distracted my flashier snacks (umm hello, that’s the whole goal of stores!). Once I got in the habit of shopping for healthy, whole foods, I found myself kind of going into autopilot at the store and the crackers, cookies, and packaged/processed foods didn’t stand out to me because I just wasn’t looking for them anymore.

Disclaimer #1: All the items used from these meals are from Trader Joe’s, but almost none of them are exclusive to the franchise. Most are raw, canned, or products you can find at any supermarket. If there is a Trader Joe’s in your town or city, I highly recommend checking it out! Disclaimer #2: I am a vegetarian, but it would be simple to add meat to a lot of these meals! However, eating vegetarian is an easy way to keep costs down.

Produce:

  • Spinach ($1.99)
  • Tuscan kale ($2.99)
  • Cauliflower ($2.49)
  • 2 sweet potatoes (2x $.79)
  • Red onion ($.99)
  • Cherry tomatoes ($3.49)
  • Carrots ($.99)

Other Ingredients:

  • Tri color quinoa ($4.99)
  • Canned black beans ($.79)
  • Steamed lentils ($2.99)
  • Vegan kale pesto ($3.69)
  • Cheddar cheese ($3.99)
  • Feta cheese ($2.79)
  • Eggs ($2.99)
  • Whole wheat wraps ($1.99)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds ($6.49)

Total: $45.14

You’ll definitely have enough ingredients to get several dinners out of these groceries as well!

Meal Prep:

This is really the easy part, and if you get into the habit of doing it you’ll always have healthy food in the house for lunch or dinner.

  • Cook several cups of quinoa or brown rice
  • Chop sweet potato and cauliflower and bake in oven with some olive oil

Some may like to prepare each meal in advance, but I budget about 5 minutes each morning to compile my lunch for that day. It’s completely up to you!

Monday – Kitchen Sink Salad

Let’s start the week off with a power salad, shall we? I know, a salad seems like a major buzzkill, I get it. But there is SO much you can do with salad ingredients! These salads are simple and versatile. It feels weird to write a recipe, because a “kitchen sink” approach works well with salads, surprisingly! I like to use:

  • Two kinds of greens for the base (spinach + kale usually, but arugula if I’m feeling fancy)
  • Carrot, onion, tomato (those veggies you always have laying at the bottom of your crisper drawer, throw ‘em in!)
  • Roasted sweet potato and/or roasted cauliflower (you can transport these separately if you want to heat them up before adding them to the salad!)
  • Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or any nuts…the crunch is key
  • Feta or cheddar cubes
  • Quinoa and/or lentils
  • Your favorite salad dressing, hummus, or pesto! I am partial to olive oil and balsamic reduction 🙂

The more ingredients, the better. You can really add or subtract any of these ingredients and it’ll still be delicious. In my opinion, the key here is having a roasted vegetable, a cheese, and something crunchy like a nut or seed! That way it feels more like an exciting meal with all those flavors and textures, versus a boring side salad you would get at a restaurant that is supplementing an entree. This really is a full meal, as all the ingredients are filling and healthy. This would be great in a wrap too.

Tuesday – Egg Scramble

No, my office doesn’t have a full kitchen, so how on earth would I make eggs at work? Before you get completely grossed out and disregard all my recipes, hear me out: you can make perfect eggs in the microwave. I thought it was crazy when I first heard it too, but it’s the easiest thing in the world. No messy clean up (the pan with the crispy egg residue is enough to turn me off cooking eggs for good), entirely portable, and takes about 2 minutes. Also, I could eat breakfast for every meal of the day, anyone else? In a microwave safe container with a tight lid, combine:

  • A couple scoops of black beans
  • Red pepper, onion, tomatoes, spinach, or whatever veggies you have on hand that suit your fancy
  • Sausage for meat eaters!
  • Feta or cheddar cheese
  • Your favorite spices for eggs, I usually just go with pepper
  • And finally, crack two or three eggs into the container

Microwave entire bowl for one minute, then stir the scramble around cook for another minute. The scramble should be fluffy and full of flavor that will keep you full through dinner!

Wednesday – Burrito

You’ve probably noticed a theme here…you already have most of the ingredients to make this meal! Throw the following into a wrap:

  • Quinoa or brown rice
  • Roasted sweet potato, tomatoes, onions, steamed spinach
  • Black beans
  • Eggs or meat
  • Shredded cheddar cheese!

Tip: If you’re feeling ambitious and extra efficient, make about 10 of these, wrap in tin foil, and keep in the freezer at work. You can heat them up in the microwave when you forgot to bring a lunch or need a second lunch!

Thursday – Pesto Grain Bowl

My biggest issue with salads is that sometimes I just want a hot lunch, especially in the winter. This meal is simple and delicious, and you’ll recognize most of the ingredients that you already have cooked and used from earlier in the week. Throw the following into a big container:

  • Quinoa or brown rice as a base
  • Roasted sweet potato and roasted cauliflower
  • Onion, a little spinach and kale (it’ll wilt in the microwave when you heat it up, or you can steam it beforehand)
  • Black beans (protein!)
  • Your choice of cheese
  • PESTO because pesto makes any meal simply delightful. to a tupperware and putting in the microwave is DELICIOUS.

Microwave at lunchtime, and your coworkers will ask who is eating something that smells so delicious!

Friday – Fiesta Salad

Salads are instantly more exciting when you spice ‘em up with some Mexican flavors. There are a few additional ingredients you could use for this salad, but I find that adding beans, cheddar cheese, and salsa or tomatos makes it instantly more fun. To a bed of spinach, add:

  • Quinoa or brown rice
  • Roasted sweet potato, onions, tomatoes (or salsa if you have it!)
  • Black beans
  • Shredded or cubed cheddar cheese
  • Roasted corn, avocados, and cilantro takes this to a whole other level, so feel free to add if you have them!

There you have it! Like I said, it’s VERY simple. For me, routines need to be simple for me to stick with it, but again, please make this your own. I don’t expect you to like all the same foods I do, but making healthy meals on a budget is easy once you get the hang of it, no matter your food preferences! I would love to hear what other readers’ go to work lunches are, so please share in the comments below! I hope 2018 is a year full of financial and wellness success for us all 🙂

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Comments

  1. Mmm, all the recipes sound so good. I love the idea of the Kitchen Sink Salad! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
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    • grace at the stripe says 1.24.18

      Right? Think that was my fav too!!!

    • Katie says 1.24.18

      Definitely a good way to give a salad some new and exciting life! Thanks for reading!

  2. Katie and Grace — I loved this post, especially as a vegetarian! I get so lazy about preparing food at home but it really is the best way to eat healthy and cut costs. Thanks for making this so doable — I’m inspired! 🙂

    • grace at the stripe says 1.24.18

      I’m so inspired too!!!

    • Katie says 1.24.18

      Thank you! And good luck! It’s a challenge at first (right up the Wellness Challenge alley!) but once it becomes a habit it’s feel easy!

  3. Sarah says 1.24.18

    I love this post, it has such good ideas!

  4. KM says 1.24.18

    Loved this. I would love any recommendations for meal prep containers that fit relatively easily in my work bag. The Tupperware I have at home is pretty bulky and the glass containers are so heavy to carry. Anybody using something they really like?

    • grace at the stripe says 1.24.18

      I like the Glad containers – they’re really lightweight and you can reuse them but if you end up throwing one out or losing it, it’s not the end of the world.

      • KM says 1.25.18

        Thanks Grace! I’ll take a look at those.

    • Katie says 1.24.18

      I struggle with this too! Glass is so heavy and I’m too klutzy, and I don’t like microwaving plastic that is so thin it becomes pliable, so I have a real mixture of Tupperware (my drawer is a mess!).

      • KM says 1.25.18

        Haha, same. And every time I open my cabinet, they all fall out, ha.

    • Betsy says 1.25.18

      Rubbermaid is more expensive than the glad but it’s much sturdier. It’s been worth the investment for me.

      • KM says 1.25.18

        Thanks Betsy! I’m going to look into Rubbermaid as well!

    • Rachel says 1.25.18

      I just bought these – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0742M47V5/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 but if you look on Amazon there are ton. And they have ones with sections too if you don’t want to mix things.

      • KM says 1.25.18

        Oh wow! These look amazing! Thank you so much!

  5. Courtney Brandt says 1.24.18

    Among my facebook friends I’m well known for my weekend meal prep and have inspired a few others to join up. Well done to Katie to pointing out the most important step — it’s all about the shop!! Dedicating the same time during the weekend to lunches is also a great routine to get in. As Hubs and I enjoy protein, we always pick up a free range chicken, cook it, and then make stock. The chicken can go in salad, or be used for dinner.

    • Katie says 1.24.18

      Thank you! The Shop is so important, if I have it in the house, I eat it! That’s a decision I know I’ll make, so I have to avoid the whole thing by shopping for healthy food. Also, it’s so much cheaper to buy whole foods instead of packaged and processed stuff! Thanks for reading 🙂

  6. kate says 1.25.18

    this was great, thanks!

  7. Emily says 1.25.18

    I love your comment about “second lunch” 🙂

    $45/week for lunch is way out of my budget though, I try to keep packed lunches under 20-25 but admittedly the meals get a little boring.

    • Katie says 1.25.18

      Hi Emily!

      I intended to do this post as $35 bagged lunches, but I realize that a lot of the “staples” I use, that I don’t buy each week, would increase the total. Pumpkin seeds, quinoa, and wraps for example are items that I always have on hand, but don’t use enough to buy more each week. My total costs week to week hover much more around your budget though. I hope that helps!

  8. Rachel says 1.25.18

    I loved this post! Whenever I do meal prep I wind up making a big patch of something, and usually get tired of it by Thursday too. Sometimes I’ll try and make two things so I can switch off, but only when I have the time or think to do it. I love this idea of using the same ingredients, but making different things. I’ll have to try it!

    • Katie says 1.25.18

      That was my issue with meal prep too! It is definitely a learning process, thanks for reading!

    • grace at the stripe says 1.25.18

      That’s why I loved this too!!!! Currently on day 4 of a soup I made earlier this week and so bored by it.

  9. Lauren N says 1.25.18

    Katie and Grace – this was a great post! I always struggle to come up with lunch ideas for the office that were healthy and affordable. This is enough variety to keep it interesting without a bunch of spare ingredients/waste.

    You have inspired me to step up my lunch game! Thank you!

    • grace at the stripe says 1.25.18

      So glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! So awesome of Katie to pull togrether!

      • Katie says 1.25.18

        Thank you to Grace for the opportunity and all you lovely readers!

  10. sarah kahn says 1.26.18

    LOVE this post! Thanks you Katie and Grace. I buy many of these ingredients anyway, and then find I run out of things to make with them. Katie, any ideas for healthier sweet options (especially after dinner)? I tend to eat too many sweets especially after dinnner which I realize is not ideal

    • grace at the stripe says 1.28.18

      One thing I do is buy a fancy dark chocolate bar (currently on one that has sea salt!) I break it up into small squares and individually wrap them up and let myself have one after dinner. It’s not fancy but it works!

    • Katie says 1.29.18

      I LOVE making desert smoothies. I’ll do banana, peanut butter, and either chocolate protein powder (is it bad to eat this at night??), OR chocolate chips!