Packing a lunch for work instead of spending money eating out every day is a great way to keep a grip on your budget. But peanut butter and jelly gets old fast, and it can be tough to come up with fresh ideas that  are healthy, easy to pack and budget-friendly. 

Packing a lunch for work instead of spending money eating out every day is a great way to keep a grip on your budget. But peanut butter and jelly gets old fast, and it can be tough to come up with fresh ideas that  are healthy, easy to pack and budget-friendly.  Food writer Myscha Theriault has these suggestions for a thrifty and tasty packed lunch.


Planning is key. If you can set aside even a little time on the weekend to get a few things prepped and cooked for bag lunches, you’ll reap the rewards the whole week.


Skip the plastic. If you’re packing for adults — who are less likely than kids to drop lunch bags — don’t bother with pricey plastic containers. Go for glass canning containers, which are more environmentally friendly and easier to clean. Your local hardware store will have more sizes and shapes than you can imagine.


Use a hybrid homemade/pre-packaged approach. Some purists insist on using only homemade items, but Theriault suggests using some ingredients that are prepared before you buy them. For instance, bake up a family-sized package of chicken nuggets or chicken tenders on a Sunday and use a handful of nuggets for each day’s lunch that week. Chop them over a green salad one day and roll them in a wrap with veggies to be dunked in a Thai chili sauce the next. You can use pre-cooked shrimp the same way.


Make your own snacks. Theriault suggests a healthy trail mix with peanuts, raisins and chocolate chips. Peanuts and raisins, along with being healthful, are generally inexpensive. If you want to cut calories and cost, use only a sprinkling of chocolate chips instead of making them one-third of your mixture. You can quickly assemble a big batch of this over the weekend and divide it into snack-size packages to grab during the week.


Dunk it. Veggies with dip are perfect for a bag lunch. You can vary the vegetables and the dip you use to keep from getting bored. You can also prep both over the weekend so your lunch is ready to go on workday mornings. Make or buy a big batch of dip like hummus, guacamole or low-fat veggie dip. Then divide the dip into single-serving containers. Chop veggies into bite-size pieces and divide them into single-serving packages, too.


Love your leftovers. Think about workday lunches when you’re cooking family dinners over the weekend. You can make a slightly bigger batch of a couple of meals with the idea that you’ll be able to pack away a lunch-size portion to take to the office.


Become a fan of fruit. Fruit is perfect for a packed lunch. You can have it at lunchtime or save it for a late-afternoon snack instead of plunking coins in the vending machine. Look for fruit that is in season because it will be the tastiest and the least expensive. Also, look for fruits that don’t require a lot of washing or chopping. Clementines and bananas are perfect.