Finances & Money Frugality

Frugal Lunch by Clever Dudette

Looking to save some money on your work lunches? Check out these three delicious, nutritious, and cheap lunch ideas and save yourself hundreds of dollars per year!!

I would like to announce the first guest article by my wife Stacie, aka Clever Dudette. Stacie is a Registered Dietitian in the D.C. region, and runs her own nutrition site at Building Nutrition.

Clever Dude and I frequently disagree on lunch purchases. I work in a hospital (and therefore have ready access to the cafeteria) but have packed my lunch daily for over 6 months. The Dude works at a client site with expensive lunch options (cafeteria and food court). I believe that to be frugal (and health-conscious) for lunch, it is imperative to pack your lunch!

Average cost of an insulated lunch box:
$10 at Walmart or on You can use the product search on the sidebar.

What are good and healthy options for lunch?
Let’s assume that you have a refrigerator but no microwave to heat foods:

Monday Lunch:Peanutbutter Sandwich
PBJ sandwich on wheat bread, raw carrots, baked chips and an apple:

  • Peanut butter ($0.11)
  • jelly($0.07)
  • wheat bread ($0.30)
  • raw carrots ($0.12)
  • bag of baked chips ($0.28)
  • apple ($0.50)
  • water from the fountain (free). It’s safe, except where the Dude works, but they provide water coolers.

Cost: $1.38

Tuesday Lunch:Turkey Sandwich
Turkey sandwich on wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, light mayo, carrot sticks, canned pears in light syrup and a snack pack of Oreos (the Dude’s favorite):

  • turkey sandwich on wheat bread ($1.30)
  • lettuce ($0.25)
  • tomato ($0.25)
  • light mayo ($0.14)
  • carrot sticks ($0.12)
  • canned pears in light syrup ($0.69)
  • snack pack of Oreos ($0.41)
  • fountain or cooler water again (still free)

Cost: $3.16

Wednesday Lunch:Tuna Salad Sandwich
Tuna salad sandwich, banana, celery sticks with peanut butter, baked chips

  • tuna sandwich (light tuna canned in water on wheat bread with light mayo) ($1.00)
  • banana ($0.25)
  • celery sticks with peanut butter ($0.25 + $0.11)
  • bag of baked chips ($0.28)
  • the infamous water from the water fountain (free again)

Cost: $2.00

Thursday lunch:
Repeat of Monday.
Cost: $1.38

Friday lunch:

Repeat of Tuesday—have to use that lunch meat!
Cost: $3.16

So to calculate the comparison costs, let’s ignore that you may work from home some days, or don’t work all 52 weeks each year:
Cost of eating out (average $6 a day) = $30.00
Cost of packing a lunch for 5 days = $11.00
Total savings = $19.00/week * 52 weeks = $988.00!!!

What if you have no microwave and no refrigerator?
You could spend $10-15 for a lunch bag that comes with a freezer pack. You can also just throw a few ice cubes in a re-usable Zip-lock bag to use as a “free” ice pack.

Each of these lunches will provide about 600 calories, which is appropriate for the average man or woman. So, not only are they inexpensive, but they are healthy too!!!

More from Cleverdude:

Photo Credits to [Progodess], [basykes], and [RatRanch]

About the author

Clever Dude


  • My favorite lunch/anytime meal:

    Leftover pasta! You can get pretty good pasta for about $1 a pound, buy some cheap canned sauce, cook it (adding herbs and garlic and things to make it tasty), and then refrigerate separately. I am of the opinion that cold pasta is delicious, so I just put it in tupperware and bring a fork. Yum!

  • Uh actually I have to disagree here. You see I have a bunch of time on my hands and really need to belittle this idea.

    When you consider the geometrical shape of said turkey, and incorporate the tangential velocity of a walmart lunch bag strap (see where I’m going here dudette) this is just not plausible.

    My lettuce also costs $0.27 so these figures are entirely out of whack.

    When you sit down next time to tap on plastic squares with white or black stickers in shapes of letters on them, please consider the grossly miscalculated and utterly inaccurate facts you are about to state.



  • Russians rarely microwave their food, since it destroys the nutritional value of the food! If you are microwaving, might as well eat the cheapest junk food in existence, and then do a daily vitamin!

  • I appreciate the post. But I have two personal problems with the lunches. I have terrible teeth and would have issues with the carrot sticks. Also, the apple wouldn’t be too easy unless I cut it up. Also, none of it could be too cold or it would hurt my teeth.

    And as for the bread, the levels of constipation would be rather high in no time flat.

  • According to wikipedia the vegemite ban was a hoax:

    “In October 2006, the Melbourne newspaper, the Herald Sun incorrectly reported that Vegemite had been banned in the United States, and that the United States Customs Service had gone so far as to search Australians entering the country for Vegemite. The story appears to have originated from an anecdote from a traveller who claimed to have been searched, and a spokesperson for Kraft who made a misinformed comment to reporters. The story led to some anti-American comments in blogs and newspapers. The Herald Sun blamed the US President for the ban, and encouraged readers to post comments on its website and send emails to the White House.

    The US Food and Drug Administration later stated that although it is technically illegal in the US to add folate to food products other than bread or cereal, there were no plans to investigate whether Vegemite contains folate, to subject it to an import ban, or withdraw it from US supermarket shelves. The United States Customs and Border Protection also tried to dispel the rumour, stating on its website that “there is no known prohibition on the importation of Vegemite” and “there is no official policy within CBP targeting Vegemite for interception”.[3] The story of the “ban” later took on the status of urban legend.[4] While Vegemite has never been popular in the U.S., it can still be purchased at supermarkets that stock imported food items.[5]”

  • The Money Train » Blog Archive » Frugal Brown Bag Lunch Ideas + Cost Breakdown: Sandwiches Edition says:

    […] Dudette has more frugal lunch ideas. Do you have your own tasty buy convenient lunch routines? For next week, I am thinking of making […]

  • Many times I will bring dinner leftovers for lunch the next day. I have cut down on bread usage so a lunch of chicken drumsticks or cold meatloaf with ketchup or barbecue sauce is good and filling. Carrot sticks are easy to prepare. Store packaged sticks are too expensive so by cutting them yourself is saving $. Grapes are good when frozen and easy to pack! Large boxes of crackers go a long way. Prepacked snacks are costly so by figuring out good snacks that are healthy is fun and usually much cheaper. Cheaper than hitting the vending machine mid afternoon. Soda is also another money guzzler and really not healthy. Water is good and most companies provide a water cooler so fill that cup with water and ice if available. Homemade lemonade and iced tea are other good options to quench the thirst when one is tired of plain water . Lemon or lime wedges can also be added to that plain ol water to change the taste. Necessity is the mother of invention and now is the time to pull out all the stops and think of how to do things cheaper yet retain the healthy lifestyle. Shop at the produce discount places and either freeze extra if possible or share with a family member, neighbor or friend. that way, nothing is wasted.

  • I am so surprised at the number of intelligent people here that are taking the suggested menu as a guideline instead of a suggestion! Obviously we will all adapt it to meet our tastes, the example is still valid. It IS less expensive to pack than to eat out. (And really- $6 dollars on lunch is way cheaper than the places my husband insists on indulging in, for an average range of $9 to $15 a day.) You can walk to the cafeteria and eat with co-workers, just take your lunch with you. Most workplaces tolerate this rather well. And even eating out just 1 or two times a week will be a nice savings. I think Stacie did a great job of pointing out a place to potentially save money while enhancing health, and we should use it as a starting place to consider implementing change in our lunch, not a doctrine on how to successfully change over. You go girl!

  • My husband and I have been brown bagging it since our poor college student days. We evolved from sandwiches, chips, cookies, drink to dinner leftovers. I look at it as double savings. You see, having leftovers get spoiled and tossed because they got pushed to the back of the refrigerator really got to me over time. Now, each night as I clean/close down the kitchen, I pull out our microwavable corning ware (with rubber/plastic lids) and put leftovers in these serving containers. The leftovers always consist of a meat, grain and vegetable.

    My husband has to socialize as he stands in line at the microwave and is forced to get exercise by taking the stairs to the microwave. He is often the envy of others with his leftovers which could range from meatloaf to salmon, or roast beef, pork chops, etc. (my husband would not eat pbj if paid!).

    I enjoyed the exchanges between Limewater and Stevie K. Naturally, I feel that Limewater was spot on!! I am putting the food in the kitchen away anyway what difference in time does it take for me to put the leftovers in one or two extra containers? Great posting to all!!

  • » Can you Recommend Some Cold Lunch Ideas? | Working Mother of a Toddler on Parenting, Motherhood, and WAHM Issues | Modern Mami @ says:

    […] Clever Dude: Frugal Lunch by Clever Dudette […]

  • Boy, there sure are a lot of people complaining!!! I figure if you don’t have anything nice to say…..
    Anyway, I liked what you put up….easy and NORMAL food.
    I’ve spent the past month trying to spend as little money as possible. By staying at work and bringing my lunch, I have made the same tank of gas last over two weeks and I still have over a quarter of a tank left! I also have a lot more money in the bank!
    I’m not much of a sandwich person, so I make double the dinner and we have the leftovers for lunch. For the days that I forget to bring something or didn’t make enough for leftovers, I keep cans of soup and crackers in my drawer at work. I also have granola bars, goldfish crackers, and wheat thins stashed for snacks. The company I work for packs apples, so I can go out any time and get one off the line. I should bring a jar of peanut butter and an apple slicer to work! lol!

  • My husband eats last night’s leftovers for his lunch. Example-Today’s lunch:

    2 left over oven fried chicken drumsticks, mashed potatoes, and green beans. He does drink soda. (I’ve got him down to store brand) For desert he has peanut butter cookies that I made this past weekend.
    Tomorrow he will have tonight’s leftovers, and so on. We always have bread and lunch meat on hand for times when we don’t have enough left overs. I don’t see what the big deal is about taking last nights left overs for lunch-I do it too.

Leave a Comment