Packed Lunch Ideas {Affordable, Easy, No Microwaving!}

Hello friends!

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve packed lunches. During harvest, my dad and brothers often worked the field all day and into the night to get the crops in before bad weather – and that meant they didn’t come in for meals. My sisters and I would help Mom pack brown paper lunch bags and thermoses of tea or water, then drive through the bumpy stubble of the cornfields toward the tractors. There was something so special about eating a hot dog on an old blanket by the side of the field with my family.

These days I pack my husband a lunch almost every workday for him to eat on the road. No microwave, refrigerator, or break room means I have to get creative. If you need cold packed lunches for work or school, this post is for you!

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I usually pack five things for Sully’s lunch to make it balanced and filling. You don’t have to be that complicated, of course, but I like this combination:

  1. Sandwich/protein
  2. Chips/salty snack
  3. Vegetable
  4. Fruit
  5. Dessert

I decided to break down the post by these categories and give you inexpensive ideas for each one.

p r o t e i n

lunch (12)

cheese and crackers | apple halves | baby carrots with dip | peanuts | fudge

  • Ham and cheese sandwich // This is what I most often pack. The bread is usually sourdough or biscuits. You can add extra condiments or toppings like lettuce, tomato, onion, or pickles, but Sully likes it basic. 🙂
  • Ham and cheese roll-up // To take out the carbs, skip the bread and roll up the ham and cheese.
  • Peanut butter, honey, and banana // Like PB&J but fancier.
  • PB&J // Or you could just be classic.
  • Tortilla wrap // I usually make these like ham and cheese sandwiches with tortillas instead of bread, but you can add in veggies like julienned carrots, cucumbers, etc.
  • BBQ chicken sandwich // I’ll make this after roasting a whole chicken for supper the night before. I save and shred the extra bits of meat to put on sourdough with some mayonnaise and barbeque sauce.
  • Biscuits and cheese // Sully loves both biscuits and cheese, so a couple times I’ve made him a biscuit, cheese, and mayo sandwich.
  • Hard boiled eggs // When eggs were cheap, this made a super inexpensive protein source… If you have chickens, it still does! I usually hardboil a batch of eggs when they’re about to get old. Slice each in half and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Egg salad // Dice hardboiled eggs and add other ingredients to taste: mayonnaise, relish, mustard, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and fresh parsley. I usually serve it on sourdough.
  • Cheese and crackers // We’ve found out it’s better to pack the crackers and cheese separately or the crackers will get soft real fast. :[]

Tips: The sliced cheese at Walmart is the same price as block cheese and way easier. I almost always use homemade bread instead of buying it because it’s healthier, tastier, and often cheaper. Sourdough bread in particular only needs flour, water and salt. My favorite breads are this sourdough and these biscuits. You can also make homemade tortillas!

lunch

S A L T Y   S N A C K s

lunch (1)

ham and cheese on sourdough | chocolate bar | clementines | chips | cucumbers with dip |

  • Chips // Walmart and Aldi both have cheap chips, but I think Walmart’s brand taste better. 😛 We especially like Great Value brand Doritos.
  • Peanuts // A filling source of extra protein if you didn’t pack a sandwich.
  • Random snacks // You know – pretzels, cracker packs, the random stuff you have in your pantry…
  • Popcorn // Popcorn is super cheap and fun. You can pop it yourself or use the microwaveable kind.
  • Sourdough crackers // We both enjoy this sourdough cracker recipe I’ll make when I have lots of starter discard.

Tips: Chips and snacks can get really expensive. Shop around and you can find off-brand snacks you still like.

lunch 3

V E G E T A B L E s

lunch (2)

ham and cheese on sourdough | cucumbers with dip | banana | chips | double chocolate cookie

  • Baby carrots // You can get a nice bag of baby carrots at Walmart for $0.98 in our town. So much easier than peeling and chopping whole carrots!
  • Cucumbers // I like to leave small stripes of the peel on because it feels fancier and also healthier. 😛
  • Broccoli // Fresh broccoli is also pretty cheap per serving and is delicious roasted for supper too.
  • Celery (with PB) // You can pack celery with dip or fill the sticks with peanut butter for extra protein and flavor.
  • Garden veggies // This is easy in summer if you have a garden. It’s a cheaper option for some veggies that are pricier in the store. Cherry tomatoes are really easy to grow and grant prolific harvests. Also try colorful bell peppers, radishes, and snap peas.

Tips: If you’re like Sully, you will be much less reluctant to eat vegetables if there is dip involved, haha. I’ve used leftover Ranch packets from fast food restaurants like CFA or just small containers. Another great idea is to pour some Ranch dressing into the bottom of a plastic cup and stick the veggies in so the bottom tips are covered in dip (see picture above). Wrap the top with tinfoil or plastic wrap.

FRUIT

lunch (4)

ham and cheese roll | hardboiled eggs | baby carrots | watermelon | (plus extras in lunch bag)

  • Apples (with PB) // You can pack apples whole, sliced, halved, or filled with peanut butter.
  • Clementines // A bag of these will go a long way. Also great for breakfasts.
  • Bananas // These are probably the cheapest fruit per pound if you include the peel. I usually only buy a few at a time though because you can’t pack lunches for more than a few days in a row before the bunch gets too ripe.
  • Pears // This autumn I realized that pears were sometimes cheaper than apples – and I like them way better!
  • Peaches // Another thing to check for when they’re in season. Summer peaches are the best.
  • Watermelon // A big watermelon can be cut up into enough servings for many lunches.
  • Honeydew // Another melon that’s usually not too expensive.
  • Strawberries // If you check at the right time you can find super cheap strawberries. Especially at Aldi!
  • Homegrown fruit // I have a blackberry bush beside the patio I love to harvest from in early summer. You may be able to forage black raspberries or blackberries depending on where you live.

Tip: I try to buy fruit for around $2/lb. Search around and see what is cheapest in each season.

DESSERT

lunch (10)

apple halves | cheese | biscuits and cheese | chocolate truffles | peanut butter pretzels | baby carrots with dip

  • Cookies // Cookies are my favorite kind of dessert to bake for packed lunches since they’re not sticky or crumbly like bars or cake, and you can easily make a bunch of dough at a time.
  • Brownies // A kind of bar that packs easily.
  • Candy // Usually if we have candy from gifts or random sources, I’ll pack some pieces in Sully’s lunch for dessert.

Tips: I started by packing everything in Ziploc bags and putting them in this insulated lunch bag. Then Sully got a bento box for Christmas (here’s a similar one) and now I use that when I can instead of wasting so many bags. I still put the bento box in the lunchbag so it stays cool. {affiliate links above}

lunch 2

Well that was a fun post to make. Cooking and food preparation is a part of marriage I’ve quite enjoyed so far. I want to start sharing more “homemaking” type posts, and maybe more food ideas, so let me know if there’s any you’d like to see!

What is your favorite kind of packed lunch?

Thanks so much for reading, my friends, and have a lovely day!

***Allison***

25 thoughts on “Packed Lunch Ideas {Affordable, Easy, No Microwaving!}

  1. yummmy!! 💗 thank you for including such a variety of things to choose from. tbh, i LOVEEE hard boiled eggs so much lol. that bbq chicken sandwich sounds delightful too. the lunches you pack look very neat and cute! 🥰 it inspires me to eat a bit healthier.

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    1. I tried to include a good variety so yay! Yeah I know, there’s something nice about hardboiled eggs. XD And BBQ chicken sandwiches! Thanks so much. I’m glad it inspired you. ❤️

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  2. You got a lot of good ideas here. I don’t have much variety for my husband’s lunches/dinners (he works third shift). Lately, it’s been either meat and cheese sandwich on homemade bread or rice and bean borrito. I also usually add some homemade banana bread or something along with bars. He doesn’t mind the simplicity.

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    1. Why thank you! Yeah, my husband doesn’t mind lack of variety too. Part of why I change it up is for my own sake, haha! But he does like being surprised sometimes. Banana bread is a great idea!

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  3. This was a cool post! I love all these ideas, and I might have to try some next time we go on a road trip. (since I have no other reason to need packed lunches, haha)

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  4. You are SO creative! Also, your bread baking AND photography skills just make these lunches look so rustic and beautiful. I love them! I agree with the comment above… “Only ou could make me hungry with a post on packed lunches.” I feel the same! Ha, ha! I’m over here wanting one. Ha, ha! I struggle sometimes with no-heat lunches (and my husband needs them when he drives bus on the weekends). This inspired me to buy him a bento box! Thank you for the ideas!!

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  5. I really enjoyed this post, Allison! I’m usually at home for lunch, but I enjoy packing lunches when we’re on the go. I’m looking forward to more homemaking-type posts!

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