35+ Non-Boring Lunch Ideas

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One of the things I most often get asked, besides what camera I use (Canon Digital Elph for out and about, Nikon D3000 at home,) and if I can post the recipe my Mom made for our Sunday dinner is, got any lunch ideas?

Lunch isn’t the most glamorous meal of the day, and a lot of people find it’s easier to hit the nearest drive-thru, or place a lunch order, than stand in front of the fridge at 7am trying to figure out what they’re going to eat 5 hours later.

Woman looking inside the fridge

But, as many of you know, eating out adds up. If you spend $5 minimum on lunch every day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year (2 weeks for vacay – woot!) – that’s $1,250!

Lunch bag with green tag price

You can take a 5-day, all-inclusive trip to Mexico for that kind of cash! Not to mention drive-thru and takeout options are not always the healthiest, often leaving you feeling icky and sluggish for the rest of the afternoon.

cat

(source)

The alternative isn’t chowing down on cheap, but boring, PB&J sandwiches for the rest of your life though. Here are 35 tasty, inexpensive, non-boring lunch ideas:

Choose Lunch Friendly Recipes

Make then package any of these lunch-friendly salad, soup or sandwich recipes:

Black Bean, Quinoa & Citrus Salad

Chicken Noodle Soup

California Rolls

Chicken Salad – Mayo free!

Greek Quinoa Salad

Homemade Chipotle Burrito Bowl

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mom’s Maid-Rites

Steak, Feta & Artichoke Salad

Turkey Maid-Rites

Cook Freezer Friendly Recipes

These recipes are great to make during the week for dinner, then freeze individual leftover portions for lunches down the road. Just defrost for 2-3 minutes in the microwave, and cook on high for another couple minutes until warmed through.

Baked Bowties

BBQ Pulled Pork II

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli & Rice Casserole

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili

Quinoa Spinach Bake

Spinach & Artichoke Casserole

Sweet & Spicy Chili

Vegetarian Enchiladas

Wine-Braised Beef Shepard’s Pie

White Chili

Ban Lunchtime Boredom

Falling into a rut of eating the same thing for lunch every single day is the quickest way to send yourself straight to the drive-thru. Salads are my secret weapon for avoiding lunchtime boredom, as the topping ideas are virtually endless. I like to make “Kitchen Sink Salads” by throwing in everything “but the kitchen sink”.

Click here for my tips to build a better salad, including gobs of topping ideas.

BTW: Don’t forget to keep a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge at work. There’s nothing worse than having to eat a dry salad because you forgot to bring yours in!

Find These Frozen Meals

Some pre-packaged frozen meals, while not ideal, are often a better choice than a KFC Big Bowl for lunch. (Mmm…kfcbigbowls…) Here are my go-to brands/picks:

Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake (my #1 fave of all time)

Kashi Spicy Black Bean Enchilada

Kashi Tuscan Veggie Bake

Amy’s Mexican Casserole Bowl

Amy’s Cheese Enchilada

Amy’s Indian Palak Paneer

Trader Joe’s Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas

Think Outside the (Bread) Box

One can only eat so many boring sandwiches on boring bread before one goes crazy. Change things up by making wraps instead! Try any of these yummy flavor combos:

  • Low-sodium deli turkey, bacon (cook multi strips on Sunday, then store them in a ziplock back in the fridge for up to 3 days,) pepper jack cheese, tomato, lettuce, squeeze of Italian salad dressing
  • Low-sodium deli ham, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, banana peppers
  • Low-sodium deli chicken, muenster cheese, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, flavored cream cheese
  • Bagels are also a fun alternative to bread!

Open Deli Tortilla Wrap in a Napkin

Bring Fun Snacks

Think about it – what did you get most excited about when you opened your lunchbox in grade school? The turkey sandwich, or the FRUIT BY THE FOOT (that you had to trade your friend for because your Mom only bought Sunbelt granola bars…)?! Lunch’s supporting cast is often more fun than the main dish itself. Here are my favorite items to fill my lunch box with:

popcorn

Lunchtime Tips

  1. Think about the foods you usually buy for lunch, then figure out a way to recreate them at home. That way you can control the cost and ingredients.
  2. Pack your entire lunch box/bag the night before. THE ENTIRE THING! Chips won’t even get soggy in the fridge. That way you have no excuses for not packing a lunch in the morning when you’re inevitably (ALWAYS – GAH!) running late.
  3. If making salads, prepare 3 or 4 at once in those big 5-6 cup Gladware containers so they are ready to grab and go throughout the week.
  4. If people steal your lunch at the office (which they totally do at Ben’s!) give these anti theft lunch bags a whirl. That outta’ stop ‘em. ;)
  5. Get a cute lunch bag so you’re not literally brown bagging it to work or school. I love this reversible bag, that also supports a great cause!

lunchbags

~~~~~

Do you usually bring your lunch from home, or eat out? Care to share any of your go-to lunch ideas?

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Comments

  1. Great post full of awesome lunch ideas! Whenever I’m out and about I always bring my lunch. My favorite thing to pack is frozen fruit over yogurt (it keeps it cold all morning), homemade trail mix (chocolate chips, almonds, dry cereal), cheese and crackers, pretzels and peanut butter, or oatmeal in a tupperware container to heat up!

  2. Sara 11.10.2011

    First off, I’m not sure I’ve ever commented before, but I love your blog! Your recipes are all amazing. I made the pork carnitas last week and my boyfriend LOVED it! So amazing. I’m such a bad blog reader and slack on commenting, but I’m always reading.

    I’m a big salad person for lunch. Sometimes I’ll do veggies and rice. The best thing about that is I can cook a huge pot of steamed veggies Sunday, 5 servings of rice, divide into 5 containers and I’m set for the week. I usually top with some kind of stir fry or peanut sauce or something, and usually put that on right before I microwave it. I get my protein with that meal by eating a hard boiled egg on the side. My favorite part of that lunch is I can make the whole week at once. With salads the chopped veggies aren’t always so great after 3 days or so.

  3. Kristen 11.10.2011

    Great post, thanks for all the ideas.
    I work about 3 minutes from home so I’m lucky enough to go home and eat but I still get stuck in sandwhich ruts sometimes!

  4. I can’t wait to pour over this post when I get home from work! I try to bring my lunch as often as possible, but it can definitely get boring. Thanks for all the ideas!

  5. Lily 11.10.2011

    I always bring my lunch to work, but I will admit, they are usually pretty boring, so this post is great! I love yogurt for lunch and fruit – my staples! I also one night a week need to bring a dinner, which I reserve for one tv dinner (Amy’s cheddar bowl! YUM). I can deal with a cold lunch, but I hate hate hate having cold dinners! Unless of course its summer, then there really is no other choice! :D

  6. Dione 11.10.2011

    I love packing my lunch…I almost never buy food in the hospital cafeteria where I’m a med lab tech. I have a few go to lunches….and every one of them includes a container of raw veggies and yogurt or kosy shack rice pudding for desser . I will usually switch between a little can of flavored tuna (very popular here in Canada I swear half the people I know eat them for lunch regularly like me) with a couple Babybel cheeses or a piece of aged cheddar. I also will have hummus and crackers, half a sandwich, or flatbreads and laughing cow (or a similar spreadable cheese). I always look forward to my simple lunches, no matter whether I am working the day or graveyard shift.

  7. Whit 11.10.2011

    I used to pick up lunch at my favorite cafe three days a week. It was running me close to $10 a day. I reevaluated and changed that up. Now I hardly ever go out for lunch.

    I usually make pasta salad at the beginning of the week and then have that to go with my sandwiches on the days I decide to bring that. I also eat a lot of soup and leftovers.

    By the way, the spaghetti sauce that was so good it pissed you off? I’ve made it five times since you posted the recipe. It is my all time favorite! And I love taking that leftover spaghetti for lunch. :)

  8. Yuuuuummmmm

  9. Danielle Gohr 11.10.2011

    Love Lunch Ideas. I work in a grocery store and find it hard to beat the same old food offered at good ole Hy-Vee. Thanks for the ideas.

  10. I just bought the Kashi Mayan Harvest bake upon your recommendation–I can’t wait to try it!
    I have a bad habit of always packing my breakfast to take to the office and always eating out for lunch…and I wish I only spent $5 (closer to $10 I am embarrassed to say). this post is great motivation!

  11. Awesome post! I just got a crock pot and I love that you put a bunch of recipes I can try out in one place. I am an avid believer in packing my own lunch. I need to start packing them at night though because I am always running around like a crazy person in the morning. I love these divided tupperware that I stole from my boyfriend. I can put all my salad components in the different compartments and then mix them together at meal time.

  12. Meagan 11.10.2011

    I really enjoy leftovers for lunch! I like to mix up my sandwiches, especially the bread (different flavored wraps, different bagels, ciabatta, multigrain, french bread, sourdough, rye). If I’m at home I will make hot sandwiches or grilled paninis. I always like to switch up the fruit that I eat along with my lunch so that I never get sick of one kind. For my veggies, I like them raw usually with homemade ranch greek yogurt dip or they’re stuffed in my sandwiches if I’m not having leftovers. Having soup is more of a winter thing for me and I only make my own because I don’t like how high the sodium is in canned soups. For extra protein, I cook a hard boiled egg or bring cheese. It definitely makes me feel fuller, longer. : )

  13. Jen C. 11.10.2011

    Trader Joe’s has the best applesauce cups! They are Organic no sugar added “Wild Berry” applesauce. They are fabulous. I put them in my son’s lunch but we both love them. I have also packed him grilled cheese and tomato soup and quesidillas with salsa for something different. I also really love my wrap mat for sandwiches. http://www.wrapnmat.com/

  14. i love these tips/ideas. i spend SO much money eating lunch out… this post will definitely help my budget (and probably my waistline!)

  15. Cari 11.10.2011

    This post is so timely for me! I’ve been so bored with my lunches lately. Thank you for all of the tips!

  16. Marie@feedingfive 11.10.2011

    What a thorough post on lunch ideas. I always eat lunch at home so I am really lucky. I think your suggestion of packing everything up the night before is key because mornings can be pretty hectic. I pack my kids lunch the morning of but I always know what I am going to pack and their school, up the street, doesn’t start until 9. I usually boil a dozen eggs on Sunday because we all love those and they pack well.

  17. Jane 11.10.2011

    Ummm, that is crazy that people steal other peoples lunches! I didn’t realize that this was actually such an issue that they make bags to keep them from doing so! Reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross goes crazy about his turkey “moist maker” sandwich! Ha! Love that episode… :)

    • Iowa Girl Eats 11.11.2011

      They tooootally remind me of that episode too – one of my all time faves!

  18. Sunbelt chocolate chip granola bars were the bomb!!!! I wonder if they are still around??!!

  19. Sarah 11.11.2011

    I’m printing this out! I have a really hard time with lunches. I think I just need to meal plan better. Sometimes it’s hard cooking for just one. Strange, but true.

  20. Hope 11.11.2011

    These are some great tips. I always have the worst time trying to figure out what to bring to work for lunch. I love when dinner has just enough leftovers for lunch. That makes deciding what to bring that much easier. I never buy lunch. I think I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve bought lunch. It’s way too expensive.

  21. I usually just raid the fridge for leftovers at my house (when I’m at my parents)… but it doesn’t always leave me with the healthiest options. I would like to make lunch for the week, but I’m just usually not thinking about that on Sunday… there’s too much football and relaxing ;)

  22. Great ideas! About once a month, I amp up my stash of individually wrapped and frozen bean/veggie/rice burritos. They’re perfect for the days when leftovers (our usual go-to lunch) are scarce. Pop a burrito in the microwave for a couple minutes at lunch (or breakfast!) and you have a quick, filling, healthy meal.

  23. Elyse 11.11.2011

    Great lunch ideas! I started bringing breakfast and lunch to work a couple months back to save for a house and now it feels like I’m blowing money when I don’t! Some of my faves to bring are homemade fried rice, velveeta microwave mac and cheese with broccoli (only around 200 calories!), amy’s frozen meals, and of course the snacks. String cheese, special k bars, fruit, yogurt with granola, veggies, laughing cow tomato basil cheese, almond butter, or 100 calorie packs (popcorn, cookies, etc).

  24. Iowamom 11.11.2011

    Great ideas! I eat at home……..sahm style. :)

  25. Amanda 11.11.2011

    I’ve sooo missed your lunch (and breakfast) posts! Thanks for this! And thanks for those lunch bags… gross! But I am totally ordering those for my mom for Christmas. Her lunches are forever being swiped!

  26. Sarah 11.11.2011

    Thanks for the great lunch ideas! My husband and I both bring our lunches nearly every day, and sometimes I just plain run out of ideas! This week we’ve been doing leftovers for lunches – I made a giant pot of minestrone one night and then bean and rice burritos another night. They each lasted for 2 dinners + 2 lunches for each of us…and we could mix it up throughout the week so we didn’t feel like we were eating a giant batch of leftovers over and over again!

  27. nicole 11.12.2011

    Lunch add’s up quickly! In Boston I can easily spend $8 per lunch. I really try to bring in lunch, but I often forget or I make it and then forget it in the fridge at home. such a killer. Now that you mention the vacation… MUST MAKE LUNCHES!!!

  28. [...] Girl Eat’s Non-Boring Lunch Ideas. I need to take [...]

  29. Dude, I love this post so much! :-) That’s a GREAT tip, doing the whole packing-your-lunch-the-day-before thing. I need to do that, just for organisation purposes, time saving, and for making sure I get a balanced, nutritious mid=day meal. Thank you so much for the inspiration and information! And that cat picture is so funny – bless him…I feel that way sometimes…like, I must take a nap now, lol! :-P xyx

  30. [...] 35+ Non-Boring Lunch Ideas – Did you know if you spend $5 minimum on lunch every day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year that’s $1,250! Kristin thinks you start packing your own lunches and spend the cash on a 5-day, all-inclusive trip to Mexico. I agree! Here are 35+ ideas to get you started. [...]

  31. Danielle 12.03.2011

    Thank you for this!!!I think you’ve saved me for the rest of the school year!

  32. Kary Miller 01.02.2012

    One of my recent take-to-lunch standards is a lettuce wrap. Butter lettuce, shaved turkey, some sort of cheese (I use string cheese often) and a dill pickle spear! Roll it up in the lettuce and munch away.

    I pair it with a flat bread cracker with some hummus and balsamic vinaigrette spread on it.

    What’s nice about it is I can leave the ingredients at work and eat it a few days in the row, saves me a few minutes in the morning from having to remember to grab my lunch:)

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  35. […] 3. Iowa Girl Eats – This is a blog that has a bunch of cool tips for everyday life. One of the cooler blogs she posted was about food. Check out the helpful link to 35+ Non-Boring Lunch Ideas . […]

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