Easy Lunches for Student Budgets!

hem576 Posts: 2 Member
Hey y'all!

I'm working on a student budget here, and I would really love some recommendations for healthy portable lunches that are quick to prepare, cheap and, preferably, help with weight loss - if anyone could help, that would be fantastic!

Thanks! X


  • geebusuk
    geebusuk Posts: 3,348 Member
    I make a big salad up with lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions and carrots (peppers are the most expensive - go easy if on a serious budget) which will last me 5 days or so if I use 3 lettuces and other stuff to match. Negligible calories per serving.
    Then add whatever I'm eating to that - luckily I like my meal mixed with salad, which a lot don't.

    If you've got access to a microwave, really cheap would be a pack of the cheapest eggs - if you keep checking, you can make really good scrambled eggs in the microwave ... chuck ontop of a portion of salad.
  • susanayt97
    susanayt97 Posts: 309 Member
    Salads or tortillas filled with tuna and corn and whatever veggies you want!
    I also would like some more ideas though :D
  • shlavannah
    shlavannah Posts: 3 Member
    Tostadas with black beans and shred up some chicken! Avocado and tomato too if it fits your budget. It's quick easy and about 8 bucks that can easily give you 5 meals
  • epiclife88
    epiclife88 Posts: 8 Member
    Enchiladas or wraps, BBQ chicken and cheese crescents, quesadillas, home made pizza, stir fries, pastas
  • AlyssaPetsDogs
    AlyssaPetsDogs Posts: 421 Member
    Hi there! Student on a budget as well here!

    I do a lot of mealprep! It makes it a lot easier to have foods made ahead of time and also to save money so I don't eat out as much!

    My go to is crockpot salsa chicken (chicken breasts with salsa in the crock pot. Shred it) and I will bulk it up with fajita veggies and a little low fat cheese and more salsa or taco sauce! You could eat with a tortilla, but I eat with a spoon!

    I also have made stuffed peppers with shredded chicken in them!

    I occasionally make Buffalo chicken dip in the crock pot (with Greek yogurt, Greek cream cheese, low fat cheese etc) and dip with celery. It feels like a treat, but it's a lot for the portion size and so good!

    I will do salads on occasion and also recently started doing hardboiled eggs because they are so easy! I got an egg cooker! I am looking at ways to make them more exciting to eat. I heard you can try it with Tuna. Haven't tried yet!

    This week I also made some low carb meatballs (beef, almond flour, egg, onion) with some tomato sauce baked on top with a little low fat cheese. I freeze them in packs of 2 so I can thaw out in the microwave or just let them thaw in my backpack and eat them cold like a savage. So easy and super good!

    I would have to go back and look at other recipes I have made!

    Those are my go tos and end up being pretty cheap! Of course I weigh everything and log accordingly!

    Feel free to add me and you can check out my diary. I just started the semester back up and I'm back at logging and doing new recipes! Good luck!
  • kemoon0915
    kemoon0915 Posts: 113 Member
    My go-to is chicken salad. I either cook some chicken in the oven with very basic seasonings, or buy a fully cooked rotisserie chicken from Walmart which is only about $7. I make it with apple, celery, Greek yogurt, and lemon pepper and eat it either on Triscuits or a sandwich thin. One rotisserie chicken makes 8-10 4 oz servings
  • Rosemary7391
    Rosemary7391 Posts: 232 Member
    I have a food flask - it means that many of my cheap dinners (eg chilli bulked out with veg) can also do double duty as lunches and stay hot no matter how late I have lunch. I wouldn't put rice in it, and pasta is a little tricky (half cook it), but lots of saucy things work brilliantly.
  • geebusuk
    geebusuk Posts: 3,348 Member
    Oh, for carbs, I go for a mixture of spiralized butternut squash and carrot. (Sometimes onions and or peppers too.)
    I used this to replace either noodles or carrots.
    One lot keeps for a few days and I'm just experimenting with freezing it.
    Significantly less calories for a good lot more substance. Does need to be microwaved with a little water for 4 minutes to have hot.
    I'll often add an Indian or Chinese ready meal to them for a quick, tasty and still low calorie lunch with relatively low calories (say 400-600 for about 750g of food).
  • tomnelson_
    tomnelson_ Posts: 3 Member
    A really really quick one is 2 tins of tuna mixed with half a jar of salsa , looks like cat food and won't win any awards but is fairly nice considering
  • rainingribbons
    rainingribbons Posts: 1,051 Member
    If you have a rice cookier, rice dishes are your friend! You can make a batch of rice for the entire week and then plan your meals around that. Last summer I would make batches of chili, burrito bowls, etc. to put over 1/2-3/4c of rice. Only spent $5-$8 a week on lunches, and they were super nutritious and filling.
  • dklibert
    dklibert Posts: 1,196 Member
    Inside out egg rolls are super fast and easy. As long as you don't over cook the coleslaw mix they re-heat well. I also love sheet pan meals. Chicken fajitas are super easy and you can make bowls with cilantro rice. I cook the rice in the microwave and then add the zest and juice of a lime and a handful of chopped cilantro.

  • SkylerSayys
    SkylerSayys Posts: 16 Member
    My go-to quick and easy for days I forgot to pack a lunch before class and am doing it the morning of is actually pastake salad because it's so fast and I can usu all find something in the fridge for it since it goes great with any veggies. The best part, if you have a mason jar available, it's super easy to control portions. Just make some of your favorite (or cheapest) pasta (you want about a cup of it AFTER its been cooked) and put that in the bottom of the jar and pile on all the good stuff on top. My personal favorite is to use spinach, cucumber, and tomatoes (I personally hate these unless it's the yellow/orange/purple cherry variety) and add a little bit of a vinagerette on top. Cheapest would honestly be, if you're buying premade, one of the salad dressings. But that's not always healthiest. As a college student though I do sometimes substitute cheap over healthy in some things because healthy can occasionally be too expensive. It's just knowin what is okay to get that's less healthy and cheaper.
  • RaccoonDragon
    RaccoonDragon Posts: 14 Member
    edited September 2017
    Assuming you have olive oil and salt and pepper already.

    2 lb of boneless skinless chicken breasts - ~$6.40
    4 sweet potatoes - ~ $3.00
    3 frozen broccoli steamer bags (on stock up when they are on sale for a dollar $3.00)
    Total for weeks lunches - $11.40

    I meal prep this stuff for the week here's how:

    Grill Chicken to your liking and then cut into 6 oz portions and put in meal prep box.

    Slice the sweet potato into 1/4 inch slices and then cut those in half. Lightly Coat Sweet Potato slices in olive oil season with salt pepper (and thyme if you have it for free) and roast in a pan in the oven at 425 for 50 minutes flipping once. Divide into 5 portions and shovel it into the meal prep box.

    Cook the broccoli for 1 minute less than directed. open and divide the three bags amongst the 5 boxes. (I cook for a minute less because you will be microwaving this later and that will cook them the rest of the way to the proper doneness)

    This gives you 5, 500-600 Calorie, Meals made and packed for lunch for about 2.25 per meal.

    You can cook and pack this all in about an hour or so.

    Hope this helps.

  • whosshe
    whosshe Posts: 597 Member
    Buy a big box of minute rice (will last months) and frozen veggies. These 2 things are a must in my kitchen.

    Always invest in meat every week and also some good extra virgin olive oil (this will also last months).

    I cook the rice, veggies, and meat (I always buy boneless skinless chicken breasts) and then just mix it all together and top it off with a bit of frank's buffalo sauce. I could eat this meal everyday.

    1 cup uncle ben's riz perfection- 220 cals
    1 cup green giant mixed vegetables - 93 cals
    100g boneless skinless chicken breasts - 106g
    Gallo extra virgin olive oil 1tsp - 40 cals

    Total calories for meal 449 cals. Ofcourse you can cook up more chicken or veggies :)
  • juliamcmullen92
    juliamcmullen92 Posts: 28 Member
    edited September 2017
    One thing that helped me a lot since starting grad school is buying an insulated lunchbox, I think the brand is PackIt and it is really cool because you can freeze it every night, then during the day it will keep food cold for hours. This is really nice if, like me, you are at school for 8+ hours. (I don't know if you live on campus or not, but either way, it's useful.) When I was in college I never packed lunches because I was lazy and would buy food or go back to my dorm between classes, but having it on me has really saved me time and money and made it easier to plan ahead.
    I usually bring snacks like carrots and hummus, yogurts, trail mix, apples and almond butter, grapes, soft boiled egg, etc. And I will bring myself one small treat (like a chocolate) to keep myself from craving dessert. I thought I'd be a dork with my lunchbox but everyone in my program has them because we have 2.5 hour classes haha!

    In terms of actual recipes, I agree with the other posters that a go to is meat+veggies+rice. You can stick to that basic formula and vary the spices (e.g. Greek chicken, steak/chicken fajitas, etc). I really like buying the flavored rice or couscous packs, the Middle East ones are really good, but not the most economical. The instant rice single servings are really easy, but again I think the cheapest way would be to buy a big bag of rice and make it in bulk for the week, as @rainingribbons said. It has more flavor if you cook with chicken stock or bouillon.

    Investing in some pantry staples (admittedly, I am not as budget conscious as I could be haha) has made cooking a lot easier. For example, having a lot of spices, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic etc on hand means even cooking a random 20 minute stir fry or baked chicken doesn't have to be super bland and blah. Treat yourself to maybe like 5-10 spices that you use regularly. They will last a really long time and make cooking interesting food a lot easier will help a lot. E.g. I'll do oregano/basil/parsley for Italian, cumin/chili powder for fajitas, ginger/garlic/soy sauce for Asian, etc. and I've been putting garlic salt/powder on everything lately! Haha. (If you already do all this feel free to ignore!)

    Some recipes I've liked that were fairly fast, packable, and not the same super bland thing (not sure how cheap they all are but you can always make substitutions or leave out expensive ingredients like specific spices you won't use much).
    http://www.food.com/recipe/super-easy-baked-chicken-breasts-254061 http://community.myfitnesspal.com/en/discussion/1012338
    http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/250068/mediterranean-wrap/ (can't remember if I've actually made this one but I love Greek food so)
    https://www.foodfaithfitness.com/turkey-burger-recipe-mason-jar-salad/ (The mason jar part is cutesy but not necessary haha, I usually make homemade turkey burgers and the sauce part is really good. I also add mushrooms)
    http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/asian-salmon-bowl-with-lime-drizzle-51101210 (I used bok choy instead of spinach)

    Buzzfeed has a lot of lists of recipes that, while annoying, can be useful, like here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jemimaskelley/i-hate-ramen#.ipM0PP5a2a and a million others https://www.buzzfeed.com/annaborges/sad-desk-salad-no-more?utm_term=.qaxxdRqnkA#.hhY4pq8jvN

    Also, agree with @geebusuk that using salad to bulk up a meal helps a lot. I like buying the bags of premade salad kits, it takes one second to mix up and you can add meat or whatever. (I don't always use the provided dressings cuz they can be high in cals/fat--sometimes I just use half). It would be cheaper to buy lettuce and other veggies but I'm lazy haha.

    I'm struggling with creative ideas too so thanks all for the advice and any other ideas are appreciated!
  • smh_cliff
    smh_cliff Posts: 146 Member
    I buy up reduced veg, or keep a stock of frozen, to make soups which I then freeze
  • Lounmoun
    Lounmoun Posts: 8,426 Member
    A sandwich is pretty easy. Put whatever you like on it. Use whole grain bread. Meat, cheese, vegetables, eggs, hummus, peanut butter, whatever. Just keep amounts to your calorie goal.
    Cooked meat, cottage cheese, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, fruit, dinner leftovers, raw vegetables, salad are easy to pack for lunches.