Cheap and Healthy Lunch Ideas: Recommendations from Wolfgang Puck & 18 Others

Last Updated Aug 15, 2011 7:59 AM EDT

Let's do the quick math here: You buy a $7 sandwich and a $3 drink, 5 days a week at the place around the corner from your office. But if you bring your lunch, you'd be hard-pressed to spend more than $5/day. Total yearly savings? $1200.

Now let's consider the effect on your health and wellness. "Packing your own lunch puts the power in your own hands when it comes to controlling calories, portion sizes, sodium and fat content, etc. There's no second guessing what went on behind someone else's closed kitchen doors," says Lisa Kimmel, a registered dietitian at Yale University.

So you're saving money and your waistline. But how many boring PB&Js or limp turkey & swiss sandwiches can one brown-bagger eat? To avoid these flavor-lacking lunches, I asked some of the nation's top chefs and food blogger what they love to pack for a day at the office. Here's what they said:

1. Kefi's Greek Salad This salad can be made in less than 2 minutes and is both healthy and filling. Cut iceberg lettuce into paper-thin strips and add feta cheese, olives, peeled cucumber, grape tomatoes, and onion. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and toss with either olive oil or some of your favorite light vinaigrette.--Chef Michael Psilakis of Kefi, New York City
2. Fruit, Cheese & Bread Plate In my opinion, the best packed lunches are fruits, cheese, and a beautiful piece of crusty fresh bread. Grain salads are [also] particularly easy to make, store, and eat on the go as well. I really love bulgur wheat with raisins, apples and dill.--Chef Jennifer Sant'anna Hill of 508 GastroBrewery, New York City
3. Mediterranean Tuna Salad Drain tuna salad, gently mix with olive oil, lemon juice, diced tomato, red onion or scallion, chopped capers, and pitted kalamata olives, and serve over mixed greens, or put it between a good whole wheat or twelve grain bread.--Chef Matthew Leonard of the Viceroy, Miami
4. Make-It-Your-Own Bean Salad Canned beans are quick and easy to mix with veggies into a quick all-in-one lunch. Mix and match beans, veggies, fruits, and dressings. [Varieties include:] Mediterranean with white beans with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese in an olive oil and herb dressing; Tropical with black beans with peppers, mango cubes and cilantro in lime juice and coconut oil; and Spicy with a mix of pinto, black and kidney beans, mustard, jalapenos, and a splash of orange juice. Serve with whole grain crackers or a slice of toast.--Blogger Kath Younger, RD of Katheats.com
5. Grilled Chinese Chicken Salad Grill chicken ahead of time or purchase from your deli, cut into julienne strips, and toss with snow peas, some pre-cooked shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, scallions. Put into your lunch container over greens and dress with your favorite Asian dressing from your grocer's condiment aisle, and even top with cashews or chow mein for the crunch factor.--Chef Matthew Leonard, Viceroy, Miami
6. Leftover Roast Vegetables Roasted veggies are the best. [When I worked in an office I would] roast a batch of sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, etc. at the beginning of the week and turn the roasted veggies into pita sandwiches, tortilla pizzas, wraps, salads, or even top them with some marinara sauce and cheese.--Blogger Meghann Anderson of Meals and Miles
7. Waldorf Salad [I make mine] with orange segments, fresh turkey breast, grapes, Boston bib lettuce, celery, cucumber, and radishes, served with a goat cheese dressing.--Executive Chef Lucas Manteca of The Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey
8. Terrific Tacos Take any leftover meat from the night before -- some grilled chicken, shrimp, or even simple grilled/sautéed vegetables -- and pack in a separate container. Wrap some store-bought flour, corn, or whole wheat tortillas in tinfoil and assemble when you are ready to eat. I always have guacamole on hand, but you can use your favorite sauces, salsas, or spreads to add a kick to your taco. Use hummus with grilled vegetables, store-bought pico de gallo with grilled chicken, and pack some fresh lime wedges to squeeze over right before you eat, or even slices or turkey with lettuce and tomato for an easy turkey roll-up!--Chef/Owner Julian Medina of Toloache and soon-to-open Toloache 82, New York City
9. Leftover Casseroles My favorite packed lunch is actually a packed dinner! When we are very busy, my husband and I will make a casserole for dinner and serve up the leftovers for lunch. My Santa Fe Casserole is yummy, hot or cold.--Blogger Caitlin Boyle of Healthy Tipping Point and author of Operation Beautiful
Next: 10 more great do-it-yourself lunch ideas
  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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