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

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
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

10. Super Steak Sandwich One of my favorite, easy lunches to prepare is a cold steak sandwich. Simply slice steak and bring in an individual container to assemble at the office. Sometimes, you can ask the restaurant for some bread/rolls to even take with you to make a sandwich the next day -- that's always easiest. But if you made your steak at home, buy a nice crusty baguette or ciabatta roll that can stand up to the steak. Bring your favorite steak sauce to dress once assembled.--Executive Chef Manuel Trevino of the new Marble Lane, New York City
11. Curried BBQ Chicken Salad Sandwich Pull all leftover chicken meat from the bone. Mix together with mayo, mustard, curry powder, chopped celery, and salt and pepper. Serve on multi-grain bread lined with a piece of lettuce on the top and the bottom to keep the sandwich from getting soggy before lunch time!--John Stage, Pitmaster and Founder, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, New York City
12. Smoked Turkey Reuben [Buy] pumpernickel or rye bread, Russian dressing, Havarti cheese, sliced smoked turkey breast, coleslaw. Slice the bread and spread the top of each slice with Russian dressing. Top the dressing on each side with a slice of cheese, then turkey. Top the turkey on each with coleslaw, then another slice of cheese and stop with a slice of bread. If you have time, you can grill the sandwich on a Panini grill.--Wolfgang Puck, chef/owner of 17 fine dining restaurants nationwide, including Spago
13. Goat Cheese and Strawberry Salad I take a handful of mixed greens lettuce mix, diced strawberries (apricots or blueberries are also great options; I always try to incorporate what's in season and looks good at the grocery store) and a handful of pine nuts and goat cheese crumbles. Honey mustard vinaigrette works well with this salad; just be sure to keep it on the side so that your lettuce doesn't get soggy.--Executive Chef Amy Eubanks, BLT Fish, New York City
14. Turkey Club [Mine is made] with cranberry sauce, walnut bread, mayonnaise, provolone, spring mix, and salt & pepper. Slice the bread about ½ inch thick and smear mayonnaise on one side. Place a few thinly sliced pieces of turkey on top, cover with a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce, add 3 slices of provolone and a handful of spring greens. Salt and pepper and you've got a great sandwich for lunch.--Chef Tony Gemignani, Tony's Coal-Fired Pizza & Slice House, San Francisco
15. Souped Up Sandwich My favorite go-to sandwich is a roasted turkey, avocado, pepperoni, mozzarella , arugula, pesto mayo (mix mayo with a jar pesto if you don't have time to make it from scratch), on a baguette.--Chef Troy Guard, TAG & TAG RAW, Denver
16. Chef's Secret Salad Combine watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, arugula, basil and sun dried tomatoes in a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (go easy on the salt as the Feta cheese is salty). Sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese. Place 4 wedges on top of the salad. Just before eating, squeeze the lemon juice and mix well.-Executive Chef Ashley James, Four Season Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
17. Deviled Eggs Peel and halve several hard-boiled eggs. Combine the yolk from all the eggs in a separate bowl and mix with some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Then fill each egg halves with an even amount of yolk mix. My secret ingredient is to garnish deviled eggs with capers and serve with pickles.--Executive Chef Patrick Connolly, Bobo, New York City
18. Kitchen Sink Salad I suggest taking a half hour each Sunday to chop up a bunch of fruits, vegetables & lettuces, and pre-making 3-4 salads to bring for lunch during the week. I like making "Kitchen Sink Salads" where I include anything and everything I have in the fridge, from carrots and celery, to strawberries and nuts, to cheese and deli meat!--Blogger Kristin Porter of IowaGirlEats
19. Easy Avocado Meal Pack an avocado, salt, lemon, and toasted sesame seeds. Halve the avocado, take the [pit] out, and slice the halves in the jacket. Squeeze the lemon on each, season with salt and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. It's healthy, filling, easy to transport.--Executive Chef Patrick Connolly, Bobo, New York City
What's YOUR favorite lunch to bring to the office? Please share in the comments section below.

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