Lunch

$5 (or Less!) Lunches to Get You from Monday to Friday

Repeat after us: no more sad desk lunches.

March 25, 2019

I went through a phase earlier this year during which I ate a toasted English muffin for lunch every single day, for three weeks. I started out with a bang. Think, flashy towers of toasted muffin halves, swathed in mayo and sambal, cradling fried eggs. Grilled cheeses with a whole gang of melty constituents and caramelized alliums. And then, as time went on, things took a turn. One Wednesday, the toaster wasn't working, and all I could rustle up was a handful of wilted arugula and olive oil. A few days later, I found myself tucking into a muffin-half swirled with a single teaspoon of peanut butter, from a jar a colleague had intended to discard.

By about day 19, even my polite seatmates could no longer avert their gazes.

"I have some leftover rice pilaf!" blurted Eric. "It's in the fridge. You should really, um, switch it up."

In an effort to prove I could take a hint—and, honestly, because I started to find cornmeal crumbs in all of my pants pockets—I decided then and there it was time to make a change. With the help of my colleagues, I compiled the following list of $5 or less lunches to get me through a full work week (plus, one bonus).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“So all I bought was the log of goat cheese ($3.99 minus 20% =$3.19) , the arugula ($3.99 minus 20% =$3.19) and the lemon ($0.49), for a total cost of: $6.87. But two fritters per serving wasn't enough for me. I'd say this works out to more like 3 servings, at $2.29 per meal. That's actually less than the author's estimated price per serving, but ig you didn't have the oil and/or quinoa this would cost significantly more too. ”
— Alanai
Comment

A quick note about how our math works: We base prices on local markets or online delivery services, like FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh. When it comes to pantry staples (think: salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar...), we assume you already have those on hand.

Ready?


Squash & Cheddar Kale Salad

Not all desk salads are created equal. This one calls in deeply roasted squash, toasted almonds, and cheddar for a punchy, savory-sweet lunch that tastes even better the next day.

The math:

  • About $1.00 of squash ($3.99 for a whole one)
  • $2.36 of kale ($2.36 for one bunch)
  • 44 cents' worth of almonds ($6.99 for 16 ounces)
  • 81 cents' worth of cheddar ($5.64 for 7 ounces)
  • 55 cents' worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)

The total: $5.16 for two servings: $2.58 for one serving


Spanish Tortilla

This Spanish Tortilla is one of my all-time favorite recipes on Food52—it's perfect hot or cold, on its own or with a healthy dollop of garlic aioli. (Or, you know, a side salad.)

The math:

  • $2.58 worth of potatoes (2 pounds at $1.29 per pound)
  • $1.19 worth of onion ($1.19 for one)
  • $2.33 worth of eggs ($3.49 for a dozen)
  • About $1.50 of Parmesan ($4.75 for a quarter-pound)
  • 40 cents' worth of butter ($3.79 for 8 ounces)

The total: $8 for six servings; $1.33 for one serving


Curried Chickpea Sandwich

Meet the sandwich that'll make you want to cancel your lunch plans for the rest of the week, so you can keep bringing in more iterations of this one.

The math:

  • $2.58 worth of canned chickpeas (2 cans at $1.29 each)
  • 20 cents’ worth of celery (from 1 bunch, at $2.99)
  • 20 cents’ worth of shallot (for one small shallot)
  • $1 worth of mayo ($4.99 for a 15 ounce jar)
  • 30 cents’ worth of curry powder ($3.99 per jar)
  • 30 cents’ worth of turmeric ($3.99 per jar)
  • 50 cents’ worth of parsley (99 cents for a small bunch)
  • $2.32 worth of sliced bread ($6.99 per loaf at the sandwich creator's neighborhood market)

Total cost: $7.40 for four servings; $1.85 for one serving


Broccoli Salad With Pesto, Apples & Walnuts

Broccoli salad is a dream of a make-ahead lunch, considering broccoli holds up well in the fridge—this version has sliced apple and chopped walnuts, but feel free to swap whatever you've got on hand.

The math:

  • $3.99 worth of basil ($3.99 for a bunch)
  • 23 cents' worth of garlic ($4.99 for a pound)
  • 55 cents' worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)
  • $4 worth of walnuts ($7.99 for 8 ounces)
  • About $1.75 of broccoli ($3.49 for roughly two heads)
  • $1.78 worth of apple ($1.78 for one)

The total: $12.30 for three servings; $4.10 for one serving


Cheesy Fritters & Simple Salad

After "cheesy fritters," what more do you need to hear? (Run, don't walk.)

The math:

  • $1.09 worth of quinoa ($5.99 for 16 ounces)
  • $2.38 worth of goat cheese ($2.99 for 4 ounces)
  • $3.49 worth of arugula ($3.49 for large container)
  • 55 cents' worth of lemon ($0.55 for one)

The total: $7.51 for two servings; $3.76 for one serving


Spaghetti With Garlic, Olive Oil & Sausage

If you've made it this far in the under-$5 lunch lineup, congratulations: It's Saturday! Celebrate with cheesy, garlicky sausage pasta.

The math:

  • $1.09 worth of spaghetti ($1.09 per pound)
  • $5.62 worth of sausage ($5.62 per pound)
  • About 30 cents' worth of garlic ($0.51 for a head)
  • 49 cents' worth of red chili flakes ($2.94 for a bottle)
  • $3.92 worth of Parmesan ($7.84 for about 5 ounces)
  • 75 cents' worth of parsley ($1.49 for a bunch)

The total: $12.17 for four servings; $3.04 for one serving


What's your go-to, wallet-friendly lunch? Let us know in the comments!

7 Comments

Alanai April 3, 2019
I made two of these recipes -- the cheesy fritters with arugula and the chickpea salad sandwich -- and thought they were both great. The main thing I would point out is that these could easily cost more than the stated price unless you already have the ingredients on hand and incorporate the extra stuff you inevitably buy into future meals.

Take the chick pea salad, which I made today: celery ($3.99), parsley ($1.50), curry powder ($3.69), turmeric ($3.34), chickpeas ($2), shallots ($1), tomatoes ($2.79), whole wheat pita ($1.39). I already had the mayo, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper at home. I also had a 20% off coupon for some of the groceries, so the total cost to me was: $16.91 or about $4.23 per serving.

Was it good? Yes! But realistically, no one buys one stalk of celery or half a bunch of parsley or half a cup of mayo. Some stuff you already have, most you don't.

For the fritters, I already had the quinoa, salt, pepper and oil. So all I bought was the log of goat cheese ($3.99 minus 20% =$3.19) , the arugula ($3.99 minus 20% =$3.19) and the lemon ($0.49), for a total cost of: $6.87. But two fritters per serving wasn't enough for me. I'd say this works out to more like 3 servings, at $2.29 per meal. That's actually less than the author's estimated price per serving, but ig you didn't have the oil and/or quinoa this would cost significantly more too.
 
susielou March 31, 2019
Your recipes look tasty and nourishing. What about using some of the same ingredients in different recipes, so that buying them, especially fresh, is not a one-time purchase? (Ex. Kale, chickpeas, quinoa, shallots, part.)
 
Yolanda March 31, 2019
Do you just reheat the fritters in the microwave the next day or what?
 
kimikoftokyo March 31, 2019
I guess I better get buying. I am the type who will eat the same things everyday out of simple frustration because I do not know what to buy anymore. Lol
 
Sanpan March 31, 2019
Looks good definitely worth trying
 
Marc L. March 31, 2019
Ditto: please, more Whole 30 lunches for $5 using foods that hold up well in a drug the next day. Great idea!
 
Ashley March 26, 2019
More of these, please! Although I do question whether the pasta would get dry after sitting overnight + several hours during the day