Monday, March 26, 2012

Reader's Request: Lunch Food for Adults...Beyond Ham and Cheese

One of the easiest ways to save money on food is to pack your husband a lunch

OK, never mind, it's not easy.  It takes planning, time, and energy.  But I can make my husband a chicken wrap for less than $1.00, as opposed to him spending $6.00 on basically the same chicken wrap at Applebees, or send along an Italian roast beef sandwich and chips for $1.25, as opposed to him picking up a burger and fries for $5.00.  I think you'll agree that the savings is worth the planning, time, and energy involved in making his lunch!  Not only does packing a lunch save money, but it's usually healthier to eat food from home rather than going out to eat all the time. 
Many food bloggers post lunch ideas in the fall when the kids go back to school, but I tend to need inspiration in the spring.  My husband works a lot of hours this time of year, which means he needs a big lunch!  And although he's not picky, I do my best to put a little variety into his lunch box.  I figure I don't want to eat the same old ham and cheese sandwich every day, so he probably doesn't want to either :) 

The following is a list of things that I've packed at one time or another over the last few years.  Some of them are probably things you've tried already, but maybe you'll find a new idea or two in here.

(Most of the ideas here are geared towards adults, but my kids do eat some of this stuff too.)

Let's start with that basic ham and cheese sandwich, but change it up:
  • Vary the type of deli meat and cheese on the sandwich.  Try turkey, salami, or roast beef (or a combination), with swiss, pepper jack, or colby jack.  Leftover chicken, pork roast, or beef roast all make great sandwiches as well.
  • Vary the spread.  Instead of mayonnaise and yellow mustard, try red pepper hummus, spicy cilantro hummus (Basha hummus is 50% off at Meijer this week), Dijon mustard, salsa/mayonnaise mixture, barbeque sauce/ranch dressing mixture, Southwest ranch dressing, honey mustard dressing...basically any sort of salad dressing can be used on a sandwich.
  • Change up the bread.  Instead of white or wheat, make the sandwich on an onion or Asiago cheese bagel, or on a deli sub bun.  Or throw all the sandwich ingredients into a flour tortilla for a wrap.  You can also pick up flavored wraps (spinach or sundried tomato) in the deli.
  • Add red or green pepper strips, lettuce, tomato, bacon, pepperoncinis, or pickles to the sandwich.  Think about all the options at Subway, and then get creative in your own kitchen!
  • Tip:  when making the sandwich the night before, layer as follows to prevent soggy bread:  bread, meat, cheese, spread/dressing, veggies, lettuce, bread
Other sandwiches....beyond deli meat and cheese:
  • Egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad on bread or a bagel, or in a wrap.  Lettuce and/or cheese optional.
  • Rasin bun or bread with cheese.
  • Chicken Caesar wrap:  leftover chicken, romaine lettuce, and shredded or grated Parmesan cheese on a flour or spinach tortilla, with Caesar dressing in a separate container.  Caesar croutons can also be added at lunchtime.
  • Easy Chicken Wrap:  diced cooked chicken nuggets (just microwave them long enough so they are thawed), shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, diced tomato, and bacon (optional) in a flour tortilla or flavored wrap, with ranch or honey mustard dressing in a separate container for dipping or adding at lunchtime.
  • Leftover Chicken Wrap:  dice up leftover Parmesan Chicken or Chicken Elegant.  Put it in a flour or spinach tortilla, and top with mayonnaise and an assortment of raw veggies (lettuce, tomato, green pepper, red pepper, broccoli).  Cheese is optional, since both of those chicken recipes include cheese already.
  • Roast Beef Wrap:  leftover beef roast (shredded), swiss or pepperjack cheese, Italian dressing or red pepper hummus, pepperoncinis or pickles in a flour tortilla or flavored wrap.
  • Spinach Salad Wrap:  Put any ingredients you have left from making Spinach Salad into a flour tortilla.  Add leftover cooked chicken or diced chicken nuggets, and put the dressing in a separate container.
Other main course ideas...beyond sandwiches and wraps:
  • Lettuce salad, with dressing separate.  Some lettuce salads stay crispy longer than others.  Most lettuce salads that include fruit will get soggy pretty fast, but romaine and spinach stay crisp longer than iceberg or other varieties.  If you're packing a salad with nuts or something else crunchy like that, make sure to pack that in a separate baggie as well.
  • Pasta salad.  There are so many delicious pasta salad recipes floating around the internet!
  • Vegetable salad (like Broccoli Apple Salad)
  • Crackers and cheese (pick something interesting like pepper jack or provolone) or cheese dip, with sliced summer sausage on the side.  Check out all the great flavors of crackers available!  We like Fire Roasted Tomato and Olive Oil Triscuits, and Parmesan Basil Wheat Thins.  My Meijer store also carries huge logs of Armour Summer Sausage for around $4.00.  The smaller logs in the deli area are kind of a rip-off, but these larger logs are usually near the meat/produce department.
  • Leftovers!  This is not an option for us in the spring because my husband doesn't have access to a microwave.  But if your husband does, and he doesn't mind leftovers, this is a great (and easy!) way to keep that lunch box interesting.
Snack ideas...beyond Doritos and brownies:
  • vegetables and dip (carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, red or green pepper strips)
  • tortilla chips and salsa
  • tortilla chips and hummus
  • tortilla chips and guacamole
  • celery and peanut butter
  • grape salad
  • fruit salad or just cut up an assortment of fruit
  • fruit and dip
  • jello salad
  • yogurt parfait
  • trail mix
  • dried fruit-n-nut mix
  • hard boiled eggs
  • cottage cheese and fruit
  • leftover dessert or cake (anything without ice cream)
Planning...the hard part that makes the rest of the work easy:
  • If you're having grilled chicken for supper, make sure to marinate and cook up a few extra pieces for wraps.
  • If you need cooked chicken for any recipe (such as Chicken Spaghetti or Chicken Enchiladas), cook up two or three extra pieces.  Dice and set aside for wraps or salads. 
  • Pasta salads aren't just for potlucks and picnics!  Make one at the beginning of the week just for lunches.  Or just make half the recipe if it looks like a big salad.
  • Slice, dice, and cut up a bunch of sandwich toppings or salad ingredients all at the same time.  Bag up the ingredients individually, and you'll have a good start on those wraps and salads for the rest of the week.
  • If you need a few strips of bacon for a recipe, cook up a few extra strips to add to sandwiches and wraps.  Or just use the microwaveable bacon!
OK, now before all your husbands start to covet my husband's lunches, I'll tell you straight up that there are days when his lunch consists of a ham and cheese sandwich, an apple, a bag of Doritos, and a brownie.  Sometimes, I'm just too tired to put much effort into it.  Other times, I didn't plan ahead so I don't really have anything interesting in the house.  Still other times, I get into a rut and can't seem to think beyond that ham and cheese sandwich.  So, this post is for me as much as it is for you! 

Do you have any creative lunch ideas? 


  1. Thanks for some GREAT ideas, I was in a rut as to what to make for my husbands lunches and this helped a lot!! I make wraps all the time for the kids and I, but rarely make them for him!OOPS. I will get on that for tomorrow, he will LOVE! Thanks again! :) Bobbi

  2. This is a wonderful change it up list. Start with the basics and work your way up to fantastic. Lunches at work so be fun and colourful and not boring. I want my husband and me at home to enjoy lunches.

    Thank you for your great tips and ideas.

  3. These are really great ideas. Pinning!