The Cut’s guide to self-improvement without spending a million dollars.
If January marked the anniversary of your promise to stop buying lunch every day, then this one’s for you. It’s definitely possible to make inexpensive meals that are actually good for you, but they need to be easy and delicious or you won’t stick with it. “At the end of the day, the number one driver of eating is flavor,” says Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Below are seven delicious, dietitian-approved lunches to suit various levels of busyness and cooking ability, all using ingredients that are universally cheap. We used Fresh Direct to calculate the cost as if we were buying everything in Manhattan, but everything might be even cheaper at your local store. Prepare to liberate yourself from the tyranny of the salad place, and save some money for those platform clogs at the same time.
TO MAKE ON THE FLY:
New Tuna Salad
Throw a single-serving pouch of tuna in a bowl and mix with half a cup of cooked cannellini beans, chickpeas, or black beans (rinsed ahead of time), diced onions, celery, or carrots if you happen to have those, and Italian dressing. “It’s amazingly filling. If you like a little bit more zing, you could throw in some capers,” says Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, who’s also an AND spokesperson. You can whip this up in the morning, or keep a stash of tuna at work to add at lunch time.
Estimated price per serving: $2.61
Bomb Lettuce Cups
So many veggies, so much better than a sad desk salad. Choose either chopped peanuts, canned salmon (the pop-top kind), or edamame for protein, and add in thinly sliced carrots, sugar-snap or snow peas, and Asian dressing. Spoon into a few large lettuce leaves — Bibb or Boston works, as do collard greens.
Estimated price per serving: $4.75
I’m-Too-Damn-Busy-to-Do-Anything Breakfast for Lunch
This is great if you’re craving something sweet, or if you just prefer breakfast. When Lemond has no time to cook, she adds blueberries (purchased in the frozen section) and walnuts to a cup of cottage cheese. For the curd haters among us, Greek yogurt has the same amount of protein and makes for a fine substitute. “I do this for lunch when I’m just trying to throw some stuff together and head to the office,” she says. See also: Overnight oats with half a banana.
Estimated price per serving: $3.05
Not Your Average Chicken Wrap
That rotisserie chicken that you buy every week? Try slathering the leftovers with that last bit of hoisin sauce chilling in your fridge, add some lettuce and sliced mango, and roll it up in a whole-grain tortilla.
Estimated price per serving: $4.46
Extremely Easy Veggie Pita
This one is very simple: Spread a whole-grain pita with hummus for some protein and top with leftover roasted vegetables or frozen veggies that have been heated up. Just note that the latter will be slightly less delicious than ones cooked with olive oil and the spices of your choice.
Estimated price per serving: $4.03
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Grain Bowl
Instead of making just enough quinoa, barley, bulgur, or millet to serve with dinner, Mills doubles it. “I’ll portion it out to half-cup servings to keep in the freezer so I’ll always have some that I can make into a meal.” Her favorite combo is bulgur with leftover grilled chicken and green vegetables like broccoli or Brussels sprouts tossed with mustard vinaigrette. Other dressings, veggie colors, and proteins are welcome; just pack the dressing separately.
Estimated price per serving: $3.68