The Cheapest and Healthiest Brown-Bag Lunches

Spice up your midday meal with delicious dishes and filling snacks

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The Cheapest and Healthiest Brown-Bag Lunches

Thinkstock / Fuse

Eating healthy is easier said than done, especially when you’re bored at work or tempted by chocolate-flavored everything. You can make it easier on yourself by putting a fun and interesting twist on healthy foods with just a few simple tweaks. We spoke with registered nutritionist Joy Bauer about inexpensive and healthy meals and snacks to pack in your lunch so that you won’t reach for empty calories. These foods will also give you more energy throughout the day, so that you avoid opting for unhealthy snacks out of boredom. 

Air-Popped Popcorn

Aurelie Jouan

A healthy lunch calls for delicious snacks. “Popcorn is a whole grain that’s low in calories, but let’s face it, you must doctor it up with some seasonings or flavorings,” Bauer says. “I add a little pop to my popcorn with a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, cinnamon, or even a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.”

Cook Once, Enjoy Twice

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Add ingredients to make another serving of your recipe for dinner — that way, you can have leftovers for lunch. “Make something like chili or chicken-veggie stir-fry,” Bauer says. “Depending upon what you prepared or ordered for dinner, your delicious lunch could potentially be filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats.”

Hearty Soup


Fill up a Thermos with hearty soup, such as lentil or black bean. “Whether it’s your own homemade recipe or warmed straight from a can or the freezer, lentil- and bean-based soups come packed with protein and fiber to keep you feeling full for hours into the afternoon,” explains Bauer.


Homemade Trail Mix

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Nuts can get pretty expensive, but if you buy them in bulk and seal them in an air-tight container, they will last for a long time. You can buy different types of nuts and create your own healthy trail mix combination.

Hummus with Vegetable Dippers

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Hummus is a healthy dip, made from chickpeas, that serves as the perfect snack in between meals. “Use bell pepper sticks, sugar snap peas, baby carrots, celery sticks, water chestnuts, or whatever veggies are in your fridge,” Bauer says. “If you are into heat, add a squirt of hot sauce into your hummus before packing it.”

Peanut Butter and Grapes

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“Swap your standard PB&J for peanut butter on whole-grain bread topped with sliced purple grapes,” Bauer says. “You’ll get healthy fat from the nut butter and an added antioxidant advantage from the grapes, which sugary jelly doesn’t offer.”

Tuna and Avocado Sandwich

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This is a healthier take on your classic chicken salad with mayonnaise. “Mash your tuna with avocado instead of mayo and add any of your favorite chopped vegetables and seasonings,” Bauer said. “Stuff into a whole-grain pita and you have a delicious and filling meal that serves up great flavor and heart-healthy fats.”

Turkey Pinwheels


Turkey pinwheels are a healthy spin on your boring old sandwich. “Layer baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced tomato, lean turkey, and spicy mustard on a low-carb tortilla wrap,” Bauer suggests. “Roll it up and slice into pinwheels. The result: A light and lean lunch. Thanks to the spinach, you’ll get a beta-carotene boost for you skin and a dose of lutein for sharper vision.” You can even swap out your wrap with sliced cucumber strips

Whole-Grain Pasta

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Top your whole-grain penne or macaroni topped with marinara and shredded part-skim mozzarella. “The pasta provides complex carbs for steady energy, the marinara delivers cancer-fighting lycopene, and the mozzarella brings in some bone-building calcium,” says Bauer.

Yogurt Parfait


This DIY yogurt parfait will make you think you died and went to heaven. “Pack a Greek yogurt cup with a small container of sautéed cinnamon apple and a separate baggy with toasted chopped pecans or walnuts,” Bauer says. To make the cinnamon apples, Bauer recommends cooking apple slices in melted buttery spread, like Country Crock, over medium heat and then sprinkling in some cinnamon until the apples are soft. “You get a blast of protein from the Greek yogurt, and fiber, antioxidants, and healthy fats from the chopped apple topping. The walnuts or pecans provide an extra shot of protein, fiber, and healthy fats.” Healthy lunch or indulgent dessert?