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Washington State University

Brown Bag-It and Save

Posted by cahnrs.webteam | May 20, 2015

For those of us who don’t eat in a school lunchroom every day, the question is often whether to bring a lunch from home or eat out.  Did you know that packing a lunch from home instead of buying lunch could save over $500 a year?  Let’s say you eat out for lunch twice a week, and the average cost of your meal and beverage is $6.  That means $12 a week, or $624 a year spent on lunch at a restaurant or vending machine.  That’s a lot, especially if you have a limited budget for food or are relying on food assistance benefits like Basic Food or WIC that can’t be spent at a restaurant.  With a little planning ahead, you can pack a safe, healthy lunch that’s much more affordable than eating out!

Here are some tips for keeping lunch costs down:

  • Eat “planned over’s” from last night’s dinner (e.g. chili, soup, pizza, pasta casserole, spaghetti, and leftover meats for sandwiches).
  • Make your lunches for a whole week at one time, on a day when you might have more time than the morning rush.
  • Cook large batches of soups and stews and freeze in single-serving size containers.
  • Buy only the amount of food that can be used in a reasonable amount of time. Although buying large quantities may cost less, you won’t save money if the food goes to waste before it is eaten.
  • Buy items in bulk (e.g. fruits, vegetables, cheese, crackers, trail mix, dried fruit, pretzels) and package them yourself in snack-sized bags. Pack enough for the entire week and store appropriately.  Commercially-packaged single servings of these items can be more expensive.  Check the unit price (price per ounce, pound, or item) of bulk and pre-packaged items to compare!
This Quinoa Vegetable Salad is great as a planned-over lunch. Pack an apple and some cheese slices and you've got a MyPlate meal!
This Quinoa Vegetable Salad is great as a planned-over lunch. Pack an apple and some cheese slices and you’ve got a MyPlate meal!


In addition to the economics of brown bag lunches, many people choose to pack a lunch from home for the potential nutrition benefits.  Just like breakfast, a balanced lunch is important to keep your body fueled throughout the day.  Enjoying a variety of foods from all five food groups can help you feel better and more energetic in addition to satisfying some of your daily nutrition needs.  If including a food from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy) is too much, try for at least three food groups.  Use MyPlate to help you plan lunches that are healthy and balanced!

For more tips on planning and packing quick, affordable, safe, and healthy lunches, check out these resources:

What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag! Tips for parents on packing safe, healthy lunches.

Packed Lunch Pizazz! Pack interesting and safe lunches to help you eat healthy throughout the day.

Packing Lunches for Work or School: Lots of great information and ideas to save time when packing lunches.