18 Simple Work Lunch Ideas That Will Save You Money

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Avoid soggy sandwiches and expensive takeout with these un-boring work lunch ideas that are quick and easy to make.

work lunch ideas gallery

Brown bagging it to work is a symbol of frugality, held up as a gold-standard way to save money.

And it’s true, buying lunch every day can really add up. Why pay up to $10 for a sandwich when you can make yourself it for $2?

So why is taking our lunch to work so unappealing?

Homemade lunches can seem boring. Or we just don’t have time to make something before work.

And twelve years of warm, soggy schoolbag sandwiches don’t leave us enthused to continue the habit into our working life.

But lunches don’t have to be soggy or boring. Here are some of my tips for un-boring lunches.

5 Top Tips for an Appealing Work Lunch

These tips reduce unappealing lunch syndrome, help save you time, and up the flavour and enjoyment.

1. Assemble Your Lunch at Work

The problem with a sandwich or salad is that it can be pretty soggy by the time lunch rolls around.

If you have kitchen facilities at work, it’s a good idea to take the ingredients in separately and assemble your sandwich or salad each lunchtime (a week’s worth of lunch ingredients prevents takeaway temptation).

If you don’t have kitchen or food storage facilities at work, you can take your lunch ingredients pre-cut in separate containers and assemble before eating.

While it might be impractical to take every ingredient separately, you may choose to butter the bread at home and add the ‘dry’ ingredients, adding wet ingredients such as mayonnaise and tomato just before eating.

2. Buy Lunch From The (Supermarket) Deli

Make the deli your lunchtime friend and take advantage of the pre-sliced cheeses, roast beef, lunch meats, salads and antipasti.

Coupled with some fresh crusty bread, you can make a gourmet sandwich for a fraction of the price of a purchased one. Making your sandwich on fresh bread is important because it just tastes so much better than week-old bread. You can buy a roll or two on the way to work from the bakery or supermarket, so you have fresh bread.

Add flavour with your favourite condiments. Whole egg mayonnaise, chilli sauce, pesto, chutney, or relish can transform a boring sandwich into a gourmet one. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out the range at your local sandwich shop and imitate your favourite fillings.

3. Avoid the 3 pm Slump

One way that I’ve found helps me avoid the 3 pm slump is to reduce the amount of carbs I eat at lunch, especially simple carbs (I’m not anti-carbs, by the way, nor am I a dietician, so you should always seek professional advice; this is what works for me.)

I try to eat plenty of lean protein, vegetables or salad and drink plenty of water. The water is especially important for me as I live in the sub-tropics, and it’s so easy to become dehydrated.

Reducing caffeine also helps. I love my coffee, but I mix my instant with decaf instant, so I have less caffeine but still get to enjoy my cuppa.

4. Go Waste-Free

To save money and reduce packaging waste, rather than buying individual portion packs, it can be cheaper to buy food in bulk, divide it at home and take it to work in reusable containers.

If you don’t have access to refrigeration, then you can keep your food cool by investing in a mini lunch esky or adding an iceblock / frozen drink to your lunchbox.

5. Prep Ahead to Save time

It pays to spend a little time on Sunday night preparing food for the following work week. Wash salad, portion snacks, bake some muffins, chop some veggies all ready for healthy work lunches.

Prepping a week’s worth of lunches that you can reheat in the microwave is a whole thing these days. You can find a bazillion recipes on Instagram along with ‘prep with me’ videos if you search for #mealprep, #foodprep and #lunchprep, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.

Honestly, having too many ideas can be overwhelming—it helps to pick five that you can rotate.

12 Work Lunch Ideas to Get You Inspired

Looking for some lunch box inspiration? Here are some work lunch ideas that have worked well for me over the years.

1. Leftovers

If you have access to a microwave leftovers can be the tastiest, filling, cheap and easy lunch solution.

Leftovers would have to be my all-time favourite lunch and your workmates will be salivating at the smell of last night’s lasagne.

If you work somewhere where you can’t reheat leftovers or your boss doesn’t like the office smelling like curry, some leftovers can be eaten cold, like cold chicken in a salad or wrap.

2. Wraps and Other Bread

salad wrap

Make your sandwiches more exciting by changing the bread option.

Wraps make a nice change to sandwiches and they have a long shelf-life, so you can take a packet into work and leave it there.

If you have leftover roast vegetables and chicken, they make a great wrap filling. Add a little feta for flavour, and if you have a sandwich press at work, you can toast it.

My current favourite wrap filling is pictured above – feta cheese, mint, cucumber, tomatoes, and olives. If you like, you can add some cold chicken or tuna.

Dips like hummus and tzatziki are easy ways to add flavour to a wrap.

Or, instead of a wrap, you could fill a pita bread pocket with hummus, salad and leftover cold meat.

Another option is to smear a fresh baguette with cheese and chutney or enjoy some Turkish bread with tzatziki and leftover roast lamb.

I also love making quesadillas in the sandwich press from store-bought veggie burgers and cheese.


Does your workplace have a sandwich press? You can cook so many more things in it besides sandwiches. Here are 20 things we regularly cook in our sandwich press. We use it every single day.

3. Crackers and…

Crackers (Cruskits, Ryvita, Saos, etc.) and toppings don’t have to be boring. They are convenient to keep at work as they don’t go stale and mouldy like bread.

Great cracker topping ideas include:

  • ricotta or cottage cream with lettuce, tuna and pesto
  • hummus and tomato
  • avocado, tomato and fetta
  • peanut butter and banana
  • cream cheese, tomato and sprout
  • avocado and fresh salsa
  • ham, cheese and tomato
  • cottage cheese and antipasto mix (marinated vegetables)
  • egg and lettuce
  • cottage cheese, smoked salmon, rocket and caper
  • avocado and sun-dried tomato
  • cheese and chutney

4. Savoury Muffins

ham and cheese muffins

Savoury muffins are a convenient option for a quick and easy lunch.

Make a big batch and freeze, then defrost each morning for lunch. Smear with butter for extra yumminess. I cut mine in half and toast it in the sandwich press, but you could also reheat the muffins in the microwave or enjoy cold.

The picture above is ham and cheese muffins, but you could switch up the flavours with some of the following ideas:

  • basil, parmesan and sun-dried tomato
  • spinach and feta
  • roast pumpkin and grated zucchini
  • feta and oregano
  • cumin and pea
  • cheese and corn
  • shredded chicken and antipasto
  • chopped leftover sausage and vegetable
  • cheese and chive
  • corn, cheese and capsicum

5. The “Bento Box” Lunch

lunchboxes with rice and chicken in one and salad and fruit in another

A bento box (I love the Systema range which you can find on Amazon) is usually a selection of foods in little compartments.

You could have a selection of crudités and dip coupled with cheese, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, antipasto, lunch meat, tinned tuna or a hard-boiled egg.

For inspiration, here are seven no-cook bento box ideas.

6. Soup in a Flask


There is nothing like homemade soup in winter, with a little bread on the side. And vegetable soup is both cheap and nourishing.

Avoid the need to reheat your soup by taking it in a flask.

An alternative to soup is dahl – jam-packed with flavour and a bit more hearty. I cook mine in a basic rice cooker, and then you can take portions to work to reheat.

Looking for more ideas of what you can make in a rice cooker besides rice? Here are 10 things to cook in the rice cooker. We use our very basic model nearly every day.

7. Salads

egg, salad, and grain bowl

Salads can be partially or fully prepared at home, or you could make them up at work.

The key to a great lunch salad is protein. Leftover cooked chicken is an easy addition, or you can do boiled eggs, beans, tofu, nuts or seeds.

Instead of a salad, I prefer the poke bowl. I like to pre-cook some grains in the rice cooker and serve them with some salad or cooked vegetables, protein, maybe some hummus and some sauerkraut.

Alternatives to the usual garden salad include pasta or rice salad. These are best made at home but can be purchased cheaply at the supermarket deli.

8. Go Mini

mini veg fritattas

For these kinds of lunches, you have to be a little prepared beforehand.

Mini quiches, frittatas, pastries, fritters, and meatloaves (or rissoles) can all be made ahead of time and last for three days in the fridge or up to three months, individually wrapped in the freezer. Fritattas and quiches can be made in a muffin tin.

The great thing is that they are packed full of protein and vegetables, a great lunch choice.

9. Bakes and Baking

Another prepare-ahead lunch, something like tuna pasta bake or vegetable bakes, can be eaten both hot or cold at work.

And some homemade muffins or biscuits or slice (all of which can be frozen in portions) make morning tea a little more exciting without trekking to the vending machine.

10. Fresh Fruit

The great thing about fruit is that it comes in its own packaging and can make a nice ‘dessert’ after lunch.

11. Dried Fruit, Nuts and Seeds

These are great to keep at your desk or in your pocket for a healthy and cheap snack. An alternative is the humble muesli bar, either purchased or made at home.

12. Yoghurt

lunchbox yoghurt

I take my yogurt in a small container and stir in some honey, seeds, fruit or crushed linseed. It’s cheaper this way than individually portioned and you can make it suit your own tastes.

Bringing your lunch to work doesn’t have to be boring or difficult. With a little planning, preparation and some work lunch ideas for inspiration, you can save money and enjoy a tasty lunch everyday.

And the best way to eat it?

On the grass under a tree, away from the desk.

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  1. Hi,

    I just found you while trying to find a cheaper way to buy groceries for my family of 6. Good site, will keep browsing.

    But for now wanted to comment that for my variation of “crackers and…” I use homemade refried beans or ratatouille with a slice of ham on top and some green leaves. Great way to get more vegetables and have a great flavour.

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW

    1. Thanks Jen and welcome!

      That sounds lovely!