Brown Bag Lunches Under $2
Mac and Cheese Spaghetti
Budget lunch price: $1.40 per serving
Host your own pasta party at noon and fuel up for the rest of your busy day with this cheesy pasta and peas recipe. A homemade cheese sauce allows you to control the quality of ingredients (real cheddar and American cheese, butter, and mustard) while still helping you fall way below the budget limit.
Tip: Pack the toasted Parmesan bread crumbs in a separate small container or zip-top bag. Sprinkle them on top after reheating the spaghetti.
Bacon-Cheddar Chipotle Chicken Panini
Budget lunch price: $1.98 per serving
Your coworkers or classmates will melt with jealousy when they see you unwrap this upgraded BLT. Leftover or purchased chicken, spicy ranch, and plenty of gooey cheddar cheese make this panini taste way richer than its less-than-two-buck price tag.
Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas
Budget lunch price: $1.57 per serving
Wings can be downright disastrous for your wardrobe (all that sauce and blue cheese dressing!). These cheesy chicken quesadillas offer all the same flavors in a cleaner, tortilla-wrapped package. Simply toast up at home, pack each wedge between a layer of plastic wrap, and reheat in the microwave when your stomach starts to growl.
Savory Tomato-Mozzarella Tart
Budget lunch price: $0.66 per serving
Eggs aren't just for breakfast anymore. Fresh basil and green onions, jarred sun-dried tomatoes, and gooey mozzarella cheese pepper this quiche with ample color and flavor. Go ahead, pack two slices! You'll still have enough extra change and calories in your budget to add a side of fruit.
Budget lunch price: $1.45 per serving
There's no reheating required for this easy make-ahead meal. The broccoli, carrot, and chicken salad is delicious chilled and tastes even better after marinating in the yogurt-ranch sauce overnight.
Chickpea and Freekeh Salad
Budget lunch price: $1.88 per serving
Freekeh, an ancient Middle Eastern grain that's an abundant source of fiber, iron, and magnesium, and with canned beans are the low-cost stars of this lettuce-free, make-ahead salad. Fresh herbs, spicy salami, and salty cubes of feta cheese pack each spoonful of this best-served-chilled recipe with Mediterranean flavors.
Ham and Egg Sandwiches
Budget lunch price: $1.72 per serving
For when you're craving something a bit more exciting (and filling) than ham and Swiss, try this ham, havarti, and hard-boiled egg baguette. Make the most of your extra 28 cents and stir together a double batch of the dill yogurt sauce. Tote alongside your sub so you can have a slam dunk sandwich lunch.
Jerk Pork Wraps with Lime Mayo
Budget lunch price: $1.75 per serving
Before you tuck in for bed, pop a pork shoulder and some seasonings in your slow cooker. Come morning, you'll wake up to an intoxicating aroma and remarkably tender fajita filling that tastes like it came from a pricey build-your-own-burrito restaurant.
Tip: Pack the tortilla, mango salsa, veggies, and pork in individual containers, then reheat the pork and assemble your wrap when you're ready to dig in.
Ginger-Sesame Oats with Mushrooms and Charred Green Onions
Budget lunch price: $1.89 per serving
To transform low-cost breakfast oats into lunch territory, give them a savory spin! Cook steel-cut oats in chicken broth, then top with Asian ingredients like sesame-scented mushrooms, green onions, ginger, and soy.
Slow Cooker Falafel
Budget lunch price: $1.63 per serving
One egg, one can of beans, and a few jars from your spice cabinet are the affordable MVPs that make this takeout-fakeout recipe fall way under budget. Even better news? You don't need to fret about deep-frying since they crisp up right in your slow cooker.
Crunchy PB and A Wrap
Budget lunch price: $0.65 per serving
In a hurry? Turn to this four-ingredient, five-minute wrap that will please kids and adults alike. With crunch from granola and creamy, salty peanut butter holding everything together, this ridiculously affordable lunch allows for a lot of wallet wiggle room to add sides like a banana and a cheese stick.
Make-Ahead Smoked Turkey and Grilled Onion Panini
Budget lunch price: $1.58 per serving
Build these spiffed-up turkey and cheese sandwiches up to three months in advance, then freeze until you're ready to press and pack for lunch. From there, it takes just four minutes of cooking time to reach gooey provolone perfection inside these economical eats.
Teriyaki Chicken Noodle Soup
Budget lunch price: $1.92 per serving
Like ramen but hate all the preservatives that come in those little seasoning packets? Then try this jar of goodness that's made with all ingredients you can pronounce (beef stock, teriyaki sauce, fresh ginger, garlic), including shredded chicken, all for less than two bucks.
Garbanzo-Bean Veggie Pitas with Creamy Avocado Dressing
Budget lunch price: $1.44 per serving
You won't say "bean there, done that!" about this chickpea salad that starts with tender, slow-cooked dried garbanzos. A simple avocado, yogurt, and herb sauce makes it different from any pita you'll purchase from a street cart or restaurant (as do all the fresh, vibrant veggies!).
Ham and Sweet Potato Mini Flatbreads
Budget lunch price: $1.54 per serving
Enjoy the flavors of an epic holiday dinner any day of year with these flatbreads topped with smashed sweet potatoes, sliced ham, melty mozzarella, and cranberry sauce.
Tip: We call for starting with whole sweet potatoes, microwaving, and mashing with orange juice. If you're willing to invest a bit more to save time, snag a package of mashed sweet potatoes from the refrigerated produce section during your next grocery run.
Black Bean Chipotle Burgers
Budget lunch price: $0.82 per serving
Say “see ya!” to the hockey pucklike frozen veggie burgers, and mash up your own homemade meatless patties instead. Calling for pantry staples like canned beans, corn, salsa, and rice, you can absolutely afford to make it a double—and likely won’t need to make an extra stop at the store to make it possible.
Sweet Potato Hash
Budget lunch price: $1.12 per serving
Potatoes never break the bank, but they can get soggy if cooked and stored certain ways. When you saute up a hash made with potato cubes (rather than shreds), spuds are perfect for packing and reheating. Try it out yourself with this 25-minute Mexican meal—and add some grilled chicken or steak for extra hunger-fighting protein.
Tip: Bring the whole avocado with you to slice and add to the dish immediately before serving. Alternatively, grab a single-serving cup of premade guacamole from the supermarket to use instead.