Un-boring Brown Bagging - Easy Frugal Work Lunch Ideas

Avoid soggy sandwiches with these un-boring work lunch ideas. Brown bagging it to work can save you hundreds of dollars a year.


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 do we need to be reminded to save money by taking our lunch to work and why is it so unappealing?

The problem is that we see homemade lunch as boring, or we’re just not organised enough to get lunch ready in the morning before work.

And twelve years of warm, soggy schoolbag sandwiches doesn’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 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 the kitchen facilities at work, take the ingredients in separately and assemble your sandwich or salad each lunchtime (a weeks 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, so buy a roll or two on the way to work so that you’re not facing stale bread (or waste).

Add flavour with your favourite condiments. Whole egg mayonnaise, chilli sauce, pesto, chutney or relish can take a boring sandwich and make it gourmet. 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

If you get the 3 pm slump, then cut the carbs and the caffeine and get plenty of protein, vegetables/salad and water. This reduces the blood sugar spike/slump cycle, giving you more constant, slow-release energy.

4. Go Waste-Free

To save money and reduce packaging waste, rather than buying individual portion packs, 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 keep your food cool by investing in a mini lunch esky or keep an iceblock / frozen drink in your lunchbox.

5. Prep Ahead

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.

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, most leftovers taste fine cold!

2. Wraps and Other Bread

Make your sandwiches more exciting by changing the bread option.

Wraps make a nice change and tend to be less ‘carby’ than bread and there are a lot of different flavours available. Like spinach wraps. Or sweet potato and turmeric wraps.

Or you could fill a pita bread pocket with hummus, salad and leftover cold meat, smear a fresh baguette with cheese and chutney or enjoy some Turkish bread with Tzatziki and leftover roast.

3. Crackers and…

Know as the “diet” lunch, crackers (Cruskits, Ryvita, Saos etc) and topping don’t have to be boring. They are convenient to keep at work as they don’t go stale and mouldy as bread does.

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

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 a delicious lunch.

Here’s a basic savoury muffin recipe. Switch the flavours up with the following ideas:

  • cheese and ham muffins
  • 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

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.

7. Salads

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. 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.

For more salad ideas (35 in fact), check out Dinner at the Zoo. A variation on the theme is a salad bowl. You can get some salad bowl ideas here.

(What’s the difference between a buddha bowl, poke bowl and nourish bowl? Check out the answer here.)

8. Go mini

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

Mini quiches, frittatas, pastries, meatloaves can all be made in a muffin tin ahead of time and last for three days in the fridge. The great thing is that they are packed full of protein and vegetables, a great lunch choice.

All of these things can be frozen to keep longer.

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 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

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.

Melissa | Frugal & Thriving
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Join the conversation
  • Doreen Parker Doreen Parker on Jan 17, 2023

    All great ideas! Love it!

  • J J on Jan 17, 2023

    I try to make a crockpot lasagna every 6 weeks or so. Cut it into 8 portions , freeze on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. When firm enough to pick up I wrap it in aluminum foil then place them in a freezer Ziplock bag(labeled and dated). Take one out the night before so it can thaw then I unwrap it and put into a microwaveable container to take with me. Lots of offers of trading!!