Helpful tips for budget packed lunches

Whether you’re making food for yourself or making packed lunches for the whole family, making lunch every day can help save money when you’re at work or off on a day out. But with the cost of living getting higher, we wanted to offer some extra support, by suggesting some cheap packed lunch ideas to help you make your weekly budget go even further.

At Lowell, we understand that it can be hard when it comes to creating a budget and managing your finances. That’s why we’ve compiled a range of cheap packed lunch ideas and tips for you to try and will hopefully save you some money.

This content is intended to be impartial, and is not intended to provide financial advice. For more help, find out more about other organisations that can offer support at the end of this article.

Budget packed lunches for school

Making packed lunches nearly every day for school can quickly add up and eat into your incomings. Here are some budget packed lunch ideas that your kids can still enjoy while remaining cost effective.

1.    DIY Lunchables

Kids might love nifty lunch options like Lunchables or Stackers, but pre-packaged food options can get expensive. Instead, keep the fun but drop the cost with some DIY Lunchables.

You can customise as you like, or even get the kids to help out with making them – a nice easy way to introduce them to preparing food without getting too complicated.

Combine any of the following in little stacks in their lunchbox, or feel free to customise and add your own ideas:


  • Crackers
  • Pita bread
  • Sliced bread rolls


  • Meat (sliced ham, chicken)
  • Sliced cheese
  • Boiled eggs
  • Peanut butter

Fruit and veg

  • Grapes
  • Sliced apples
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Orange segments
  • Cherry tomatoes

1.    Veggie pesto pasta salad

Another great children’s lunch alternative is pasta, and this super simple lunch option is yummy and can be made cheap! For this pesto pasta salad packed lunch, you’ll need:

  • Pasta (any shape of your choice)
  • Pesto
  • Cucumber chopped into cubes
  • Tomato

For the pesto, why not try Jack Monroe’s salad bag pesto? This thrifty version works out at 9p per portion, and it’s great if you’ve got some leftover salad or spotted some in the reductions section at the supermarket.

Cook the pasta to your liking the night before and mix it in with your pesto. Throw in some sliced cucumber or tomatoes, and pop it in the fridge ready for the next day. This is a great way to add vegetables into your child’s diet, and if they really don’t like a specific vegetable then you can always swap it out for something else.

Then for something sweet, you could include some of their favourite fresh fruit or a pot of yoghurt.

Cheap packed lunch ideas for adults

Of course, budget packed lunches aren’t just for children heading to school and at Lowell we’ve found some great ideas for cheap packed lunches that are suitable for adults too.

1.    BLT salad

A variation of the popular BLT sandwich, this idea of a BLT salad lunchbox comes from Taming Twins and the best part is that it only requires four ingredients. To get started, all you need to have in is:

  • Pre-cooked bacon
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Dressing

Simply, chop up some tomatoes and lettuce and add your pre-cooked bacon and some dressing or balsamic vinegar. If you want, you can get inventive here by adding whatever other veg you already have in. Then throw in some fruit like grapes and raspberries or your favourite snack bar for something sweet to complete your packed lunch.

If you’ve not got dressing or balsamic vinegar already in then you can follow this base recipe for creamy salad dressing from Living on the Cheap, for which you’ll need:

  • Mayonnaise, sour cream or yoghurt
  • Fresh milk
  • White vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Ground black pepper
  • Salt

1.    Lunchtime omelette

If you’re wanting to change things up from the usual sandwich or salad, this lunchtime omelette inspired by The Spruce Eats is ideal and only requires a few basic ingredients including:

  • Egg
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Mushroom chopped into small pieces
  • Tomato chopped in half

Go ahead and make this the night before or the morning of if you’ve got enough time - this lunchtime omelette is just as tasty cold. Start by making your omelette as you normally would (or by following this basic recipe from BBC Good Food) and adding in your chopped mushroom, tomatoes, and any seasoning. Once your omelette is ready you can put it into an airtight container in the fridge ready for you to grab first thing in the morning.

Cheap and healthy packed lunch ideas

While you might think that making a healthy packed lunch could make things more expensive, that’s not always the case. Here are some of our favourite healthy and cheap packed lunch ideas that we’ve come across.

1.    Colourful couscous salad

Get your five-a-day in with this quick and simple colourful couscous salad that looks as good as it tastes. To get going, this is what you’ll need:

  • Couscous
  • Cherry tomatoes chopped in half
  • Cucumber cut into small chunks
  • Pepper
  • Black olives

Prepare your couscous the night before, cut up all your fresh veg and mix it together then leave it overnight in the fridge ready to enjoy the following day. What’s great about this lunch is you can prepare your couscous in advance which will last up to three days in the fridge meaning you can easily change which vegetables you want to add in each time depending what you need to use up.

1.    Tuna wraps

Packed with omega-3, tuna makes for a delicious lunch option and these tuna wraps will take you no time to sort out and require very little ingredients:

  • Tortilla wraps
  • Tuna
  • Spinach leaves
  • Cherry tomatoes chopped in half
  • Red onion chopped into small pieces
  • Mayonnaise (optional)

A quick recipe that you can pre-prepare or quickly do in the morning, mix the tuna with your chopped vegetables, and mix in some mayo to help it combine. Lay out some spinach leaves on top of your tortilla wrap and top with your tuna mixture. Roll your wrap so nothing can fall out and that’s it.

Lowell’s top tips for cheap packed lunches

Other than these cheap packed lunch ideas, there are more things you can be doing regularly in order to keep the costs down.

  • Create a weekly or monthly food budget and stick to it. This includes all the ingredients needed for your packed lunches.
  • Plan your week out in advance. Decide what sort of packed lunches you can make based on what you already have in and see what ingredients you might be missing.
  • Always look to use leftovers. For example, if you’ve got some pasta from the night before then consider using that as your packed lunch the next day.
  • Avoid eating out and try making your own lunches, snacks, and drinks wherever possible to keep costs down.
  • Freeze ingredients or other food items you don’t currently need so that you can save them for another day. This also means you’re wasting less.
  • Get some containers for your lunch and snacks which will make it easier to carry them around.
  • Consider swapping out meats for veggie alternatives as this will be cheaper.

To find out more, you can check out StepChange’s guide saving money on food and meals or National Debtline’s piece on how to save on your grocery bills.

If you found this article useful, our helpful tips for budget recipes could save you even more when doing the food shop. For other money-saving tips and information about managing your finances, you should check out the rest of the Lowell blog.

Published by Stephanie North-Shaw on 20th February 2023

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