Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Brown Baggin' on the Cheap

The Topic: Tips for making brown-bag lunches on the cheap

The Dish: We know we have it good. The VegNews offices are located within a few blocks of four vegan restaurants, plus dozens of vegetarian and veg-friendly eateries offering up delicious plant-based fare. But what's a vegan trying to watch her budget (and her waistline) to do? Brown bag it.

Yes, it's glamorous to run out during lunch to pick up a sandwich, sushi, or burrito and not have to think about shopping, prepping, or cleaning up. But I enjoy packing lunch for myself, especially knowing that I am not spending money on food that I could make in my own kitchen (okay, not always true). Plus, restaurant food is ridden with oil, salt, and sugar, and the portion sizes send me into an afternoon coma. Here are my top five brown-bag meals that keep both my body and my bank account healthy.

1. Kale Salad
It's no secret that we're a bunch of kale lovers around here, but when a marinated kale salad costs upwards of $10 at a local vegan restaurant, I'll make my own. Buy a bunch of kale ($1.75), marinade it in an olive oil-lemon juice vinaigrette (50¢), and top with half of an avocado (75¢). Voilà—a delicious, nutritious meal for $3.

2. Bagel with Avocado, Sprouts, and Cucumbers
A toasted bagel loaded with fresh veggies makes for a hearty lunch to fuel an afternoon of editing. Buy a bagel (75¢), spread on fresh avocado (75¢), and top with sliced cucumbers (20¢) and sprouts (25¢). That bagel sandwich that costs $4 at a nearby café set you back just $1.95. Life is good.

3. Baked Potato with Toppings
If your office has a toaster oven or microwave, you can bake up a potato before lunch for a tasty midday meal. I love a baked Yukon Gold potato (50¢) topped with a slathering of vegan mayo (20¢), shredded lettuce (25¢), and chopped cherry tomatoes (40¢). Heaven for $1.35? Yes.

4. Soup
During the cold-weather months (that would be nearly all of them in San Francisco), I love to make a big pot of soup on a Sunday afternoon and then eat soup for lunch during the week. Think smoky black bean, curried sweet potato, coconut butternut squash, and African peanut. If an entire pot of soup costs $5 in ingredients to make, a bowlful amounts to just pennies. In my opinion, soup is the most underrated food on the planet. It's downright delectable, cheap, and filling.

5. Leftovers
Less ambitious and sexy than any of the above, packing leftovers from the previous night's dinner is actually a great habit to get into. Just make a little more dinner than usual, pack leftovers into a Tupperware/tiffin/lunchbox, and bam! Lunch is done. It takes a lot less time to make 25 percent more dinner than to create a new meal from scratch.

The Final Word: Whether you're new to packing your own lunch or are a seasoned brown bagger, bringing your lunch helps you save cash while keeping you healthy. My go-to meals are ideal for those who are time-starved, but I love the thought of fancy-pants bento boxes and gourmet lunch boxes. Enjoy the process, and happy eating!


  1. This post is just what I needed to read. Just today I made the decision to start packing my lunch. I'm getting tired of trying to eat healthy and gluten-free (Celiac) in the cafeteria at work.

  2. Nice idea, but I don't know if any of these are actually filling enough to pass for my lunch.

  3. Where can I buy that adorable bag shown in the picture???

  4. Love the ideas, now I just need to search for the recipes ^^