Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Lunch box ideas + preheating a thermos

One of the ways we have saved money over the years has been by always packing lunches for my husband to eat at work. (I also try to do this whenever we're planning to be away from home over a mealtime, which isn't very often.)

Packing a lunch saves a lot of money (at least several dollars per day!) and can be much healthier than buying restaurant food or food from machines. It can also be pretty quick and easy to do, if you plan ahead, or at least have some sort of plan!


Here is my general plan for Joshua's lunch (8-hour shift):

Main Dish (1)

Lunchmeat sandwich (tip for easier cold-cut sandwich dressing)
Chicken salad sandwich
Leftover (cold) pizza
Tuna salad sanwich
Egg salad sandwich
Leftover burritos, lasagna, stuffed shells, soups, or anything that can be re-warmed (if there is microwave access)

Dairy or other Sides (1-3)

Yogurt (we buy a quart-sized container and put it into lunch-sized containers)
Cottage cheese
String cheese or cut pieces of cheese
Homemade Baked Beans (eaten cold)
Hard-boiled "deviled" eggs

Fruit (2-3)

Grapes, washed and stemmed
Homemade applesauce
Canned fruit (last resort)

Bread or snacks (2-3)

Homemade quick breads (banana, zucchini, pumpkin, carrot, pineapple, etc.)
Trail mix
Cake or cookie
Chips or crackers
Cheeseball and crackers
Carrot or celery sticks
Homemade granola bars

Drink (48 ounces total; we use water bottles and wash/re-use them)

Orange juice
Other 100% juice from concentrate


By making sure I have included at least one thing from each category, I'm able to pack a balanced lunch with whatever we currently have on hand. Joshua always just takes water to work these days, although in years past he took some orange juice also. If you usually drink coffee or some other hot drink, you can make it and put it in a thermos. To keep your coffee hot longer inside a thermos, pre-heat your thermos with boiling water* before pouring your fresh coffee inside.

When I'm packing Joshua's lunch, I often get things ready for the next day's lunch, also. For example, I might wash and stem enough grapes for 2 or 3 days' lunches. I might wrap two pieces of banana bread in plastic wrap, and save one to use for the next day. That way, even if I am really in a rush, I can at least manage to pull everything out of the fridge, make a quick sandwich, and pack it all into the lunchbox!


Another nice addition to a packed lunch, if you are packing your husband's lunch, is to put in a little love note somewhere inside for him to find later in the day! 

Sometimes I get tired of trying to think of creative lunch ideas, or having to pack yet another lunch! Having the above list of categories has helped motivate me. I also like to remind myself that if there were no lunches to pack, there would also be no money to pay bills! That helps me stay thankful! 

I'd love to hear tips from others who pack lunches on a regular basis! What are your favorite things to include?

This post was originally published in 2006.


Update: Joshua no longer works at a factory where he gets lots of physical exercise; now, he works at a desk job.

His lunches for the past 7-8 months have been simply:

A homemade mocha frappuccino ("breakfast")
2 bananas
1 large salad with a serving of healthy dressing

He comes home hungry for dinner, and I try to serve a protein-rich dinner each evening. :)

*Details on pre-heating a thermos: Fill thermos at least half-full with boiling water. Screw lid on and allow to sit for 10-30 minutes while you're making the coffee or the rest of the lunch.

Empty the water out of the thermos and then fill with coffee. A good-quality thermos that has been pre-heated should keep your coffee nice and hot until you wish to drink it!

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. 10 uses for a bundt pan (Tara)
2. Serve watermelon with less mess (Christine)
3. Flaxseed meal as egg substitute (Mary Jo)
4. Easier breading zucchini (Alison)
5. Cocoa powder substitution (Alea)
6. Packing lunches (Kolfinna)
7. Keeping produce from going bad (Annie)
8. Determining base recipes (Rachel)



I had no idea that you could preheat a thermos! Thank you so much for sharing this! I packed my hubby's lunch for awhile too... I included notes as well..he was always thankful for them. I would also save little chocolates from Christmas in the freezer to add as an extra, unexpected treat from time to time. I didn't think about making a list like you have...I think that would make things much easier! Blessings! Tracy

I only know about pre-heating a thermos because my mom does it. :) My dad goes to work at 3 am and so she packs his lunch the night before, and the thermos has to be pre-heated in order for the coffee to stay hot long enough. :D

I want to get better about freezing things like cookies or muffins, so I'm not always baking things in the morning! It would be handy to have a stash. :D

Thanks for your comment, Tracy! :)

I am a lunch packer for my husband too! He works from 4am until 12noon so I am more of a 'breakfast packer' than a 'lunch packer' but I do use a lot of the same ideas. I try to make things he can hold in his hand and eat because he rarely stops working for a sit down meal. But, occasionally I'll send soups and things where he has to take the time and use a spoon or a fork. It's great to have some ideas for a little variety! Thanks!

So, what sorts of breakfast things do you pack? Joshua used to go to work in the mornings (early) and so I'd make things he could eat on his way, like breakfast burritos! :)


Thanks for more ideas for my husband's lunch! I just make sure everything is in the fridge for him, and he packs his lunch in the morning (he teases me that I pack him too much so it is best if he does it himself! I think the real reason is he wants me to get that extra sleep before our daughter wakes up).

My husband has always taken his lunch to work, even when we both worked and could have afforded to eat out for lunch once or twice a week. In his new job that has him leaving so early in the morning until we can move closer we finally realized how much he saves us each week. He was talking to another guy in his department who said that his lunch budget was $50 a WEEK! With Kyle taking left overs and things I bake at home, I would be surprised if his lunch was more than $10 to 15 a week!

As for drinks, when Snapple is on sale I buy it as a treat because we love it, but it has to be a good sale! Then we save the bottles for Kyle to take drinks to work such as OJ for a breakfast when he gets there (he has to be awake for at least an hour or more to eat breakfast, and preferably closer to 2 or even 3 so he packs breakfast with his lunch).

Another great idea we uses is to buy a box of granola bars, which Kyle loves, for him to have at work if he needs an extra snack. He loves the nut ones that we cannot have in our house because our daughter is allergic.

Phil 2:9-11

Thanks for the comment, Kristy! I think one of the benefits of having to be careful with one's money is that even if a person has money (for "extra things") at a later time, they're at least aware of what they're spending by, say, not packing a lunch every day. :) Thanks for adding your thoughts! :)

Thanks for the ideas. I also pack my husband's lunch. It saves lots of money, and he really prefers homemade over eating out. I packed wraps for a while using tortillas instead of bread), but my husband said they didn't fill him up as well.
It does get wearisome at times, but I do try to make the sandwich the night before and have the rest of the items ready to go. That makes is very simple in the morning.

Hi, Tami! Thanks for commenting! I don't know any other "Tami/my"s offline, so it's always fun to meet someone with the same name! :)

I do sometimes pack Joshua's lunch completely the night before, if I'm going to be super-busy before he leaves the next day. :) The sandwich is my least favorite part to make, but I don't like to make it too far in davance, since it could get soggy!

When Joshua had a desk job, I was able to send a small container of egg salad and some bread in a separate bag; that way, he could make it up himself and it was never soggy! :)

Use a panini maker! It toasts the bread just perfectly while also melting the cheese! My husband loves these paninis! It's one of the only things that never returns home! (I guess I pack too much too sometimes ;) ) lol

Since both of us work, we end up with two lunches to prepare. I personally did not grow up with eating many sandwiches (it's not a very big part of French culture) and get tired of them VERY quickly. One or two for each week is almost more than I can handle. =) Josiah, however, grew up eating sandwiches almost all the time.

For his lunches, I try to always have homemade lunchmeat available. His body doesn't handle processed meats well, so we make our own (plus, it is much cheaper). We make Tammy's "Bologna" meat (we call it Garlic Summer Sausage, as we find that that is what it tastes like!), and homemade pepperoni. I also try to cook a roast once in a while and slice up the left-overs for sandwiches. Once in a while he'll have the traditional (although I only first heard of this when my family moved in to an "English world"!) all-natural peanut butter and jam. And occasionally I'll make an egg sandwiches.

I always have hard-boiled eggs on hand, and Josiah always brings one or two to work for extra protein. He doesn't get a sit-down break, so he needs things easy to eat.

He always brings fruit as well: pears, apples, banana, mandarins (at this time of the year) - whichever fruit is on sale that week! =)

For myself, I usually bring leftovers, or make a salad. I make a plain salad and add things as I feel like it every day: cut up lunch meat, eggs, vegetables, seeds, etc. I also bring a cookie or two, some yogurt, and a fruit.

Making our own lunches has definitely saved us a LOT of money, and it is so much healthier as well. It gets tedious after a while, but I'm thankful that Josiah helps me out with it. =)

Thanks for your interesting comment, Anne Jisca! Where did you grow up? Joshua loves sandwiches. He makes a lot of things into sandwiches whenever I serve garlic bread with the meal! :D You sound like you pack healthy lunches! :)

Great ideas and web site. I hope you don't mind, I have posted a link on my blog for others to enjoy your efforts! Thanks, Diane

Thanks for your comment, Diane! I went ahead and added a link to your blog on our links page, since you linked to this site! :) Thanks for letting me know! :)

We preheat our thermoses, too. We don't often put coffee in them, but preheating keeps soup hot all day, or even leftover casseroles or whatever.

My tip is 10 things you can cook in a bundt pan or angel food cake pan.

My tip for the week:

Here's my link for this week. :o)

-Mary Jo

Here is my tip - be careful WHERE you put those love notes in hubby's lunch! I decided to get creative once and put mine inside his sandwich. The paper got soggy, became translucent enough that hubby didn't notice it, and bit into it, wondering why there was soggy paper in his sandwich. Not very romantic!

Wow, you are so creative!! :) I would never have thought to put a note in a sandwich!! Hopefully your husband at least appreciated your creativity and the gesture! ;)

I'll bet a note could be laminated (with packaging tape or something) and would survive the sandwich ordeal just fine! :)

Hi, Tammy!
Your picture posted above of the vegetable hoagie (I'm a Philly girl, we call them hoagies) looks amazing! I'm going to have to make them soon! When I worked, the deli next door would make them for me. I haven't had one in a while!

I love the lunch ideas you posted as well.

Today my kitchen tip is an easier method for breading smaller items like zucchini and cauliflower.

today's tip is how to make a basic white sauce, cheese sauce, and use it for making mac & cheese!

Tammy, I have always packed lunches for the both of us, now that I am retired, I have time to really devote to hubby's lunch. We pack him a breakfast as he has to be at work at 7:00 and has a desk job and can eat at his desk. I make homemade muffins, energy bars, oatmeal, and breakfast burritos, this past Monday he even took cheese grits. Those we leftover from Sunday's breakfast.
I spend the majority of each afternoon preparing that nights dinner. I have a husband who loves leftovers, so I usually cook enough for dinner, he has the same thing for lunch. I usually have enough left that I can freeze for another days dinner....when in a pinch.
My husband is type 2 diabetic, so have to be careful with carbs and sugars. Hubby loves peaches, so we are currently enjoying the bounty of fresh peaches.
Hubby's workplace has a cafeteria, and of all his co-workers with whom he dines, he is the only one who brings his lunch. He says the others average about $8.00 a day on lunch from an overly priced cafeteria. And I would wager that he has a healthier lunch than the others.
At this stage in our lives, (late 50's) we could afford for him to buy lunch each day. But, just because you CAN afford does not mean that you SHOULD spend. We have from when we were first married (37 years ago) tried to live as frugally as we possibly could. Although, my husband is still working, we have a generous nest egg saved, so that when he does retire, we can enjoy being together without $$$$ worries.
You sound like you both are on the right path. As Dave Ramsey says,"Live like no one else today, so that when you retire you can live like no one else".

Hello Tammy,

I've been reading your site for several years on and off. I actually found it when I ran a search for home made breads (I have to admit that I have yet to try making my own bread). Returning to the lunches....I totally agree with bringing your own lunch to work. I used to spend money on lunch all the time. I would not eat breakfast and then I would purchase a big lunch (expensive and not too healthy).

I decided approximately two years ago to stop spending all this money on lunches. I started to bring breakfast and lunch. For breakfast (since we do have a microwave here) I actually make oatmeal. I buy the big container of old fashioned oats and add some skim milk and water to it. It takes some patience cooking it in the microwave but I remain calm since it is healthy and I'm saving :-). Once finished, I add some sugar and ground cinnamon (I keep a little bottle at my desk). Sometimes, I add some raisins to the oatmeal as well. I like to cook the oatmeal with the raisins so they release all the flavor into my breakfast and the texture becomes fluffy :-). I learned that cinnamon is practically nature's blood thinner so....for some healthy arteries I ensure that cinnamon finds its way into my oatmeal all the time.

I usually have a snack between breakfast and lunch (crackers, yogurt, fruit). I bring those snacks from home as well. My lunch for the most part consists of a starch, a protein, and a vegetable. I pair brown rice with baked chicken, fat free gravy, and green beans or broccoli. I have a serving of cookies or graham crackers with pudding for dessert. Mid afternoon I'll have another snack (usually a banana).

I know this probably looks like a lot but I actually lost...25 pounds and saved money doing this. Do you have an ALDI store in your area? I purchase a lot of snacks/food from them.

Have a great day!

Great ideas! My husband's work hours are very long, so I back breakfast, lunch, and two snacks. I do most of my prep work on Sunday evening, so I can easily put his meals together the night before.

My tip is for using baking chocolate and cocoa powder interchangably.

Alea @ Premeditated Leftovers

I pack a lunch every day (well. 5 days a week) for my family of 4. I posted about it.....It IS much cheaper than eating out!

My husband brings his lunch to work, also. Thanks for all the ideas!

My tip this week is for a quick and easy crockpot meal - Crock Pot Cheeseburgers


Thanks for sharing very useful information here is a tip for produce

Here's my tip on creating base recipes, plus a recipe:


Boy, am I spoiled. My husband managed a deli at night while learning his trade and he makes MY lunches, even though we BOTH work. And he makes the salads look so elegant and appetizing and the sandwiches so beautiful that the other teachers are always curious to see what he packed for me- and so are my students! Our daughters only want Daddy to pack their lunches (for school and preschool). Our younger daughter stares suspiciously at her sandwich sometimes: "Is that a Daddy sandwich or a Mama sandwich?" And it sure does save money. But I know he's tired of cold cuts, even when I try to buy different ones I think he'll like. I don't know what to do, though, because he's a tradesman and out in the field where there's nowhere to warm up leftovers or anything.

mama to 2 beautiful girls, wife to 1 great guy

When it comes to lunches (and breakfasts too) my husband prefers routine, so it is usually one sandwich (meat and cheese), an apple or other fruit, and exactly five cookies. I don't usually pack his lunch, but do when he's busy... once I accidentally sent him to work with three cookies instead of five, and his co-worker asked if we'd had a fight or something. ; )

My husband works close enough that he prefers to come home for lunch so packed lunches are a thing of my past, but when I was a single mum with my daughter in grade school I used to pack her the usual bag lunches as listed above, but some days I would do a thermos lunch - with a preheated thermos of course ;) - by either adding boiling water and a hot dog or some reheated taco meat. Along side i would pack a bun and some mustard / ketchup packs with a plastic knife or some nacho chips, grated cheese and some salsa in a container. She loved it and when she had nachos her friends always wanted to share.

Something else she loved for me to pack was popcorn either made as we got ready or refrigerated from the night before. The problem with this became that her friends loved that too and the packed bag got bigger and bigger so it wasn't made often lol

When our family was smaller and we had leftovers, I would divide dinner leftovers into individual containers and freeze them. Then when my husband left for work, he'd stop by the freezer on his way out, pick out what he wanted for lunch/dinner that day and head off to work. The food kept anything else he took cold and was defrosted by mealtime. This only works, of course, if your hubby has access to a microwave or oven at work.

Thanks for the thermos preheat idea!

We follow Weston A. Price and only eat real food ( So packing a lunch everyday is a must, because we have sworn off fast food forever. When I make dinner I always make a double batch of everything. Then I seperate the extras into pyrex lunch-size dishes and they all get labeled and put in the freezer. At any time in the freezer we have a variety of lunches that i would dare Marie Callender or Lean Cousine to beat :) Including:
Shepards Pie
Breakfast burritos
beef and bean burritos
Chili and cornbread
Chicken patties (for quick sandwiches, or as salad topping)
lots of soups (from homeade bone broths)
Really, anything at all that we have for dinner can be frozen in individual portions. We just decide the night before what we want to take, remove it from the freezer, and voila. lunch! It also saves us from getting sick of eating leftovers, because you aren't eating the same food 2-3 days in a row, you can freeze it and not have to eat it again for 2 weeks if you want.

I also pack fruit, veggies and lacto-fermented dip, whole milk raw cheeses and homeade crackers, raw milk, hard-boiled eggs, huge salads from our garden, sandwiches from sprouted whole grain breads, yogurt.

My only complaint is that i have to microwave the food. I strongly disagree with microwaving, but at work I can't find any way around it unless I were to bring cold food every single day. That would get old i think. So for now I have to eat zap-fried dead food once a day......

Travis just went back to working in an office (vs. freelancing) this week, so this is so timely. Thank you for sharing all this info, Tammy! I will have to set a side some time to absorb all these great ideas. :)

My husband just started working and he loves the idea of me packing lunch for him so these are really going to come in very handy! Thank you so much and keep up the good work you are doing by sharing your experiences!:)

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

User login

Subscribe for free recipes, menu plans, and kitchen tips!