As more of us are returning to the office, not having your kitchen close to hand to whip up a quick lunch may mean a return to old habits – and budget lunch deals.
The mainstay of many working days, grabbing a meal deal is seen as the cheapest option, with supermarket offerings start at as low as £3.00 for a sandwich, crisps or something sweet, and drink.
This may seem like good value but look closer and they are not so attractive. Firstly, you are being charged pounds for what you could make for much less, and are more likely to eat fatty, sugary add-ons like fizzy drinks or chocolate, when you just went in for a sandwich, as it’s a bargain.
Although there are a growing number of plant-based options, they are highly processed, and in any case meat sandwiches like the BLT and chicken and bacon sandwich remain most popular.
Cheap meat means the price is paid somewhere, whether that is by lower welfare or the grain imports for feed that cause deforestation, and recent studies have shown we need to drastically reduce industrially-farmed pork and chicken for a more sustainable diet.
All meal deals have another huge issue – plastic. Even if you try to grab the healthiest option, a bottle of water, it’s single use. Pre-pandemic, the UK consumed seven million bargain lunches every day, spending a whopping £20m a year and generating 11 billion items of packaging waste annually.
Lunch deals are also weirdly non seasonal – you know it’s Christmas when a novelty turkey and stuffing sandwich is on the shelves, but other than that it is the same fodder day in day out. Not exciting at all. The industrial loaves used can be hard to digest and are not filling, so you often feel very hungry mid-afternoon and are more likely to reach for caffeine or sugary snacks.
Try taking your own lunch to work on one or two days a week for starters, and if you can head to a green space to enjoy it then all the better.
Try these ideas for budget DIY and healthy lunches, to cut costs, eat really well and ditch single use plastic:
Get yourself kitted up with a water bottle, leak-proof sandwich box and wide necked thermos flask. Great add-ons can be reusable sandwich wraps, bamboo cutlery and an insulated hot drink bottle. It’s a lot to buy in one go, so start with key items and build up; when it comes to birthdays or Christmas and people ask what you’d like, point them in that direction.
Flavoured waters are an easy, refreshing make – just add in an ice cube plus a sprig of herbs, a few fruit slices or berries and other natural flavours when you fill up your water bottle in the morning. Try lemon, turmeric and ginger, or strawberry, mint and cucumber, zingy raspberry and lime or cinnamon stick and apple – play around to find your favourite.
With people often preferring a late brunch and light snacks to a heavy lunch, ‘breakfast to go’ is a big seller. It’s so easy to make overnight oats in a jar before you head to bed, store in the fridge, and grab it on your way out in the morning instead. For a great recipe, with variations including peanut, chocolate and banana or fig, honey and almonds, click here.
Soups and stews are your lunchtime best friend – batch cook and freeze in portions, microwave in the morning and pop in your thermos. They use more affordable seasonal veg, are packed with flavour and preservative free. Try a versatile minestrone soup – pulses provide lots of protein and it is super cheap to make. For the recipe, click here.
Savoury flapjack is a perennially popular recipe – perfect with soups or salad, it costs pennies to make, and you can add in whatever flavours you love most, from herbs to chilli. Click here to try it.
Make extra rice or quinoa for dinner the night before, cool and refrigerate then throw in some extra salad veg, feta chunks, olives, nuts or fruit and some dressing for a filling salad to go – try this fennel, tomato, olive and orange salad for inspiration: click here for the recipe.