Healthy Bento Lunch Box Ideas
UNI’S back in session. But before you start splashing cash at the food court, try these week’s worth of healthy lunch ideas on a budget! By Jessica-Anne Lyons.
As a university student with a tight food budget, I know that eating out during class hours can be pretty expensive. If you have classes five days a week and spend around $10 per lunch break for a meal and a drink, that quickly adds up to $50 a week!
With 12 weeks in a semester, that’s a total of $600. Just for one semester’s worth of lunches, which is pretty ridiculous.
If you want to save your hard earned cash ($600 can pay for a short holiday or a couple of weeks of rent after all), it really does pay to pack your own lunch – pun intended.
Items to consider buying:
Two layer bento box: You can buy these from the two-dollar shop or specialty Asian gift stores for a few dollars. These plastic sealed containers are great for keeping cold food fresh and buying a two layered one means you can fit two different types of food in there without them mixing together. Some bento boxes even come with mini-sized cutlery or chopsticks.
Thermos: In winter, most of us want a hot meal to warm us up, so we head to the food court in search of something hearty. Save your dosh and warm up leftovers! Thermos are great for keeping food piping hot, so it’s perfect for soup, pasta, noodles etc. All you have to do is warm your meal in the microwave at home and then put it in the thermos. I guarantee it will still be hot when lunchtime rolls around!
Reusable water bottle: Bottled water is ridiculously expensive at about $3 for 500ml. Keep the coins and get yourself a reusable water bottle, which you can just fill up from the tap. Plus if you don’t want water, you can fill it with ice tea, juice or whatever you like. Free never tasted so good!
And now, here are some of my favourite packed lunches. They’re super easy and quick to put together and extremely budget-friendly so you have no excuses not to try them!
Monday: Picnic-style salad bento
If you’re after something cheap and easy, try a simple salad bento. Take a couple of multigrain crackers and fill your lunchbox with toppings like chopped cherry tomatoes, mashed avocado and a tin of tuna. Feeling fancy? Add some lemon juice and diced red onion to mashed avocado for a quick guacamole mix that tastes great with carrot sticks!
If you have a bunch of vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, pumpkin or zucchini in your fridge that are about to go off, you can save them (and your money) by putting them into a quiche.
Plus if you make a large enough one, you can divide it into multiple slices that will last you for a week’s worth of lunches! Try this simple, healthy and delicious vegetable quiche recipe from Taste.com.
Wednesday: Pasta salad
This is a great lunch option because you can make it ahead of time and if you make a big batch you can get a few serves out of it. All you need to do is cook your favourite pasta (I suggest fusilli or spirals) and drain. Then add a small tin of tomato-based or olive oil tuna, some chopped cherry tomatoes and grated cheese and toss together. This can be served hot or cold, it’s up to you!
Note: To help keep this fresh, only add the toppings on the day you plan to eat your pasta salad.
Thursday: Soup with dippers
Time to get that thermos out! A can of soup normally costs around $2 on special at the supermarket and you can pretty much choose any flavour you want – from pumpkin to chicken and corn to beef stew.
Heat it up and pop it in your thermos ready to take to university and don’t forget to pack some multigrain bread or a roll to dip in! Yum!
Of course, sandwiches are a lunch staple, but at $8-$10 for a sanga at most cafes, it can almost break the bank. For a cheaper alternative, just make your own!
If you’re sick of the average ham and cheese, try fillings like chicken, cucumber and cream cheese or mayonnaise tuna with tomato and beetroot. Check out these great sandwich ideas from Realsimple.com
If you’re bored with bread, mix it up at lunch using a bread roll or mountain bread wraps instead.
Bonus tip: Avoid the vending machine
After a day of classes, the sweet tooth can make a trip to the vending machine or 7-Eleven seem pretty tempting. Instead of giving in, buy a bag of party-sized chocolates like Freddos or Mars Bars from the supermarket. These bags often have around 10-20 servings for around $5, so you’ll be able to satisfy your craving for around 30c as opposed to $3.