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11 easy, tasty lunches under $2

Mac & Cheese
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Constance Brinkley-Badgett |
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If you’re like most Americans, you’re eating lunch at your desk that probably came from the nearest take-out or delivery spot. You’re also probably spending between $7 and $15 each day for that convenience (that adds up to between $1,820 and $3,900 annually).

But what if you could eat delicious food that tastes a lot better, has more nutritional value and costs you less than $520 a year? Could you find something to do with that extra $1,300 to $3,380 each year? Like paying off some of your student loan debt? Or paying down your credit card balances? (You can see how your current debts are affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated each month, for free on

Click ahead for some great lunch ideas that will save you money and won’t cost you too much time in the kitchen. (Estimated costs per serving are based upon national average grocery prices and amounts used per recipe.)

RELATED: 11 ways my family saves at restaurants

1. Brazilian Black Bean Soup

Cost per serving: 78 cents

Mollie Katzen’s “Moosewood Cookbook” has been a staple among vegetarians for decades, and for good reason. This soup from that book, while actually vegan if you don’t dress it with the suggested sour cream, is hearty and satisfying enough for meat lovers. Serve it hot in cooler months or at room temperature or even chilled in warmer months for a delicious meal every time.

2. Classic BLT

Cost per serving: $1.80

There’s very little more satisfying than salty, crispy bacon paired with juicy ripe tomato, fresh lettuce leaves and creamy mayo. In order to keep all of these components in their perfect state of deliciousness (and keep your bread from getting soggy), it’s a good idea to assemble this sandwich when you’re ready to eat it instead of hours before.

3. Summer Pasta With Zucchini, Ricotta & Basil

Cost per serving: $1.03 (if you make your own ricotta per the recipe)

This recipe from “The New York Times” is simple, elegant and uses seasonal ingredients. (It’s delicious for dinner with some grilled lamb chops or other meat of your preference, so make plenty for lunch leftovers!) Be adventurous and make the ricotta yourself for this one. It’s really worth it.

4. Pea & Mint Soup

Cost per serving: $1.17

I just love the combination of mint and peas, especially as a cool summer soup. This recipe is super simple, quick and light but satisfying and filling enough to eat alone or with a salad or sandwich. For a lighter and cheaper soup, opt for the sour cream and water. For a richer but more expensive soup, use the crème fraiche and cream (used to calculate food costs here).

5. Peanut Butter, Mayonnaise & Lettuce Sandwich

Cost per serving: 34 cents (add veggies at an average of 10 cents each)

Yes, it sounds weird, and maybe even a bit gross for the uninitiated, but trust me on this one. The peanut butter and mayo together are reminiscent of Thai peanut sauce. Paired with the crunch of some shredded iceberg lettuce, it’s delicious. Of course, you’ll get more nutritional value out of some kale or mixed greens, but the crunch of the iceberg is not to be underestimated.

If you want to nudge your sandwich a bit more to the Asian side, add some thinly sliced cucumber and radish, julienned carrot and even cilantro and mint leaves. Want a little more protein? Put it all on a toasted baguette and throw on some sliced grilled chicken or pork.

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6. Pasta With Vegetables

Cost per serving: 67 cents (using five vegetables)

It’s summer, and the veggies are plentiful and inexpensive, so throw your favorite pasta in some water, cut up some seasonal veggies and lightly sauté them in some olive oil with a bit of garlic, toss, top with fresh herbs like basil, marjoram, oregano or thyme, and you have a delicious, light lunch that will power you through your afternoon.

7. Salads

Cost per serving: Varied, but it’s easy to stay below $1.50

Salads don’t have to be a boring mix of lettuce, tomato and shredded carrots. Use the summer months to experiment with your options. Like eggplant? Throw some thinly sliced pieces on the grill drizzled with olive oil, and top your salad with those and some roasted summer tomatoes. Experiment with different dressings or try making your own to save even more money.

8. Gazpacho

Cost per serving: Varied by recipe, but a traditional tomato-based gazpacho costs roughly $1.08 per serving.

There’s no right or wrong way to make gazpacho — with bread or without, white or red, smooth or chunky. It’s the fresh summer vegetables that really shine in this dish, and it makes a lovely, refreshing lunch on hot summer days that’s also quite inexpensive.

9. Mac & Cheese

Cost per serving: 45 cents boxed, 88 cents homemade

The sad and simple truth about macaroni and cheese is that the boxed stuff is less expensive than making it yourself. It’s also easier. That said, it doesn’t taste nearly as good and it generally doesn’t have as much nutritional value. Either way, it’s still an inexpensive meal option that is quite versatile if you add vegetables, meats and seasonings for variety.

10. Egg Salad Sandwich

Cost per serving: 45 cents

Egg salad is so versatile because it can be prepared simply with just eggs, mayo, salt and pepper or dressed up with fresh herbs, spices (curry, anyone?), meats and other ingredients. Get creative, and don’t forget to throw some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and other fresh summer vegetables on your sandwich.

11. Grain Bowls

Cost per serving: Varied by ingredients but under $2 unless you go hog wild

This is a great option for leftovers, even for those who aren’t particularly fond of leftovers, because it alters them enough to feel like an entirely different dish. Have some leftover soup or pot roast? Ladle it onto your choice of quinoa, rice, spelt or whatever other grain you love, add some herbs or more vegetables, and you have an inexpensive and satisfying lunch.

You can check out all of the related recipes here.

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