Packing your lunch is such a great way to stretch your food dollar. If you figure that the average lunch out will cost around $10, you can save $50 a week by brown bagging it on a a daily basis. The biggest challenge, though, is keeping your lunches from getting ho hum. Here are a few quick and easy salad recipes that should prevent the lunchtime doldrums.

Carrot Salad
1 pkg shredded carrots
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups cashews
1 can pineapple tidbits, drained

Mix all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, then divide the salad into individual lunch containers. This will last 3-5 days in the fridge, so it will be a great side in your lunch for the whole week.

I have swapped out the pineapple with mandarin oranges before, and I’ve also substituted dried cranberries for the raisins. When I don’t have cashews on hand, I like to use almonds or pecans – whatever’s in the cupboard. Trader Joe’s has these amazing honey sesame cashes that really put this salad over the top. It’s such a cheap and versatile recipe. And you don’t have to use packaged shredded carrots – you can peel whole carrots and put them in the food processor to reduce the overall cost of preparing this salad. But if you’re a busy gal on the go like myself, sometimes paying for a little convenience is worth it!

You can read more salad recipes here and here.

Soups are another cheap and easy lunchtime solution, and with Fall weather, they’re the perfect way to take time out of your busy work day. Here’s a recipe for vegetable soup. If you pack a bowl of this with some salad and a nice piece of bread, you’ve got yourself a very hearty lunch!

Vegetable & Wheat Berry Soup
1 onion, diced
3 pieces of celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 pkg (32 oz.) vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked wheat berries
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil

1. In a large sauce pan, saute your onions in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the celery and carrots. Continue to saute for 2-3 more minutes. Add the bell pepper. Saute 1-2 more minutes.

2. Add the canned tomatoes, vegetable broth, wheat berries, and bay leaf. Stir all the ingredients together and cover. When the soup starts to boil, reduce the heat and let the soup simmer for 30-45 minutes, or until the wheat berries are tender, but they haven’t split open. You may need to add a bit of water during the cooking process if you notice that your liquid level decreases.

3. Season with salt and pepper at the end of the cooking process.

This is another one of those versatile recipes that can be adjusted, depending on the vegetables that you have in the fridge. I love adding kale to my vegetable soups. Green, leafy vegetables like kale or spinach should always be added near the end of the cooking process. They will only need to cook for 5-10 minutes. Since they have a strong aroma, cook with the lid off to help some of that smell dissipate.

If you’ve got root vegetables like turnips, parsnips, or rutabagas, vegetable soup is a great way to use them. (Save the beets for borscht.) You can swap out the carrots, or add your root vegetables right along with the mix. I would just omit the bell pepper if I were doing root vegetables, because the flavors don’t really compliment each other very well.

If you make your own stock, you can really stretch your food dollar with soups and stews. Read more soup recipes here.

Do you have easy soup and salad recipes that you like to prepare in advance to take in your lunches? What are some of your favorite lunchtime recipes? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.