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16 Old-Fashioned Lunch Recipes That Will Save You Money

Lunch doesn't have to be expensive, if you plan ahead with these delicious classics.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman
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Having the time for a hot lunch is a luxury that most of us don't get. Sure, we can drop into Panera for a bowl of soup, but spending money every day on restaurant food quickly adds up. Factor in the time it takes to pick up food—or the cost of delivery—and it's usually a sad desk lunch for most people. But, don't let eating in dissuade you from having something healthy and delicious. In fact, take a cue from the past and try these easy-to-prepare old-fashioned lunch recipes.

Our parents and grandparents ate these foods for good reasons. Most are filling and quick to prepare, or they can be made ahead and reheated or enjoyed cold. Another bonus is most of these are highly affordable. While a bowl of chicken soup at Panera will run you almost $8, all of these foods can be made for far less and can be customized for today's healthier palates. So dive into the old-school lunch and save your money for a well-earned happy hour cocktail. Plus, don't miss 15 Old-Fashioned Cooking Tips You Should Never Use, Say Experts.

Egg Salad

egg salad sandwich
Courtesy of The Seasoned Mom

The history of the egg salad sandwich is murky, but most agree that people have been using eggs in salads, for centuries. No one is sure when a person first mixed hard-boiled eggs with creamy dressing, but the egg salad sandwich as we know it was invented sometime after the invention of mayonnaise in the late 1700s.

Egg salad is super easy—and cheap—to make, and most people have the ingredients on hand. Try substituting some Greek yogurt for some of the mayo to cut the fat and boost the protein. You can even toss over a salad if you want to forgo the bread.

Get The Seasoned Mom's recipe for Egg Salad.

Tea Sandwiches

tes sandwiches

While the British may still enjoy these adorable little bites with the crust cut off, in America, they aren't really a thing, but they should be. Try cucumber with cream cheese and fresh herbs, smoked salmon with cream cheese, or tomato with some butter. As always choose whole wheat bread to add some fiber.

Get Insanely Good Recipes' 25 Best Tea Sandwiches.

Ham Salad

ham salad sandwiches
Courtesy Spend with Pennies

It's no surprise that ham salad was invented as a way to get rid of leftover ham from the holidays. Though this can also be made with super cheap canned ham, and the mayo and seasonings probably make it taste much better. Don't stop at ham, take a page out of the past and take any leftover meat or fish to make a satisfying lunch sandwich.

Get Spend With Pennies' recipe for Ham Salad.

Three-Bean Salad

Courtesy Dinner At the Zoo

Apparently, three-bean salad was a big thing in the 1950s, though the exact origin is unknown. What is known is that this salad typically combined kidney, waxed, and green beans with some chopped onions and a vinaigrette dressing. The salad kept longer because it didn't include mayo so it was perfect for picnics. Feel free to break the mold and experiment with different beans to make your own mixture. It's a great high-protein, high-fiber accompaniment with a sandwich, though it's also tasty and filling on its own.

Get Dinner at the Zoo's recipe for Three-Bean Salad.


Low-calorie spinach and ham quiche
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald

Quiche is essentially a baked egg pie. The scrambled egg mixture and veggies and/or cheese are baked inside an edible crust. Most sources say that while quiche originated in Germany, it became popular with the French classic Quiche Lorraine. Wherever it comes from, it's delicious for lunch, hot or cold, with a green salad. You can always make a crustless quiche if you want to cut down on some carbs.

The best part about a quiche is that when you know the general recipe you can add any leftovers you have on hand. Lunch is served!

Get our recipe for Easy Spinach and Ham Quiche.

Waldorf Salad

waldorf salad recipe
Courtesy Lil' Luna

The Waldorf salad is another one of those odd salads that isn't a salad at all. It is typically a mixture of apples, celery, and mayo, sometimes with walnuts. As the story goes, it was first created by the maître d' at the Waldorf-Astoria, hence the name. The sweet, crunchy, nutty mixture is the perfect blend of flavors; add less mayo and some avocado to up your healthy fats. Or try a deconstructed Waldorf salad like the one below.

Get Lil' Luna's recipe for Waldorf Salad.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

tuna noodle casserole

Tuna noodle casserole is said to have become popular during WWII when Campbell's used their cream of mushroom soup to make it. However, a fish and cream sauce combination had been enjoyed since the 1800s. Bring this casserole into the 21st century by skipping the condensed soup and making an easy bechamel sauce. You can also use zucchini noodles for a low-carb approach. Chicken of the Sea has a great updated recipe that uses light coconut milk and a bit of cornstarch to thicken the zoodles-based casserole.

Get Chicken of the Sea's recipe for Garden Zoodles Tuna Casserole.

Welsh Rarebit (Rabbit)

welsh rarebit recipe

Welsh rarebit (or rabbit) is a dish of toast covered in a creamy beer-cheese sauce. It's simple and filling—just add a veggie to balance it out. It dates way back to 1785 Britain, so this is truly a throwback dish. Warm and satisfying, this is a must-try! (P.S. No rabbits are harmed for this quick lunch and no one really knows why it's sometimes called rabbit.)

Get Hungry, Happy, Healthy's recipe for Welsh Rarebit.


pinwheel sandwiches

Who doesn't love adorable little wrap-like rollups? You can flatten bread to make these with a rolling pin, or use a wrap to save time. The beauty of these sandwiches is that the filling is rolled through each bite. Prep a few different ones over the weekend and then toss a variety into your lunch bag.

Get Bake It With Love's recipe for Pinwheel Sandwiches.


vegan stew
Courtesy Our Happy Mess

Everyone loves soup for lunch, especially on a fall day, but a stew is heartier and needs no sandwich or side to make it a meal. What's the difference between a soup and a stew? A stew contains less liquid and the components are cooked in just enough liquid. Of course, with a stew you need to plan in advance, but it's ready when you are. And if you're prone to getting hangry, that's very important. Beef stew is the classic, but go vegetarian or vegan and you'll have a hot, healthy meal ready to go.

Get Our Happy Mess' recipe for Vegan Stew.

Sloppy Joes

Healthy turkey sloppy joes
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald

Why have we relegated this dish to the cafeteria? This history of the Sloppy Joe is murky, but at some point after the 1930s, someone added tomato sauce to a loose meat sandwich, and this beloved messy dish was born. Again, making this vegetarian or using a lean meat can be the update that takes it to the top of the lunch list again.

Get our recipe for Healthy Turkey Sloppy Joes.

Beans on Toast

beans on toast
Courtesy Chelsea's Messy Apron

Yes, this one is simple, and that's the beauty of an old-fashioned lunch. This British classic isn't big in the U.S., but with its high fiber content, it should be! Experiment with different beans to see which you love the most.

Get Chelsea's Messy Apron recipe for Beans on Toast.

Fish Sticks

homemade fish sticks
Courtesy How Sweet Eats

A staple of kids' plates since the 1950s, fish sticks have an interesting beginning in a Bird's Eye factory. Apparently, they were the result of an overabundance of fish and new freezing techniques. When the original plan didn't catch on—namely, freezing fish into blocks so that housewives could chop off as much as they needed for the day—the individual fish stick was born. Now, bloggers have made this convenience food healthier and tastier.

Get How Sweet Eats' recipe for Homemade Fish Sticks.

Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed tomatoes

Stuffing veggies has been a thing for a long time; pretty much every cuisine has some form of stuffed vegetable dish. During the low-carb craze, we figured out how to make everything into low-carb edible bowls. Tomatoes are particularly good for lunch because they can be stuffed raw with the above-mentioned salads, so go crazy.

Get 2 Sisters' Recipes' recipe for White Bean Salad Stuffed Tomatoes.

Cold Fried Chicken


Paleo oven fried chicken
Mitch Mandel and Thomas MacDonald

Most fried foods taste terrible cold, but fried chicken is surprisingly delicious. Southern Kitchen theorizes that as fried chicken cools down, the skin contracts, binding itself to the meat. The skin is then separated slightly from the crispy crust, keeping it crisp. They also suggest turning the chicken into chicken salad. Either way, it's great for lunch. And if you have any leftover fast-food chicken, don't shy away from that either!

Get our recipe for Crispy, Oven-Fried Chicken.

Cheese Sandwich

cheese sandwich

Nope, not grilled cheese, just cheese. Hard cheese doesn't spoil very quickly at room temperature and it also tastes best slightly softened, making it a natural for a sandwich. Obviously, stay away from soft cheeses and always follow food safety precautions for your particular cheese. The recipe below uses tangy chutney to balance the creamy cheese and a bunch of veggies for texture and nutrition.

Get Hungry, Happy, Healthy's recipe for an Epic Cheese Sandwich.

Remember, lunch doesn't have to be an extravagant or pricey affair to be the perfect break in the middle of the day. Try these easy and easy-to-modify recipes to make your own meal with what you have on hand. You never know—something old might turn out to be your new weekday favorite.



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Meaghan Cameron
Meaghan Cameron is Deputy Editor of Restaurants at Eat This, Not That! Read more about Meaghan
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