Bento Box
Make lunch fun with a colorful Bento lunchbox, with strips of raw vegetables and dip, pita pockets, crackers, fruit or nuts.

With the holidays right around the corner, you may wonder how you’re going to get the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Parents, bosses, nieces, nephews and spouses all need gifts that say “thoughtful” but don’t scream “cheap.” Instead of charging everything on your credit card in the two weeks before Christmas, why not sock away $40 weekly until you have a solid gift-giving budget? It’s easy when you swap dining out three to four days a week with healthy, filling, cheap lunches you brought from home. Plus, if you lose a little weight while eating healthier in the weeks before the holidays, you’ll feel less guilty for indulging in Thanksgiving favorites.

Try the wholesome, budget-friendly suggestions below and you’ll be on your way to a leaner waistline and fatter wallet in as little as two weeks, and prep as much as you can the night before so bringing your lunch helps you out rather than stresses you out.

Colorful Bento box
Packed in a divided dish or individual small reusable containers, a do-it-yourself Bento box is easy, cheap and fun. Include a hard-boiled egg, cut in half and sprinkled with salt and pepper, baby carrots, celery sticks and low-fat ranch dressing and cheese, ham and crackers, stacked and stored sideways. For dessert, add a container of sliced kiwi and mango. Go Japanese and make a box of store-bought California rolls, shelled edamame and orange slices, or think like a kid again with sliced turkey and cheese roll-ups with mustard to dip them in, green grapes, Goldfish crackers and a pudding cup.

Sandwich shake-up
Regular old peanut butter and jelly doesn’t have to make it into your brown bag. Make over your sandwich with the following combinations on whole-wheat bread: peanut butter and thinly sliced pears; fresh mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes and basil leaves; hummus, fresh mint and cucumber slices; egg salad and smoked salmon; or grilled chicken, apple slices and mango chutney. Instead of whole wheat bread, also consider bagels, crackers or bakery rolls.

Kicked-up leftovers
There are two types of people in the world: those who like leftovers, and those who don’t. If you’re in the latter category, fall in love with leftovers again by making them over on the second time around. Add drained, rinsed chickpeas and enchilada or taco sauce to leftover macaroni and cheese; top beans and rice with a fried egg and a few drops of hot sauce; douse a baked potato with leftover chili or soup and shredded cheddar; and turn steamed rice into fried rice by heating it in a skillet with a tablespoon of vegetable oil, chopped scallions and carrots, a scrambled egg, a handful of frozen peas and a few dashes of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. If you have leftover chicken, ham, bacon or ground beef to throw in, even better.

Breathe new life into familiar favorites by surrounding delicious fillings with a whole-wheat tortilla. Combine grilled chicken, chopped romaine lettuce and reduced-fat Caesar dressing for a Caesar salad wrap; mozzarella cheese, turkey pepperoni, sliced black olives, sautéed onions and peppers and a little pizza sauce for a microwavable, melty pizza wrap; or Brie, raspberry jam and toasted pecans for an almost-baked Brie wrap (after it’s heated). If you have time the night before, lightly toast your wrap in a skillet after the filling has been added.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto/jabiru



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