If you’re tired of shelling out $10 a day or more for a ho-hum lunch at the deli around the corner from your office, you’re in luck. We’re going to walk you through how to make one of the most versatile, satisfying and inexpensive mid-day meal around: the ploughman’s lunch.
First, let’s start with a little history. The ploughman’s lunch is a simple meal traditionally eaten by farm hands in Great Britain. It was typically made up of homemade bread, cheese and an apple, but over the years meats, eggs, vegetables and pickles were introduced, making the ploughman’s lunch a veritable cornucopia of lunchtime options.
Another nice thing about this lunch is that portions are easily adjusted for your personal needs, as are the ingredients. You’re vegan, you say? Not a problem. You crave a lot of meat around noon? You’re covered. Gluten free? Lactose intolerant? Don’t like bread? This is a fantastic meal option for you with a few tweaks.
Another thing we love about the ploughman’s lunch is you can spend a little more on key, quality ingredients and still stay within your grocery budget. And it’s a fantastic way to use up your leftovers.
The basic ploughman
Here’s how to create a basic ploughman’s lunch that will keep you moving through your long afternoons.
The bread: Start with a really thick slice of good quality bread, like a French baguette. A couple of pieces of Wonder bread are not what we’re talking about here. A substantial bread with a chewy crust will be far tastier and satisfying. Frozen loaves you can bake in your oven are a wonderful option if you can’t start from scratch. If you don’t like bread, are gluten-free or want to reduce your carbohydrate intake, substitute some cooked whole grains like quinoa or rice, or grab some corn tortillas.
The meat: Cured meats like salami, prosciutto or capocollo can be a great option for the ploughman’s lunch, but so can leftover chicken or roast beef. You’ll find pre-packaged lunch meat less tasty, but it can also work if you don’t have other options. A 3-ounce serving should suffice for your lunch. We've got ways to save on meat here.
The cheese: Go for a truly delicious cheese from your grocer’s deli. The stronger the flavor, the more filling the cheese will seem. Think blue cheese, smoked gouda or something similar. Try some new ones at the counter if you’re unsure what you want. You should be able to buy an 8 oz. chunk of whatever cheese you choose for around $4 in order to stay within budget.
Extra protein: Boiled eggs are an inexpensive way to add a solid protein boost to your afternoon meal. Cook up half a dozen and store in your refrigerator so you can just grab and go in the mornings.
The vegetables: If you like pickles, throw some in your lunch, including pickled green beans, carrots and even beets. Get as diverse as you like. And by all means, add some fresh veggies, too. Mixed baby lettuces, cherry tomatoes, broccoli or cauliflower florets. Whatever you love and fits within your budget should get a role in your ploughman’s lunch.
The fruit: A banana, apple, dates, figs, berries … literally any fruit you like can be added as a sweet closer for your ploughman’s lunch.
For the vegan/vegetarian: Adding some nuts and legumes to your lunch is a great way to ensure you get the protein you need. Grab some hummus, nut butter, soy cheese, raw nuts and even baked tofu to round out your repast.
Extra calories: Dipping your bread in some good olive oil is a tasty way to eke out a few more calories and add some good fats to your lunch.
Control the cost
Obviously, the ploughman’s lunch is versatile enough that you could eat some variation of it every day without having the same thing. You also could easily spend $3 or $4 each day depending on the cost of the ingredients you purchase. But, just as with this 45-cent multi-cooker recipe, if you think ahead and do a quick food costing (dividing the cost of the ingredients by the number of servings they will provide) before you buy, you’ll easily be able to spend just $5 a week on lunch without going hungry.
Trying to cut your food budget? Here are 12 simple things you should do before grocery shopping.