There's no such thing as a free lunch. A simple takeout sandwich can be at least $5. Add a drink for $1.50, then multiply it by the number...

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch. A simple takeout sandwich can be at least $5. Add a drink for $1.50, then multiply it by the number of days you buy lunch, and we’re talking about a budget-buster.

If you’re looking for ways to save money, maybe it’s time to pack it in. Peanut butter and jelly may still be your best buddy, but there’s also a never-ending selection of sandwiches limited only by your creativity. And leftover soup can be microwaved at work to create a hot lunch.

But it’s often a good, crisp salad that I yearn for, especially as the weather begins to turn warmer. To keep food cool and safe, consider ditching brown paper bags in favor of an insulated fabric cooler, which come in various sizes with prices ranging from $14 to $34. Then tuck in a few blue ice packs or blocks such as those manufactured by Rubbermaid, which are priced under $2 and can be refrozen. When tossing together a salad, pretty much anything goes, but here’s a trick. Place the wet ingredients such as avocado, tomatoes and cut-up fruit in the bottom of a container that can be covered. Then layer on the other ingredients, ending with quick-to-wilt greens.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out “The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great” (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) by Pam Anderson. She’s included a terrific chapter titled “Meal-in-a-Bowl Salads” that offers more options than a grocery salad bar.

Here are some of Anderson’s recommendations for making a single salad.

Salad base: 2 heaping cups of mixed greens.

Protein: 3 ounces cooked chicken or turkey, beef or pork; smoked salmon; cubes of seasoned tofu; canned or home-cooked beans such as garbanzo, white cannellini, Great Northern or black beans.

(The solid white albacore tuna packed by Gig Harbor’s Tuna Guys is my favorite. Not only does the tuna separate into large chunks and have a fresh flavor, it’s also canned with very little liquid, making it a great choice for salads.)

Vegetables: cherry or grape tomatoes, peeled and coarsely grated or julienned carrot; diced avocado; thinly sliced cucumber; strips of bell pepper

(Last night’s leftover roasted vegetables paired with fresh tomatoes and small balls of fresh mozzarella is a dynamite combination.)

Fresh fruit: handful of grapes or berries; sliced apricot or plum; sliced or diced apple or pear, or peeled and sectioned orange or grapefruit

Dried fruits: cranberries, cherries or raisins, as well as dried apricots, peaches or mango pair well with chicken and pork.

Cheese: crumbled blue cheese, feta or goat cheese, or shreds of Parmesan

Check out the contents of your fridge for additions such as toasted nuts, hard-cooked eggs, cooked and crumbled bacon, canned or marinated artichoke hearts, frozen-and-defrosted peas or corn, salty olives or capers and chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

Stick to dressings that are oil-and-vinegar based, and transfer into small, leakproof containers, preferably made of unbreakable plastic.