Replace lunchmeat with healthier, homemade options (52 ways to save money on a healthy diet series)

Lunchmeat (cold cuts) is a great idea. If you are making a hot meal every night, serving leftover meat or pre-cooked meats at lunchtime takes the pressure off the cook of the family. However, what makes me not happy is how very expensive it is per pound to buy lunchmeat, especially if you are trying to buy a higher-quality product. Lunchmeats are some of the most processed meat products on the market, and some of their weight is water, sugar, and other “fillers”. All-natural lunchmeat can be $11-$13 dollars a pound in our area (even the non-organic ones). Regular lunchmeat is full of a lot of unsavory ingredients and made with factory-farmed meat  – not something I want to feed my family on a regular basis.

All in all, lunchmeat is not a frugal cook’s friend.

My husband recently brought home a small amount of lunchmeat bought at our local deli for his lunch. After I saw the small amount of meat his $6 dollars bought, I was determined to start doing better in keeping other options in the house.

I have also found that my children like homemade version better, so not only is it more frugal and higher quality, they are more likely to eat it! Obviously lunch can be so much more than just eating sandwiches, but we really enjoy them too.

Here are some different options.

  • This recipe for homemade chicken lunchmeat is a real favorite in our household. It costs me $5 a pound for organic chicken thighs, making it significantly cheaper to make then buying lunchmeat (plus it’s higher quality!). It’s great hot and cold, so you can make a big batch and serve some with quinoa/rice, veggies and the chicken hot for dinner, refrigerate the leftovers, and thinly slice once chilled for lunch.
  • Roast Beef: I know this is obvious, but I am so used to the idea of lunchmeat being store-bought slices of processed meat that it took me a while to realize that it was really just…roasted beef. I can’t wait to make my own roast! Once again, I can use some of it for a dinner, and then chill it, slice it, and serve on sandwiches (or plain!) for lunch(es) afterwards. This was a helpful post about making your own.
  • Chicken Salad: I adore chicken salad. I love it on top of a bed of fresh dark greens, I love it smashed into pita bread, and I love it between toasted pieces of whole grain bread. I just love it. One of my favorite recipes when I first started learning to cook was a curried chicken salad with diced green apples. Oh my, that was yummy! The great thing about it is that you can use that any sort of cut you want to make it! You can use leftover shredded chicken meat, you can cube gently cooked thighs or breasts, and you can make a package of chicken drumsticks into a chicken broth, and shred the meat for chicken salad. Sometimes I don’t want a mayo heavy version, so I like to add sliced almonds, red grapes cut in half, and then gently toss with a homemade salad dressing. There are so many different possibilities here! You could also make any type of leftover seafood into a “salad” for sandwiches (or to top green salads).
  • Meatloaf Sandwiches: A little redneck, but actually yummy! Simply slice leftover meatloaf and serve sandwich style (with ketchup and mustard). A classic, traditional cold cut was basically ground beef and pork spiced and flavored, cooked in a loaf pan and then chilled and served thinly sliced in a sandwich.
  • Gelatin-rich Chilled Turkey Loaf: I was so intrigued by this Turkey loaf, which is basically a savory gelatin, made with the natural gelatin of homemade stock. Protein-rich, yes, but also very rich in the body building properties of gelatin. I really want to try a chicken version of this (a little nervous how my family will respond, but it is worth a shot!). I think this would be a wonderful way to get homemade broth in during the summer months.
  • Egg Salad: I grew up loving egg salad. Plus, it is so simple! Boiled eggs can be a great source of protein, so having them on hand to peel and dip into unrefined salt is a great snack/lunch component right there. But if you keep them on hand, you can also quickly dice them up, mix with homemade mayo, a little mustard, and maybe some red onion and/or fresh herbs, and there you go! It’s even great on top of  a green salad! But if you are low on time, it’s also good simply thickly sliced and placed in a sandwich, perhaps along with mustard, arugula, a juicy tomato slice, and thinly sliced red onion (or at least, I like it that way – but I love eggs!).
  • Vegetarian Options: You don’t always need to have meat in a sandwich! Why not make a delicious vegetarian version with homemade hummus, red onion, cucumber, avocado, and lettuce? You can do a wide variety of bean spreads or bread pates to use in place of meat. Once again, there are endless options. Here is a great recipe for both a basic hummus and a pesto hummus (which puts you in a different flavor profile, so is a fun twist on hummus).

But back to the meats, here are a few questions I had that you may have too. One is how long the meat will last. We always eat our chicken lunchmeat really fast, but according to the Food Safety website, cooked poultry, meats, and seafood will last 3-4 days refrigerated. The next question is whether you can freeze homemade lunchmeat or not. The answer is definitely yes if you have a vacuum sealer. This ehow article gives step-by-step instructions in how to freeze lunchmeat without one. I will be giving it a try, since I don’t own a vacuum sealer. Most recommend only freezing for 3 months to prevent off-flavors developing (especially freezer burn).

My last tip with working in making homemade lunchmeat is to thinly slice if you want more then one “slab” on your sandwich. Your meat should be really chilled and you should use a sharp  knife too. I believe a serrated knife may be your best bet here. You could also freeze it for about 15 minutes, and then slice, for really thin slices.

I am sure I am missing some homemade lunchmeat options here! I’d love to hear other ideas! 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. Dana says

    Salmon spread is a really great one too. That is if you have access to wild caught salmon… which I no longer do 🙁 But for Alaskan’s for example it’s pretty readily available.

  2. says

    I usually go to Whole Foods and buy their cut up pre-cooked chicken in their salad bar. It’s usually shredded off of their whole chickens in the morning, so its fresh, healthy (free range and antibiotic free) and fairly reasonable for protein…. $2.15 per 100g. I use it for everything all week long….put into soups, or on top of salads or use it to stuff a vegetable at dinner, or just heat it and add ketchup! YUM!

    • Sarah says

      Uuum – at 454 grams per pound, 100 grams is a little less than 1/4 pound. (actually 0.22 lb). At $2.15/.22 lb meat, I end up with $9.77 per pound. A bit pricey. But excellent meat and very convenient, I’ll admit.

  3. cirelo says

    I make my own cured salmon with wild caught fillets and then slice it thinly to use as lox. So very easy, delicious, and if you were to buy it already cured it would cost you upwards from $17/lb . At home I can make it for ~3/lb.

  4. Kristin says

    My husband loves when I throw a cheap pork roast in the crockpot, cook until tender, shred and mix with BBQ sauce for pulled pork sandwiches. I get tons of meat that will easily last the whole week and often freeze leftovers in sandwich sized portions for use later on. Although I don’t buy farm fresh pork due to price and availability, I think its much healthier and cheaper than my lunchmeat options. The same thing could easily be done with higher quality chicken and beef, and it takes about ten minutes total of hands-on time.

  5. Bekah says

    I cook beef ribs until the meat falls off the bones and then do the barbeque option mentioned above. Makes a great hot sandwich.

  6. says

    Wonderful resource! Thank you! I have found that as a general rule cooked meats will last in my fridge up to 7 days. This is longer than conventional safety experts recommend, but farm fresh, pastured meats are not conventional by any means. 🙂

  7. Jen says

    I love meatloaf sandwiches, and my favorite condiment for this is homemade mayo. YUM! A sprinkle of sea salt in nice too.

  8. Dharma says

    This is awesome. I’m very thankful for this blog and it’s many great ideas. I have struggled with replacing ham and turkey and will try this ideas. I did roast as much turkey as I could in season, but it only last so long. One strategy that may be helpful is smoking. I used to have a smoker for my grill. I find that smoking meats helps their longevity. Whole foods does sell smoked chicken, beef, lamb and pork as well. Anyhow smokers are easy and not too expensive. Also gives a flavor variation to the meats. I also make sausage sandwiches (I make my own sausage often but I don’t put it in a case ) for sausage of various flavors ground meat is the main ingredient bur changing the spices gives it nice variety. Makes excellent sandwiches and wraps or omelets. I do ocasionally splurge and buy very high quality ones in their cases. Another less common but equally versitile “lunch meat” is smoked fish. Not just salmon but others, nice smoked filets make good sandwiches. And of course fish cooked any way is good lunch option. Wild caught, fair trade and sustainable fish can be found both at trader Joe’s and Whole foods. I shop sales and often cook them in wax paper pouches, steamed with herbs and lemon or garlic. Fadt, easy, delicious and nutritious.

  9. Heather says

    The meat + gelatine loaf-type things were popular in the 40’s and 50’s. I have seen a number of such recipes in vintage cookbooks, but haven’t been brave enough to try them, yet.

  10. Dallas says

    I make a sauce from dried chilies ancho boil them tender blend in mixer with garlic cumin onion Salt pepper rub a whole chicken or turkey or pork loin and always get under skin marinate over. Night or a few hours bake grill or smoke slice it or shreds or even. Chopped put in corn or flour tortillas top with fresh cilantro chopped onion and squeeze lime and make a side guacamole dip and chips very very good sometimes I will use the long lettuce and place in that and make a sandwich instead of tortillas skies the limit it starts with good seasoned meat

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