By Len Penzo
August 9, 2016
JGI/Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Despite the high cost of grocery bills, brown-bagging a sandwich, piece of fruit, and carrot sticks or a serving of chips is always going to be less expensive than buying lunch at a restaurant, school cafeteria or fast-food joint.

Odds are it will be healthier too.

This year, my daughter’s high school will be offering their always-less-than-satisfying lunch fare for $2.75 — that’s $990 over the course of a 180-day school year for a family with two kids.

Of course, not all sammies are created equal: Just ask the Expensive Sandwich King, celebrity chef Martin Blunos, whose $184 cheese sarnie caused quite a stir a few years ago. The good news is, the results of my eighth annual brown bag sandwich price survey show that most folks will spend far less than that in 2016 — even for the most expensive sandwich on the list!

How the Survey Was Conducted

As I have every year since conducting my first sandwich survey way back in 2009, I visited my local grocery store and recorded the per-serving costs of various ingredients for ten of the most common brown bag sandwiches: peanut butter & jelly; bologna; tuna; ham & Swiss; roast beef & cheddar; egg salad; salami; American cheese; turkey; and bacon, lettuce & tomato.

As in my past sandwich surveys, for consistency in determining prices of the individual sandwich ingredients, I only selected items with the cheapest per unit costs, regardless of brand. To keep it simple, I also assumed all sandwiches would be made with wheat bread.

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Survey Results

Here are the results of my price survey on July 30, 2016. The first graphic shows the sandwich serving sizes and per-serving costs for each ingredient. It also includes the percentage increase or decrease in the per-serving price of each item from last year’s survey:

With that data in hand, and using my handy spreadsheet, it was no effort at all to determine the most economical sandwiches.

Here are the official Len Penzo dot Com rankings of the ten most common brown bag sandwiches in 2016. Rankings are based upon total ingredient unit costs, from least to most expensive. As you can see, at a cost of just 35 cents per sandwich, bologna once again wins the “Most Economical Sandwich” award.

The next chart shows a year-by-year comparison for each sandwich since my first survey in 2009. Back then, the average price of all 10 sandwiches was 82 cents. It’s now $1.07; that’s 6% less than last year, but a 30% increase since 2009.

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Tips and Observations

  • After a sharp spike last year, the cost of a peanut butter & jelly sandwich fell 24%, returning it to its traditional role as one of the most economical sandwiches you can make.
  • The sharp spike in egg prices last year is now over. As a

    result, an egg salad sandwich is 52% cheaper this year, making it another economical sandwich option.

  • In an odd twist, egg salad and American cheese are cheaper this year than they were in 2009. Last year, only American cheese could make that claim.
  • For the first time, the surveyed year-over-year price of a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich fell — in fact, it’s 42% cheaper than last year.
  • You can often save upwards of 40% by avoiding name brands and buying the store-brand products instead. As my blind taste tests have proven, sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference.
  • Try cooking your own ham or turkey and slicing it yourself to save even more money. Likewise, it’s also cheaper to buy block cheese and slice it at home.
  • If you’re like me and love to put tomatoes on a sandwich, grow your own — you’ll save a bundle. Best of all, they taste much better than anything you can buy from your grocer.
  • Despite the conventional wisdom, a bologna sandwich is still one of the most economical sandwiches on the lunch menu. Of course, that assumes you’re making the sandwiches — not Martin Blunos

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