Five Cheap Lunches for the Girl-on-the-Go: Madrid Edition

Five Cheap Lunches for the Girl-on-the-Go: Madrid Edition

When you are running around overseas, it may be tempting to choose the convenience and novelty of a local restaurant instead of a practical bagged lunch. Sure, in many ways Madrid may be slightly less expensive in comparison to other capitals in the Western world - Paris, London, Washington D.C. to name a few - but beware. No matter the city, eating out on the “reg” is a sure way to burn through cash.


According to a survey by Expatistan (and confirmed through my personal experiences), a basic lunchtime menu plus drink in Madrid’s city center is about 12.00. Pull out those calculators. Yes, that’s an average of €60.00 per work-week (Monday-Friday) or €240.00 per month if you chose to eat out once per day. During my first two months in Madrid, I stupidly did just this before analyzing my credit card statements and discovering that I completely blew my budget on food!




After realizing that I’d rather spend my hard-earned money on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Barcelona than on a series of meals that I will never remember, I headed to the grocery store and began to pack lunches.


In case you find yourself in a similar situation and need to budget for a Madridian lifestyle: Here are five simple and cheap lunches for a girl-on-the-go, prices included.


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Eating in Madrid on a Budget: 5 Simple and Cheap Lunches

Fair warning: I am not a gourmet chef. I cannot provide you with recipes for creative, Pinterest-worthy dishes. I can and will, however, provide information about the prices of basic grocery store items here in Madrid, photos of said items, AND nifty charts analyzing those $$. So my friends, let’s do some math.



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Meal #1: The Oh-So-American Sandwich

I am a huge fan of a classic American sandwich: lunch meat, mayo, cheese, and (because I am a little fancy), sliced avocado. Turns out, the Spanish locals usually return to their houses for lunch to cook full, three-course dinners, and they find bag-lunch sandwiches to be oh-so-strange. But, add a side of chips and something sweet - yumm I could eat it every day.


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Meal #2: Taco Tuesday 

Tacos (and spicy foods in general) are not very popular here in Spain, so heads up, the range of Latino ingredients is rather limited. But good news, I have been able to find basic fajita seasoning and tortillas in most grocery stores. And if you are craving something specific and a little caliente, you can try your luck at a specialty store as well.


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Meal #3: Classic Poor-girl’s Spaghetti

Spaghetti is always a great option for a quick meal on a budget. Bonus: the streets of Spain are full of fruterias, or specialty stores selling wonderfully-fresh fruits and veggies. Fortunately, it is quite easy to spice up your cheap-Italian cuisine with some quality produce.


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Meal #4: Healthy Option To-Go

Both grocery stores and alimentations, i.e. convenience stores, carry a range of pre-made salads for under €3. Vegetarian, chicken, ham, and pasta options are available and each package is complete with fresh cheese, dressing, and a small, plastic fork. I found that these are perfect for days when I am in a rush, and I love pairing this healthy meal with a yogurt and a Bifrutas, one of my new favorite beverages.


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Meal #5: BBQ Chicken & Rice

In the U.S., I am a big fan of grilled chicken, but in Spain, I have yet to find a good marinade. Granted, I haven’t tried very hard, especially after coming across a bottle of B.B.Q. sauce. Ah, tastes just like America. Add the BBQ chicken to rice and mix in some peas and it’s not too shabby.


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Savings Analysis

Based upon my calculations, this rotating menu of lunches costs approximately €12.44 per week (Monday-Friday) OR €51.89 per month, assuming that you repeat the same meals for four weeks and account for serving sizes of the initial product. This saves a whopping €188.11 per month by avoiding the pricey restaurant alternative! Que guay!


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Keep in mind, if you are accounting for dinners as well, your average grocery bill will most likely be double, with €25- €30 per week or €100 - €120 per month.


Pro Tip: You can purchase in-expensive ziplock bags, plastic utensils, and plastic tupperware at the nearest Chino store, which are everywhere. 


Spanish Prices v.s. U.S. Prices


By comparing my receipts in Spain to online shopping at (with a Virginia zip code), I discovered that Spanish groceries are 22% cheaper than U.S. brands.


Buying said groceries in Spain saves $12 compared to purchasing similar products through Walmart.

  • U.S. Walmart: $56.85
  • Madrid: €37.18 OR (conversion rate 1:1.19) = $44.24

If you are interested in the price differential by item then here you go:

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Pack Those Lunches and Save that $$


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By all means, treat yourself while you are in Madrid and indulge Spanish tapas! But if you are here on a budget, now you have the numerical context needed to plan and monitor your spending. And if you bring bag lunches on your adventures, you will be amazed at how much extra money you have to explore this beautiful city.




-Contributed by Kaitlyn Schmit

Kaitlyn graduated from James Madison University with a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A.T. in secondary education. After teaching high school for four years in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C., she relocated to Madrid with hopes of improving her Spanish and satisfying her wanderlust. 


Kaitlyn Schmit

Written by Kaitlyn Schmit

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