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5 Great Local Lunch Date Ideas for Couples on a Budget

If you’re like my husband and me, you know how tricky it is to manage a household budget with kids. We are very organized when it comes to planning and shopping for groceries, maintaining a stock of household items, and minimizing baby product purchases. As homeowners, we have consistent bills each month that we need to keep up with, and of course, we have to be organized when it comes to caring for our own health and the health of our pets. With all of these financial obligations, it can be hard to keep the spark going in our marriage. We have very few opportunities to sit down and talk one-on-one without distractions or obligations. While my work schedule is very predictable, my husband’s is not, so finding time to go out on a date without our son is quite tricky. When the stars align, however, we quickly arrange for my parents to watch our son and we run out, almost always for a lunch date.

A lunch date is great for a number of reasons.

First of all, there are usually fewer people vying for space on the road, in parking lots, and in restaurants (particularly if it is a week day). For us, it’s easier to manage the childcare piece during the day since my parents already watch our son a few days a week. Lastly, and probably most importantly, going out for lunch is lower cost than going out for dinner. Many times, the portions are smaller, and since a lot of businesses have fewer customers mid-day, you can often find money-saving lunch specials. My husband and I save even more money by drinking ice water with our meals instead of ordering special drinks.

Here are five lunch date ideas my husband and I enjoy:

Lunch Date #1: Salad Boat at the Windjammer (South Burlington, VT)

The Windjammer is one of my favorite places to get a vegetarian lunch. I really fell in love with their salad boat (which is basically a salad bar in a boat-shaped table) when I was pregnant and had a sudden (and intense) aversion to eating meat. I love eating here because their options go beyond the typical salad bar. In addition to the usual veggie options, there are many protein-packed salad toppings, like beans or chickpeas, cottage cheese, or hard-boiled eggs. They always have two side salads on the salad boat, a potato salad and a pasta salad of some type. And lastly, their salad boat also includes fresh bread. If you’re looking for something heartier, you can add chowder, soup or chili for just a few dollars more. Overall, you’re looking at just $11-$14 per person before taxes and tip.

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One of my recent salad boat lunches at The Windjammer.

Lunch Date #2: Easy Panera Picnic (Williston, Burlington, and South Burlington, VT)

I most definitely became obsessed with Panera after my son was born. I’m quite certain that their Rapid Pick-up program was designed for moms. After pretty much every postpartum doctor’s visit or physical therapy appointment, I ordered a Pick Two meal on my Panera app, drove the back way to Williston, and picked up my lunch hassle-free. Ordering on the app is absolutely fabulous because I can pay ahead of time (even with my PayPal account), skip the line, and walk out without having to even put down the carseat. It also makes for an ideal lunch date since I can order a Pick Two for my husband and one for myself, grab the brown bag, and head to a park of our choice. The Pick Two menu offers a wide variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches for carnivores and vegetarians alike. I typically spend $11-14 per person (before taxes and tip), and frequently get a free cookie or drink by using my app.

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A favorite Panera Pick Two lunch of mine: a half Mediterranean veggie sandwich, a bowl of vegetable soup with pesto, and a crisp apple.

Lunch Date #3: Sandwiches or Mexican at the Firebird Cafe (Essex, VT)

The Firebird Cafe has long been a favorite of my family. My parents have been there so many times that the owner knows my mom by name. The atmosphere is casual and the employees and owner are friendly and helpful. Their menu includes a wide variety of breakfast dishes, wraps and paninis, salads, and Mexican fare like burritos and tacos. I highly recommend the huevos rancheros, the C.A.B. (chicken, avocado and bacon sandwich or wrap), the Persephone sandwich (which has mozzarella, pesto, and pico de gallo), or the fish tacos. We typically spend $6-11 per person here (before taxes and tip).

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One of my favorite Firebird Cafe items: Huevos Rancheros. Pictured in the back: my mom’s order of Fish Tacos.

Lunch Date #4: Asian Fusion at Viet Thai (Essex, VT)

Viet Thai is one of our favorite Asian restaurants in the area. They offer a combination of flavorful Vietnamese and Thai dishes, all at very affordable prices. Their dishes are packed with fresh vegetables and herbs, and we have enjoyed every dish we have tried. We usually order an appetizer to share and two main dishes. I highly recommend the Tiger Rolls (small crispy spring roll sized bites stuffed with cream cheese and vegetables), Bun Cha Gio (noodles on a bed of crunchy fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, topped with crispy spring rolls), or Com Ga (grilled marinated chicken with fresh vegetables, served over rice). If you’ve got a few extra dollars, I recommend splurging on the Tom Som (green papaya salad) or a Thai Iced Tea. We typically spend $11-14 per person (before taxes and tip).

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A recent lunch date at Viet Thai.

Lunch Date #5: Lunch Combos at Chili’s (Williston, VT)

Chili’s has been a go-to lunch spot for our friends and for us since we were in high school. I have fond memories of having great chats with my girlfriends and dates early on with my boyfriend (now husband). I love Chili’s because they offer a wide variety of choices, including spicy and non-spicy options, sandwiches, burgers, seafood or pasta. Our local Chili’s has been in business for quite a while, and I like knowing the quality is consistent. I also like that they offer specially-priced lunch combos, where you can choose a soup or salad and a small portion of a main dish. Their main dish options include burgers, tacos, sandwiches, and flatbreads. My favorite lunch combos are the Bacon Ranch Chicken Quesadillas or the Chicken Fajitas (both with a garden salad). The lunch combos here typically cost $6-$8 per person (before taxes and tip).

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Two of my favorite lunch combos at Chili’s: garden salad and chicken fajitas, or garden salad with quesadillas.

While scheduling your lunch date might be tricky, there are places in the area you can enjoy a meal out on a budget. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth (and an extra $9 to spare), I highly recommend stopping over at Superb Cupcake in Williston and picking up a four-pack of their delicious cupcakes. Follow their Instagram page to see which drool-worthy flavors they currently have, and check to make sure they haven’t sold out before you stop in.

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Some of our favorite cupcakes from Superb Cupcake.

This is just a short list of our local options. While they make excellent lunch date spots for you and your sweetie, they are also great places to meet up with friends and family without breaking the bank. What other places in the area do you frequent for lunch when you are on a budget?

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