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Tips for quickly preparing/packing great lunches for work


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I tried a search but couldn't find a thread topic directly on point - the closest was the really fun "lunch! what'd ya have?" thread. Does anyone here regularly do it? Any tips or ideas beyond typical cold cuts that are still easy to implement (with a little bit of planning)?

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My boyfriend takes his lunch to work every day: three open-faced sandwiches on (more or less fresh) bread, a little butter (I'm lying, he favours margarine, no idea why), a slice of cold meat (lower moisture ones like prosciutto and bresaola hold up better than wetter things like jagtwurst or cooked ham). He's Danish, so it's open sandwiches all the way. If you have a closed sandwich, you can stuff a lot more in, since there's something to hold the stuff in place, and a pita or firmly rolled wrap gives even better ingredient restraint.

I also sometimes make empanadas, which you can fill with anything you like (sweet or savoury); they microwave very nicely, if you want to eat them hot, but are excellent cold, too. Plus, they have the advantage of being the sort of thing you can just grab out of the refrigerator (no prep), wrap, and toss in your bag.

Are you dealing with some very specific wishes/restrictions?

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums

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I do big batches of pasta, portion them and put them in the freezer. It could be lasagna, pasta with ragu (beef cheek, duck, lamb shank, etc), or just a jar sauce with whatever vegetable/cheese I have on hand. Curry is another great option to make a big batch of and then portion.

I also love hearty salads: egg, chicken, tuna, beet or couscous.

Asian noodle soup, with the soup and the noodle packed separately. I combine them right before they go into the microwave. Turned out quite well.

Savoury oatmeal can be a good lunch (I generally have it for breakfast myself). At the office, I have instant oats and miso soup packets. Oat, hot water, microwave for 40 seconds, stir in miso.

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I am a habitual lunch packer. At first it was for the economics of it, but has evolved into something I enjoy.

My first experiences with cooking were large in scale (there were seven of us kids) so I quickly got comfortable with large batches.

I still prepare them and portion them out. I have become a container freak or sorts. Here are a few of my regulars:

Rotisserie chicken (usually Sunday night)

one of the finest meals when fresh off the grill followed by chicken breast, chicken salad sandwiches and soup for lunches.

Fresh kielbasa, when I can find it, baked with rinsed sauerkraut, sliced apples and onions. (I got this from a Lufthansa meal that I loved).

Stuffed peppers

Stuffed cabbage (freeze very well)

Pasta and sauce (I prefer short product like ziti or rigatoni for lunches at work, less flicking of sauce onto my shirts)

A quart container with a heaping Tbs of Better than Bouillon Chicken Base, some dried black fungus (Tree or Cloud Ears), sliced baby bok choy,a few slices of roast pork

or frozen dumplings and two bunches of the dried noodles that come in clumps in a big bag at any Asian food market topped with a dash of Sriracha. At work I put tea

water into it and mike it for a nice ramen-like soup.

Salads of all kinds, but roasted beet, marinated mushrooms and sliced potatoes in oil and vinegar with onions and fresh herbs is a favorite that keeps for days.


Edited by HungryChris (log)
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Leftovers! I grew up with my mom plopping chicken breasts, meatloaf, leftover steak, whatever between two slices of bread. Now I just take a portion of last night's dinner. Today it's leftover tortellini alfredo with broccoli. I wanted a salad, but DH has been packing us up lately and he forgot and I didn't remind him/check myself. There's also some leftover london broil at home that will probably become a salad later; I like it too rare to reheat it. If DH takes it instead, he might take it with leftover mashed potato & veggies. If there aren't enough veggies at home, lunch is a good time to take frozen, because it mostly defrosts by the time I eat it. If all else fails, I take a salad with hard boiled egg or tuna.

Joanna G. Hurley

"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

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Sometimes I will cook a little extra of an ingredient or two needed for dinner. For instance, if I need to brown some chicken, I will add a couple extra pieces and cook them completely for lunch the other day. Rice, potatoes, green beans, and hearty veg all do well the next day for lunch. I might toss a few of them together with a simple mustard vinegarette to make a salad.

On another note, I am about to experiment with making a home made pot noodles. I have some simple thin egg noodles and bits of pieces of veg from last nights dinner, plus a few fresh items (ginger, cabbage, herbage, to name a few contenders. I will place them all in a lock lid jar. At lunch time, I will add some hot veg broth and let it sit for a few minutes. Hopefully, it will be edible.


"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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I pack lunch for DBF and I almost every day.

I'm a big fan of making something in bulk on the weekend to use. The night before all I have to do is portion or maybe prep a few things that don't keep, like chop tomatoes, or assemble salads.

Yesterday, I put a 4lb pork shoulder in my crockpot with ginger, garlic, onions, thai chilis, and a can of coconut milk. Then I roasted a couple of trays of baby bok choi and some frozen stir fry veggies, and made a pot of rice. This easily made 10 portions for us. I LOVE my crockpot for this kind of thing. (EDIT: Hah! I had just posted this, and I got a message from DBF that said "holy shit, lunch is amazing". So, if anyone wants the actual recipe, let me know. :cool: )

Previous weeks batch cooked lunches include :

- A huge batch of stuffed peppers with sausage, and fixings for big Italian salads.

- Crockpot chuckroast, with sliced peppers and onions, and Herdez salsa verde, to be served over a spinach salad w/ a rasberry chipotle dressing.

- Tuna/salmon salads bulked with hard boiled eggs are good over salad greens. (I'll not that, although this is a pretty good volume of food for lunch, it's very low in calories and I was more hungry than normal later, so next time I'll supplement with fruit and/or crackers.)

- I bought several different kinds of deli meat and cheese, and sandwich fixings, and packed it a bunch of different ways - as lettuce wraps, as a chopped salad, and as an actual sandwich.

- I roasted a couple trays of purged eggplant and zucchini with garlic, and made a sort of stew with chickpeas and fire-roasted tomatoes, to eat over rice. This was good garnished with kalamata olives and capers.

- Curried red lentils and rice, with roasted broccoli and cauliflower, and sliced cucumbers.

Some weeks, dinners will be leftover heavy, so I just keep stuff to do fill-in lunches. This summer, I've really grooving on tinned sardineson crackers, cherry tomatoes with chunks of motzarella (or the little marinated balls), kalamata olives, and sliced cucumbers in vinegar.

A quart container with a heaping Tbs of Better than Bouillon Chicken Base, some dried black fungus (Tree or Cloud Ears), sliced baby bok choy,a few slices of roast pork

or frozen dumplings and two bunches of the dried noodles that come in clumps in a big bag at any Asian food market topped with a dash of Sriracha. At work I put tea

water into it and mike it for a nice ramen-like soup.

This sounds like an easy, interesting addition to the lunch rotation. Tell me about the dried black fungus - is it powdered? What flavor does it contribute, and is it common at Asian markets? Can you add dried shitake mushrooms, or will they not have enough time to rehydrate?

Edited by dividend (log)

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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  • 5 months later...

The better half gets the good stuff (the leftovers) so I like to do sandwiches and soups.

Soups are nice because, obviously, you can cook a big pot and then freeze individual portions. I normally do split-pea or a Mexican=style black bean. They're healthy too!

Hope that helps, Joe

Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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  • 1 month later...

Sorry it took me while to notice the request for the coconut pork shoulder recipe, guys. Here it is :

3-4 lbs pork shoulder



salt / pepper

hot chili oil

chopped ginger

minced garlic

1 or 2 thai chilies, cut very small

2 medium onions, cut into rings

1 14-oz can coconut milk

Season the pork on all sides with salt, pepper, coriander, and cumin. Put some hot chili oil in the bottom of the crockpot, and set the pork in. Scatter the garlic, ginger, chilies, and onions on top, and pour the coconut milk over the top.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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Most of the time, I have leftovers. If you're a lunch packer, the "right" container can make the whole process more pleasant. I like the Nissan stainless round thermal container, which has 4 nesting plastic containers inside of it (think Japanese style tiffin), but my favorite lunch tote is the "Box Appetit". A square container large enough for a sandwich, it has two smaller containers--side dish and sauce or salad dressing, for example, and a matching fork. The lid serves as a plate with a "dip" depression. See it here: http://www.momastore.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay_Box-Appetit-Lunch-Container_10451_10001_69138_-1_26669_26670

I enjoy my leftovers so much more when they're not squashed into recycled yogurt containers. On the other hand, the recycled yogurt containers don't need to make it home, so no washing or toting required.

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Any soups or liquid heavy meals reheat reasonably well in a microwave - I suppose this is due to the bulk fluid heating faster than the meat due to water content...

Curry dishes are great because you can smother your meat and vegetables in the sauce and reheat, which usually will prevent your meat from becoming overly dry. Pasta is a good option too.

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I'm stay at home dad, so no lunch packing for me, but lunch for my boy (4th grade) is either left overs heated up in the morning and then in a Thermos insulated container (about the size of a can) that keeps it warm until lunch. If no left overs, it's sandwich on what kind of bread we have, baguette, whole wheat, sourdough. He likes it just with a bit of mayo, ham or left over steak/chicken and a bit of greens, I'd add cheese on mine. Sometimes he takes a muffin with sunflower butter and honey (they ask not to send peanut stuff in). For snack either baby cut carrots or celery.
The Thermos container has worked out great for years now. The action hero design washed off long ago, but it still works great and seals 100%, I've sent soup in with him.

While still at work I usually bought a sandwich, I hated waiting in line at the microwave and then sticking my good food into a cloud of questionable food smells to heat it up. They made pretty decent sandwiches for a good price. While working in San Francisco I always went out to places like Lee's and other delis, too much great (well priced) different stuff to taste and try :-)

For middle shool I might consider Zojurushi Mr Bento for my boy, just doesn't seem convenient for now, he takes his snack outside and I'm afraid I'd never see the container again. Ziplock snackbags work great, wasteful, but I can't think of an other solution.

The crap they sell at the school is the usual crap, he never wanted it and I never bought it. They send the menu home with nutrition tips on the other side, sadly they don't follow them at all, it's all pizza and other such junk food.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I've recently found that home-made enchiladas can be very microwave friendly.

I've also found that re-sealable snack bags can be quite useful. These are about 1/3 the height of a sandwich bag and are good for some roma tomato slices or other veg, as well as condiments, shredded cheese, or even for use as a little pastry/piping bag.

Freezing sandwiches was a trick my mother always did for my school lunches. I've upped the ante by baking fresh bread and using homecooked meats (corned beef currently). The sandwiches can thaw at your desk until lunchtime. Disassemble and nuke the meat briefly if desired.

My best one, also from the 'guy' menu, is my Little Caesar's Italian sandwich clone. Take some pizza dough and roll it out as if making a rather thick (1/2") 8" pizza. Divide that into two half-moon shapes. Cover and let proof. Brush both sides with butter and bake until golden brown. Remove and re-brush with more butter. Let cool and slice a pocket into the flat side like a pita. Slide in some mozz/provolone slices with ham and salami on top. Wrap and refrigerate (or freeze). The morning of, put some lettuce and tomato/onion slices in the aforementioned snack bags. Final prep involves wrapping the sandwich in paper towels and microwaving only until heated through. Then stuff with the veg on top of the meat. In this case, the microwave is not a compromise heating solution. It's actually an integral part of the method which steams and softens the bread while heating the meat and melting the cheese.

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BTW, I forgot to recommend some classic Lay's potato chips with the above sandwich. But it occurred to be that there is a more relevant piece of advice with regards to lunch packing. DO NOT buy the lunch-sized bags of potato chips. They have to use smaller potatoes to get chips that will fit in the bags and those are definitely inferior.

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Prep and storage

Lock and Lock boxes, well, they lock so your lunch can't escape :smile: You can take runny food and microwave it in the box.

You can take frozen food with you in your lunchbox; either it will have defrosted by lunchtime or you can microwave it. Then it won't go bad. This includes soup, bread, stews, grains, juice and other drinks.

If you want to take food that will perish over the morning, get a lunch-box-sized chiller bag and freeze your water or other drink for use as a cool-pack.

Bento boxes have compartments which allow you to take portions of different foods or of condiments/dips/sauces/dressings and keep them separate.

You can keep some stuff at the office if you have space; tea, salt and pepper, crackers, nuts, even oil and vinegar; your own crockery and cutlery.


Boiled or in frittata or quiche, they are nutritious and portable.

Power carbs

Quinoa, barley, bulghur, wheatberries, polenta, wild rice, oats; they are all high in protein and carbs, so very nutritious; they can be prepared the night before or frozen, and you can eat them hot or cold depending on mood and facilities.


You can bake potatoes or sweet potatoes or boil some new potatoes, and they are very portable for packed lunch.


Excellent bean lunch foods are dahl, gigandes, fasoulosalata, a white bean puree, foul mudammas, hummus, foul, felafel, lobieh bi zait, black bean soup, chilli, southwestern salad.


I like a salad for lunch. Examples, (sticking with the bean theme):

-Iceberg lettuce with steamed broccoli, tofu, avocado and radishes

-Brown lentils, cooked mushrooms, cooked onions and cumin smooshed together with lemon juice and olive oil, over baby spinach

-Cooked spinach with mint and haricot beans, with some lemon juice and olive oil, over lettuce

-Cooked spinach with onions and Puy lentils and sliced tomatoes over raddiccio

-Grated carrot with toasted pumpkin seeds, dressed with mustard and lemon juice, with hummus or some plain chick peas over bitter greens

-Kidney beans, sweetcorn, avocado and tomato salsa over little gem lettuce

-Chickpeas, beetroot and watercress

-Green peas, broad beans and green beans with fresh mint and parsley, over rocket

-Shredded apple, red cabbage and fennel with red wine vinegar, dill and toasted chopped walnuts

-Huge bunch of parsley, huge bunch of mint with halved cherry tomatoes and cannelini beans

Crudites and fruit

They are convenient and clean to eat at your desk (not that I ever do that :unsure:); carrots, small cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets, raw mushrooms or sections of courgette; any hand-sized fruit or berries. You can take dips to accompany them in your bento box.

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