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Brown Bag/Lunchbox Meals for Kids & Adults


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So what's the consensus on which foods best travel unrefrigerated? Can we come up with a definitive list? Figure the average brown bagger might be carrying it around for as long as 6 or 7 hours (figure if someone leaves home by 7am and might not eat lunch until 2pm).

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Just off the top of my head, here's a basic list I seem to rely on not to spoil.


chopped salads (we pack the dressing separately)

parmesan cheese (great for eating alone or topping other things with)

fruits- dried or fresh, whole or in oatmeal or chopped into salads

fruited breads

toast soldiers for dipping into things

vegetables-dried or fresh, raw, baked, roasted, stirfried

vegetable or fruit soup (pureed butternut squash, tomato, spinach/onion or pumpkin are favorites)

pasta/brown rice and vegetables tossed with olive oil or soy sauce

hummous tahine

bean pastes for spreading or eating with vegetables

tofu and vegetable with brown rice

vegetable broth with tofu

stuffed grape leaves

vegetable pizza (kiddle will eat almost any combo of food if it's baked on dough)

spring rolls

vegetable sushi


sunflower seeds

tins of tuna

chocolates mixed with dried fruit and cereal (we put them in an old candy tin)

Gee, I'm a boring lunch mom. School starts in a couple of weeks here. I'd better get some grape leaves, kiddle relies on those to get her international junk food trades. :wink:

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spoilage...not just foods, but preparation. I like methods that subject the outside to high temperatures, like grilling things then dropping them in a marinade, or deep-frying. High water content encourages spoilage - draining/squeezing ingredients before dressing them helps a lot!

I also like seed or nut creams/pastes rather than dairy creams because they keep better.

Unpeeled hard-boiled eggs are unlikely to spoil.

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spoilage...not just foods, but preparation. I like methods that subject the outside to high temperatures, like grilling things then dropping them in a marinade, or deep-frying. High water content encourages spoilage - draining/squeezing ingredients before dressing them helps a lot!

I also like seed or nut creams/pastes rather than dairy creams because they keep better.

Unpeeled hard-boiled eggs are unlikely to spoil.

having grown up in india and taking tiffin to school every

scorching day, i recall a lot of rice:

yogurt and rice

lemon rice


sandwiches (jam or cheese or cucumber)

stuffed parathas with pickle

all these were freshly made each morning (oy, our poor mothers)

and none spoilt in the window between 7 am and 1 pm......

my son starts preschool again today.

the county has Talmudically complicated rules about packing and preservation.

The food MUST be refrigerated.

It CANNOT be reheated by the teachers (OK in summer but

miserable in winter).


we buy an insulated Thermos like container, pack it with very hot food.

This is put in an insulated carrier.

The whole contraption gets put in the fridge upon arrival

in school and taken out as is and eaten at lunch time.

The temp of the food is still warm, though not scorching....

Today's lunch (awful I know):

Maggi noodles (masala flavor) gussied up with veggies and egg drop in

the broth.

Grapes for fruit.


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  • 4 months later...

I am thinking about starting to pack my lunch to bring to work. I am tying to get away from sit down places that take to long and are too much money as well as unhealthy fast food. Unfortunatly the idea of a turkey sandwich or pb&j seems kind of boring and a microwave dinner sounds even worse. So let know what you pack for lunch and how you keep it fresh and tasty until noon.

(We have a fridge and a microwave at work.)



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I've been recently making batches of Penne alle Mastriciano at home. I then put it into individual portion size microwaveable containers (with lids) and stick it into my "InnerCool Integrated Cooling System" cloth like lunch box with one of those Lifeoam selfcontained sealed freezer packs that I put in the freezer each night when I get home, and then stick it into the "lunch box" to keep my food cold. Actually this "lunch box" has its own integrated cooling self sealed thingy inside it, but I don't have room in my freezer for the whole lunch box!

I pack a little baggie of grated Parmesan to place over my microwaved dish after microwaving it at work. Very cost effective and tasty.

I've also made lasagna and done the same routine.

Spaghetti too.

Also I like to take macaroni and make a baked dish with mozzarella over it, cut it into individual portions and follow the same routine as described above.

Also been lately making stuffed sweet peppers using brown rice, sausage, spaghetti or marinara sauce, baked in the oven with lots of mozzarella, and then same routine as above, one pepper per container per lunch.

I've also made little Middle Eastern type dishes consisting of Tabouli, homemade Shawirma (Gyros), tahini sauce, and hummous. I only heat the Shawirma and then I have a nice little meal.

The list is endless, but you need to make up large dishes at home, and then subdivide them. You can freeze many of the portions if you don't want to eat them day after day until they're used up. Me, I kind of get into these "hot for" moods and eat them up each day till they're gone. With this Penne alle Matriciano, I've been eating it everyday for lunch almost without let up for two weeks now. Just can't get enough!!



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I make lots of soups and freeze them. A nice cup of homemade soup can make even the most mundane sandwich worth waiting all morning for.

I also look for condiments, or make them. Turkey sandwiches, for me, are always better with some sort of cranberry concoction on them. Sara Lee has a cranberry honey mustard that isn't bad. Look for similar items, or recipes, in flavors to compliment what you make. Also, take cues from Sandwich shops. If you have a favorite at Subway or Quizno's, it'll only be better if you make the same thing yourself, because you'll use better ingredients. If you put certain parts together the night before, and wrap them in waxed paper or plastic wrap, you can just pull them out of the fridge in the morning and put them on prepared bread (i.e., with mustard and mayo, or whatever you prefer), saving a lot of time. Purchase a sturdy plastic container so that your sandwich doesn't get smashed on the way to work.

Find a good bread. My husband always uses grocery store bread; I'll do that if I have to. But any sandwich is better on really good bread.

Also, it really is little trouble to do your own meat, rather than buy lunchmeat. We have a Foodsaver vacuum system that allows us to freeze meats, etc., and they're in better condition when thawed, then when frozen by "normal" means. (Maybe I just don't know how to wrap things well for freezing.) Buy an extra-large turkey at holidays, and freeze leftovers. If you're roasting a chicken on Sunday, you might as well roast or braise some beef or pork, and then portion it out and freeze it, just as for the turkey.

Don't forget about baked potatoes. Sometimes I make beef stew, or the "innards" of chicken pot pie, without potatoes in them, and freeze in portion-sized amounts. I weigh potatoes on our postage scale at work, do the math, and zap for 3 minutes per pound, plus an extra 30 to 60 seconds. Then zap the stew or whatever, and serve on the potato. It makes a filling, satisfying lunch. I happen to like cottage cheese and freshly ground black pepper on baked potato, but I may well be the only one who does.

Don't forget dessert; again, it's always better if it's homemade, even if it's just a couple of cookies. Or a piece of really good fruit.

I have found, over the years, that if I go to the extra trouble of bringing homemade items, and getting creative with sandwiches, that I always prefer that to anything I can purchase in a nearby restaurant. If I just bring a froze, microwaveable lunch, I usually let it spoil in the fridge and go find something better, which is what you're trying to avoid.

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With the right spreads, cheeses, veggies, meats, and breads, sandwiches will take on a new life in your lunchbox.

What I have found to generally work better for me with regards to taking my lunch, is to plan meals so as to make handy leftovers.

On the other hand, my fiance has only taken leftovers for lunch 2 or 3 times in the year or so we've been living together (with me as chief cook and bottle-washer).

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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If you have a fridge and microwave at work, it's limitless. If I made a habit of eating lunch everyday, I would pack whatever leftovers there are and heat them up in the microwave, or bring a big salad to store in the fridge. The obvious is sandwiches, but I imagine that since you posted this question, sandwiches don't interest you much. If it's a change from sandwiches you're looking for, maybe a flour torilla wrap instead. I could eat sandwiches every day! When I do pack, I often take fruit and/or cheese. In one of my jobs back in the day, I kept some milk in the fridge and cereal on hand, and ate that mid-morning instead of lunch. I love lunch food, and have no trouble thinking of ideas, but maybe that's because I don't eat lunch on a regular basis. It's like a treat to me. Raw vegetables with a creamy salad dressing to dip them in... The idea of microwave-baking a potato is a great one... Goya black beans right out of the can... Leftovers that you don't have to heat up, such as a piece of chicken or cold pizza if you're so inclined... Triscuits and lunch meats... Supermarket sushi...

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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leftovers from dinner rock!

best solution for the sandwich blahs (shudder).

to save money I always pack my lunch, and it's

either leftovers, or i make a family "tiffin" for all

to pack for lunch (pulao, fried rice, lasagna, etc.)

supplement with fruit, a drink, etc.

those bento boxes looked great.

i love the indian tiffin dabbas, but being of metal

they cant me MWed.


Edited by Milagai (log)
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I do dig sandwiches. If you buy all your own stuff, like good bread as suggested before, they are really pretty economical and always excellent. Over the weekend I like to cook up an eye round roast, turkey breast, corned beef, or what have you (usually whatever is on sale), or make up a meatloaf or other terrine if I'm feeling ambitious, and put it on good bread. It is really not much effort to throw something into the oven or onto the grill, let it cool, and then slice it up and store it in the fridge for the week. Same way with cheeses. The bread I slice and freeze, so it stays pretty fresh.

Leftovers are always a winner too, but for the most part I try to avoid the lunchroom scene at work (whole other topic).

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I actually bookmarked this exhibition since a desire to start packing lunches instead of buying them was expressed as a New Year's Resolution in an earlier thread.

There was also a relevant article in The Washington Post's Food Section that I am too tired to seek. Maybe someone else will find it. I recommend in the meantime, to go to the regional forum and look at pictures of Japanese school lunches.

Making soup on the weekends works for me, especially since variety can come with the items you choose to accompany it such as different kinds of crackers, a bagel picked up on the way to work, corn bread, a pumpkin muffin, cheese, fruit...

Whenever I make risotto, I try to make too much since gooey or not, it is fantastic leftover and heated up in the microwave at work. The smell usually provokes envy, especially when you put extra cheese on top.

Even a really good pilaf works for me especially with half of a baked winter squash. Plain rice with spicy tofu...something I make at times just for lunches, preparing separate containers that can be plopped into the lunch bag in the morning with that day's fruit or red pepper strips, a yogurt, a can of lime seltzer, dried apricots, ginger snaps and home-made applesauce....

Instead of PBJ, etc., make new fillings for sandwiches.

I like the minimalistic Italian approach, especially when you have a good crusty focaccia. Sautee spinach with garlic and a couple of anchovies in olive oil for dinner the night before. Put the leftovers in a small container with thick slices of mozzarella. Wrap the bread separately and put the cheese and spinach together right before you eat. Thin slices of zucchini, brushed with olive oil, broiled and then layered with fresh leaves of torn basil over the weekend are also perfect with mozzarella.

Roasted red peppers and simply grilled chicken breast, seasoned with EVOO & lemon juice squeezed onto it while still warm. Hummus is good with roasted red peppers too, especially on pumpernickel. Leftover eggplant parmigiana on a Kaiser roll with watercress. Really good tuna packed in olive oil, drained and mixed with capers, parsley & scallions, then topped with marianated artichoke hearts which are also great with prosciutto or any really good sliced ham, no mustard. A thick wedge of frittata....just don't eat it straight from fridge since room temp's best.

Tuna salad, no bread, maybe wrapped in Boston lettuce, and thick potato chips.

Buy rice wrappers if you can and make your own summer rolls with leftover shrimp or chicken, peanut sauce, cilantro, etc.

A tall container of sliced carrots, fennel, red peppers and small one of nuts and dried fruits to nibble on around 3:30. Apple already sliced and some PB or cheddar.

Huge ripe Comice pear and a wedge of Camembert.

Deviled eggs.

A treat at the bottom of the bag such as dark chocolate and clementines or candied ginger.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Everyone as listed some great ideas, some new to me and some I also do. I love bringing leftovers, especially thai, indian, korean, chinese, and japanese as these seem to heat up well. Sometimes when I cook I'll make extra and lpack a few in tupperwares for that week's lunches (I do a lot of heavier cooking on Sunday) and freeze a few for later in the month so I don't get bored with eating the same thing over and over. I love those throwaway tupperware thingies. They've made my life a lot easier.

One of my favorites right now is pita and hummus sandwhiches. I warm the pita in the oven, spead it with premade hummus, top with alfalfa sprouts, fold it in half, and wrap the warm bread in aluminum foil. By the time lunch rolls around the pita is still soft and the hummus has protected the sprouts so they are still crunchy. Healthy and tasty. I'll even admit that sometimes I don't er... wait for lunch and have eaten it for breakfast. Yes, I know I'm wierd. :laugh:

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Excellent ideas. I keep a packet of couscous and small tins of the "flavoured" tuna such as Tuna and Tuna2.

It does not take long to fluff up the couscous with boiling water and when mixed with the tuna flavour of the day and a big dollop of greek yogourt - yum :wub:

This is also really economical and there is such a variety of the flavours it is always different.

I also take stock the fridge regularly with condiments, dips and cheese etc which can be added to fresh veges for a quick salad or sandwich. Fortunately, we have a very small office and I am the boss so can put what I like in the fridge and it is always there when I want it!!

In winter I always take in soup each day to be reheated, this with cheese and biscuits or a fresh bread roll really hit the spot.

In fact nearly everything you make and take in yourself tastes so much better than what is available at the takeaway shops at lunch.

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I freeze mains for my husbands lunches constantly. I plan at least one or two dinners each week with some item that freezes well (and that list is pretty huge, if you're only talking for a few weeks or so). Then I make up lunch sized portions out of whatever is left after dinner, adding in starches and sides and toppings if needed. Leftovers that don't take well to freezing he'll have the next day. He tosses in some fruit and crackers and water, and is off to work. Each lunch tends to be a little less than 2 cups volume wise, and the lunches defrost partially in the refrigerator before carefully being reheated in the microwave. Right now, checking the freezer, we have carnitas and black bean burritos, dal with basmati rice and spiced cauliflower, gulaschesuppe, and hot and sour soup. I actually envy him his lunch supply!


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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As Pontormo mentioned, tuna mixed with other marinated veggies like artichokes is great. I also like tuna with cannellini beans, basil, capers, and roasted red peppers...I saw Giada DeLaurentis make it on the Food Network and it has become a lunch staple with various tweaks depending on my mood and what is in the fridge. Using the salmon (or pre-cooked shrimp) in a pouch and with black beans, cilantro, avocado, and some cumin makes another tasty salad.

If I am making pork, steaks, tuna, salmon, or chicken I will prepare an extra piece or two and slice it up for use in a salad the next day. If I am feeling ambitious I will mix up some homemade dressing as well. Good bottled stuff works too. My favorite is to use leftover medium rare steak, blue cheese, pine nuts and arugula with a homemade walnut dressing. Much better than similar offerings at Quiznos or Panera.

Explore the food, beverages, and people of Wisconsin EatWisconsin.com

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My ideas are no where near as interesting or tasty as those mentioned above, but I do eat my packed lunch every day, so I thought I should chime in.

I go grocery shopping at lunch every Monday and buy my next week's supply of lunch to leave in the fridge. Salad greens, cheeses, anchovies, olives, roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms, grapeleaves....the whole lot goes into a bag in the work fridge so that I can construct my salads each day. I bring in homemade salad dressing and keep that in a bottle as well. This way I get my salad every day, I can choose different toppers with which to assemble, and it doesn't get soggy sitting in dressing for hours. My sweetie does the same thing with his turkey wrapups. It's made our lives much, much simpler.

Do I ever get tired of eating salad for lunch? Sometimes, but then I go out once every great while for Korean or horrible americanized chinese buffet. Then I ultimately come back to the salad.

Eating pizza with a fork and knife is like making love through an interpreter.
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  • 1 month later...
pita and hummus sandwhiches

OnigiriFB, have you ever frozen these? Anybody know if hummus sandwiches can be frozen without getting soggy or mushy?

I've been experimenting with sandwich fillings that freeze well, as I'm going to have to leave home with son2 at 6:30 some mornings, with our lunches and our work gear all organized! The biggest challenge is going to be getting myself dressed :raz: as I normally cook and clean up in my PJs until everybody is gone before I do my Transformer thing!

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  • 1 month later...

i don't know if this has been posted before...

but i'm looking for ideas to pack in my daughters lunchbox that won't go bad by lunchtime. i have 2 small ice pack things that i can put in the bag w/ the food, but i'm really concerned about playing it safe.

she'll be 2 next month... she can't have nuts... hasn't really mastered the spoon yet.

i've been searching for picnic safe foods and the like, but i'm still a bit stumped. i'd like to come up w/ 5 or so "go to" meals i can whip together to send her off with.

fwiw, she's not a picky eater, but she rarely eats a whole lot.

thanks for any & all input!!

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