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fun/exciting packed lunches?

It's been a busy year, and my partner has been picking up a lot of slack. This week I have some time off, and want to spend it spoiling her. I'm the cook in the house, so one of the things I'd like to do is pack her nice lunches to take to the office. (Usually she throws together PB&J or a cheese sandwich.)

Unfortunately, I'm already out of ideas! I just about always eat at home, so I'm not used to packing lunches. Any suggestions?

Within reason, time isn't really an issue, because I enjoy cooking and have some time. I'm vegetarian, so preparing meat isn't my strength, but some sliced meat in a sandwich isn't out of the question. We've got a thermos, so soup will be on the menu at least one day. My partner can't handle really spicy dishes, and doesn't enjoy things very high in fat. We're also on a pretty tight budget, but I'm pretty handy with a grocery list so I can afford to splurge a little.

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  1. My household experienced an ugly bout with under-employment a couple of years ago, so we came up with three-times-a-week brown bagging solutions. Some of our favorites:

    1. Chicken salads with various fruits and Greek yogurt dressings. Keep separate from the bread and make the sandwiches at lunchtime. Add a baggie of crudites and another of bread or crackers. A square of chocolate too! (That's if you're being good otherwise.)

    2. Tuna (canned) with home-pickled vegetables. Serve over greens, crackers (rice is great) or on bread.

    3. Thick soups in the Thermos, to pour into homemade bread bowls at the table.

    4. Our favorite: Home-smoked fish (cheapies, like whitefish or catfish) made into salad with sour cream and cream cheese (low- or non-fat work just fine as long as you keep it cold and well-seasoned and adorned with things like onions and acids) and topped with horseradish sauce.

    5. Panzanella salads, mixed right before work, with the well-toasted bread going on last. Add chicken breast or lean beef cubes to the traditional recipes.

    6. Beans beans beans. I never get sick of any of them, aside from field peas in all their variations. Well, and Senate bean soup -- but that's because of one batch I made while sick and using liquid smoke. Ew.

    7. Think Korean. Aside from the raw eggs, a lot of the traditional dishes are made for brown-bagging. Rice, shredded vegetables, seared protein, to mix with a fiery tomato-based sauce when you're ready to eat.

    In macro terms, keep elements separate until mealtime. Buy a few packages of those Gladwear or Ziplock tight-locking containers in different sizes. The ones that hold three ounces or so are really useful for dressings and such. Combining at the last minute is the key to deliciousness!

    Since I'm now facing the prospect of losing my job in the coming weeks, we've decided to move to this program again preemptively (and we work five blocks apart, so it's practical to share lunchtimes).

    1. Fantastic ideas from dmd. Here's a web site that has some ideas that might be a bit off the beaten track: http://lunchinabox.net

      The author of this blog makes lunches in a bento box, mostly for her son. Even though they are for a little one, there are still some fun ideas there.

      1 Reply
      1. re: karykat

        Here's another bento box site - Vegan Lunchbox. Again, mostly for her son but she adds some ideas for adults.


      2. I make lunch for myself and my husband most weekdays. Usually I put a spin on leftovers to avoid cleaning a ton of pots and cookie sheets. I made a quinoa salad with mushrooms, bok choy and pomegranate vinaigrette. Tomorrow we're having a corn and edamame salad with feta. Other good ideas- fruit + yogurt + homemade granola, homemade veggie burger + spread + bun (pack separately), 3 bean soup + fennel and tomato salad.

        1. Soup, soup, soup. And more soup. Make three different kinds and then freeze the leftovers. She'll have lunch for a couple weeks. I've been eating Creamy Tomato Dill, Greek Red Lentil with Lemon, Rosemary and Feta, and a Black Bean soup a lot lately. If I think I'm going to be hungry I bring a grainy thing to soak up the soup a bit- croutons, pita crisps, tortila chips, whatever.

          I've been eating cold noodle salads at lunch lately (as I'm off microwaving in plastic). I mix cooked buckwheat noodles with sauteed vegetables (red peppers, carrots, broccoli) and tofu in the evening, and in the morning I toss it with homemade dressing (usually a mix of sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, natural peanut butter, lime juice, garlic and honey). Oh, and I toss on a few crunchy peanuts too.

          1. Rice bowls. Make a large batch of any kind of rice and top with what ever veggies and meats you desire (or are left overs). Quiona would also be good and easy if you have to make it.
            Pasta salad. Really just left over pasta that works cold as well as hot, like pesto and olive oil based salads.
            If you're willing to do a bit more work for something different how about summer rolls.
            Some ideas of things that could be stashed in the freezer include: spinach pie, lasagne, individual pizzas if you have someplace to reheat.

            1. We make enough supper Sun-Thurs to have leftovers for lunch for work the next day. We're vegan & I'm gluten-free. Some of our standards are black beans, brown rice or quinoa w/greens or broc & salsa; pasta with garbanzos, broc or zuke and sauce; brown rice w/stir fry veggies; lentil soup w/tortilla chips or crackers; masamba: potatoes and greens (collards or kale) topped with mixture of peanut butter and salsa. Others include vegan goulash, a buckwheat pinto tahini casserole, homemade GF vegan deep dish individual pizzas, lecho (Hungarian dish w/garbanzos & red, yellow, and green bell peppers) over rice; savory pumpkin pie and greens, etc. Also just got a copy of Vegan Lunchbox cookbook from a friend. Haven't had a chance to try recipes from it yet.

              3 Replies
              1. re: lgss

                Regarding veggie burgers for lunch -- what brands do people like And if they're frozen, do you cook them before you pack them? Or do you nuke them at work?

                1. re: Oliverstreet

                  I make my veggie burgers (just haven't found a store brand that has flavor) using a variety of things found in the cupboard and ref - beans, nuts, tofu and vital wheat gluten

                2. Egg rolls and tortilla wraps. Lots of filling options.

                  Pizzas easy heat up, veggie or with meat. Buy the mini crusts with lots of toppings
                  calzones, same thing, lots of fillings, all veggie or meat or both.

                  Ravioli, pre made, just heat and serve. Great simple dishes

                  Good haogie sandwiches actually made with chibatta and some great veggie fillings, 1/2 for him 1/2 for you. Grill the mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and squash the night before. Marinade in some olive oil and red wine vinegar and then top a sandwich with cheese, and micro or oven melt or eat cold. Can even grill ahead and then wrap and keep cold.

                  Cream of leek and potato and my veggie and potato soup; leek was not mine and earlier post on another thread; my cream roasted tomato; creamy chicken for the meat person :); and a creamy zucchini and mushroom for you; add some grilled chicken he or she can add to the mushroom and zuchinni soup in a baggie and they can add and heat, great soup. A great cheese sop with grilled baguettes. I make a veggie BBQ sandwich just as good as pork, portabellos, red peppers, onions and squash. Great flavor on a roll with some coleslaw, amazing.

                  Let me know if you want any recipes, glad to post.

                  1. I pack my lunch everyday, so variety is something I crave. Here are some things I have done for myself and SO...

                    - Fresh Fruit Salad
                    - Salads – Potato, Macaroni, Coleslaw, Bean, etc
                    - Homemade Corn Chips – changing seasonings with each batch
                    - Popcorn – always a fun crunchy alternative to chips
                    - Sardines, with crackers and cheese slices.
                    - Tortilla wraps

                    And, while not a food item, once in awhile I put a little toy animal in the lunch box as a surprise! Always gets a smile... :-)

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cuccubear

                      You're right, cuccubear, the toy animal idea *does* always get a smile--even just reading about it. That's just too cute!

                      I will add that for the longest time I kept a paper lunch bag on which my then boyfriend had written a very sweet note...something along the lines of "This lunch was especially made for the sweetest girl..." It was a keeper. He wasn't, but the bag was! ;) I think some combination of notes and toy animals packed into one's lunch make it extra special.

                      1. re: kattyeyes

                        As cluttered as my cupboards can get, I hide little animals in there too. When you're searching for that baker's chocolate or the rose water way in the back - lo and behold! Look at that little elephant or monkey! Just one of my cuccy ways to add fun everyday.

                    2. Here are 40 ideas for packing tasty & innovative lunches:


                      1. I'm always on the hunt for tasty lunches and I just found this website. Looks like good clean fun to me.