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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.

        http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/

      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.