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I'm joining in the packed lunch crew. Need some ideas.

I'm really disenfranchised by the cheap-skatedness and quality of the canteen, so I plan to make my own damn lunch. My girlfriend doesn't have a canteen, so she sometimes takes a lunch too, so we can kill 2 birds with one stone and take turns making them.

I need some kind of compartmentalised tupperware, which I'm sure is available. I might also get a quality re-usable bottle for squash too to avoid buying a soda or something, but a re-used water bottle is good enough.

What I'm really looking forward to is some neat ideas for lunches, and if I can get it down to less than £5 per meal for two (average), that would be grand. Here's a few ideas I have so far:

Olives: they go with anything, and I can just sit there and eat and eat and eat them. and often do.
Ham: It may be possible to cook a ham and make several sandwiches with it rather than buying pre-sliced. need to look at the cost of this.
Tuna pasta: bit boring, but easy, and a good back-up.
Flapjacks: Could bake on a sunday and use through the week? Same with other cakes too I guess.
chicken ceasar salad

How long would a fruit salad of strawberries and pineapple last?
Other ideas: Mackerel on toast

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  1. For myself, I just take a small container of whatever I have leftover, I'm easy.
    Husband MUST have a sandwich, I just buy whatever cold cuts are on sale each week, and supplement with homemade egg, tuna or chicken salad. He's very old fashioned about his fillings. If I make a roast beef, turkey or ham that does it for the whole week for him.
    So just cook up a storm on the weekend and portion out your lunch for the week.

    1 Reply
    1. re: coll

      Good idea, I think I'll be doing that for the chicken salad. I'm quite picky though, I couldn't have the same thing more than twice.

      Boiled eggs go on the list. A properly boiled egg is fantastic.

    2. Guessing from your current ideas you don't have access to a microwave for reheating.

      Couscous, bulgar, quinoa and noodle "salads" are good cold.
      Different breads for sandwiches add variety: pitas, wraps, tortillas
      Leftovers as mentioned.
      Lentils and chickpea salads
      Eggs: frittatas, hardboiled
      Salade nicoise.

      I also have a stash of black bean burgers (Morningstar) for backup on busy days.

      3 Replies
      1. re: jadec

        There is a microwave actually, but because I don't have one at home, I guess I missed it. It's a little out of the way though, so I'll probably make it cold.

        Thanks for the ideas. Tell me more about these black bean burgers?

        Ohh, another idea; frijoles and guacamole with something. Tacos?

        1. re: Soop

          I just buy the black bean burgers. As you seem to be in the UK maybe there's something similar: http://www.morningstarfarms.com/produ...

          1. re: Soop

            Burritos are sturdier than tacos, if you can forego the crisp shell. I am partial to the breakfast burrito as lunch: the filling is eggs scrambled with sausage(or bacon), peppers, and onion, with a slice of cheese added before rolling up, so the residual heat melts it. They are good re-heated or at room temp. Before I retired, I made a bunch of these which I wrapped tightly in plastic wrap before placing in a plastic container and freezing. I'd take one out in the morning, so it was thawed by lunchtime. If there was a microwave available, I nuked it still in the plastic wrap, which I then peeled back like a banana peel, to avoid potential dripping.

            I also liked an occasional lunch of an apple, good crackers, and sliced cheese, packing a paring knife so as to slice the apple before eating.

        2. I typically take:

          hummus with sliced veggies
          Salad with protein (chicken/tuna)
          Chicken w/sweet potato (I like this better cold/room temp than heated)
          Chicken with veggies/rice or pasta combo
          Wrap with mustard, veggies, chicken

          1. A small, quality thermos opens up possibilities without resorting to microwave: chili, soups, heated in the morning and still hot at lunch.

            The Japanese have a "bento" box tradition, with multiple interlocking containers to keep different things at different temperatures until the mealtime. So if you're into that philosophy, there's quality paraphernalia, not always cheap, but it would pay for itself:


            About what to eat: I'm happiest with weekend cooking in anticipation of weekday lunches: with a microwave at work, I'm often reheating leftover fried rice or chicken cacciatore or whatever's going on. I wish I had better skills with "cold" salads of cous-cous and quinoa, etc., as a poster above recommends.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bada Bing

              my Japanese bento lunch - left over chicken teriyaki, small container of leftover rice, sheet of Korean style nori (seaweed - coated lightly with sesame oil and sale), edamame and a piece of fruit. My family eats the rice unheated when they eat it with the nori,

            2. You should definitely get a thermos and/or a bento box. Using a bento box also means you can bring a snack or two if you're a snacker. I got a heavy-duty thermos from Target--some sort of tie-in with Stanley Tools--which is awesome for soups and stews. I nuke the food at about 6:30 a.m. and it's still hot at 12:45 p.m. A bento box is a great conversation piece too. Here's a Flickr account of what people put in their bentos, it should give you ideas:


              5 Replies
                1. re: MandalayVA

                  Totally agree about the bento box -- I've seen dozens of inspiring websites and blogs recently that are dedicated to bento lunches that could keep a bento-er going for ages.

                  http://www.laptoplunches.com/ideas.html -- basics
                  http://lunchinabox.net/ -- this one is so great!

                  1. re: MandalayVA

                    So... I saw some bento boxes, and I was like "well, there's no space to put a sandwich in". But looking at those photos does enlighten me slightly. How long do things keep at temp for?

                    One thing I was thinking was fajitas, with the meat onion and peppers in one part and the tortillas seperate. Then a pot for sour cream or whatever.

                    Thermos is a good idea.

                    1. re: Soop

                      Most bento box kits either come with a spot for an ice pack or can be easily packed with one. The second link I included has a whole section on food safety that's really helpful. She also has some really good ideas for keeping foods warm but also safe, and using thermoses for more than just keeping soup hot.

                    2. re: MandalayVA

                      I have a thermos food container too. It has a little folding spoon that sits in the lid. I love taking leftover soup with me. Also I'll take leftover curry and rice or pasta whatever. I reheat the curry/ pasta sauce whatever but keep the starch cold (bonus if I remember to seperate some before fully cooked) and put in the bottom cold.

                      I don't have an actual bento box, but I use a shallow rectangular tupperware thing, and then use silicon cupcake liners and other small containers to separate things.

                      Some favorite lunches:
                      boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, tuna, olives, green beans w/ vinaigrette.

                      Whole wheat tortilla w/ rice, beans and cheddar, Sour cream and salsa on the side.

                    3. I make lunch for my husband almost everyday. Some of his favorites: cottage cheese, an avacado sprinkled with S & P and a 1/2 lemon, & tomato juice. A tin of trout fillets from Trader Joe's, crackers, and some type of veg. This morning I made a sandwhich with avacado, tomatoes, red onion slices, extra sharp cheddar, mayo, and mustard. Left overs are my saving grace. As already stated a thermos is great for soups.

                      1. Cheap and filling: buy tins of pulses - lentils, chickpeas, beans - and make salads. Throw in whatever leftover meat you might have in the fridge or even leftover pasta or rice, or tuna, boiled egg or some veg, herbs and add dressing. They're even better when left to rest a while so everything absorbs the dressing.

                        1. We do tuna salad in a tomato, peanut butter and crackers, turkey roll ups, plowmans lunch, sardines and crackers, left over chicken strips...awesome cold!, fruit slad with poppy seed dressing, pimento chesse sandwiches,dip and vegggies, roasted vegiies on subs

                          1. I love to pack a healthy lunch everyday, here are some of my lunches.

                            I do have to tell you that I shop at a farm stand on Sunday and once again on a Thursday. It helps to have it near me, because of the freshness. I always have a few groupings of tomatoes & avocadoes on my counter in variarying degree of ripeness. I also roast chicken breast halves on Sunday, to have for the week.

                            Monday - Wed -Thur........ salad w/ baby greens, cukes, tom., avacado, sliced chicken, fruits like strawberry or mangos. Pack in plastic containers and keep bottled salad dressing at work.
                            Tues & Friday, either a wrap, BLT & avocado, sliced chick/w romaine, home-made pickles, tom. Or soup from my freezer (frozen in quart zip lock containers). I have split pea, chicken veggie, and potato/leek in there now. Chick salad w/cranberries & sliced grapes are a good wrap. I find that putting romaine lettuce between the bread and the sandwich fixings, keep it from getting soggy.
                            It's a little extra work on the weekends to make soups and freeze, but to me so worth it.
                            Good luck!

                            1. Have been taking both breakfast and lunch to work for several years, to save on cost as well as better quality than company cafeteria. As I also cook for dinner, try to plan dinner items which yield leftovers or things that can "morph" into lunch.

                              Too bad you won't do m/w, as soups are hearty and big with me for lunch. Eating some homemade mush-beef-barley as I am typing. This is a full lunch as chock full of beef, veggies and barley. Make in giant 16 qt stockpot and freeze in pint size containers. Also do sweet & sour cabbage/beef soup, potato leek (wonderful cold in summer), homemade chicken noodle, homemade cream of mush or celery.

                              Last night I grilled some marinated chicken breasts, purposely grilled an extra one, will dice up and fold in some chutney, roasted pecans, diced celery, and some grapes for chicken salad on Friday.

                              I take salads to work in a big quart size container. This week I had spinach, strawberry, red onion and Swiss cheese. I put vinaigrette in another small container, pack it inside salad container. Also do cesar salad for lunch with leftover chicken or shrimp from dinner night before.

                              Don't knock old fashioned PB&J, it's very filling. You can pack apple slices (dipped in a little lemon juice) and spread the PB on it, a little fancier. In winter, I add some BBQ sauce to brisket leftovers and pack a Kaiser roll.

                              I am lazy in the morning, I try to plan my dinner to have some leftovers and pack my lunch the night before.

                              If you are interested in breakfast suggestions, let me know.

                              1. My hubby likes soups & stews in cooler weather. He has a jet boil to reheat the leftovers. Otherwise, I pack him chicken pieces, or meatloaf. Cold cuts tend to be more expensive. I have smoked my own pork butts/shoulders before, and they last in the fridge for 7-10 days. The flavor is exceptional, and the cost for those cuts is low in the market. I don't know how much $5lbs is equivalent to the American dollar??
                                Strawberries get watery quick, I like to slice just before using. Definitely won't last all week sliced. Apples and oranges pack well in a lunch bag. Or melon in a container.
                                How about a potato or pasta salad? Lasts about 5 days, packs well, inexpensive. Or potato-cakes, these should have a longer fridge life than flour pancakes, which I find rubbery as leftovers.

                                1. dh takes lunch 3-4 days a week. most often i cook a little extra so he takes leftovers. or hummus, olives and raw veggies. cottage cheese and tomatoes. canned fish doesn't work in his office (sensitive noses). chicken broth with separate container of soba and thin sliced veggies to add after it's reheated. beans, sliced meat and tortillas. quiche.

                                  2 sets of nice utensils and carrier so he doesn't have to scramble in the morning or eat with plasticware. i also set aside half a fridge shelf so lunch stuff is easily accessible in the morning.

                                  1. I loved bringing my lunch from home when I was working.
                                    eggs, boiled, pickled or deviled
                                    deli meat is nice, just plan what you'll use so nothing goes into the garbage. Along with your idea to cook your own ham, get a turkey breast and roast it for future sandwiches. Make a nice conserve with fresh cranberries or frozen.
                                    Chicken salad made with chicken breasts poached or roasted.
                                    Sandwiches we put the meats and cheese in one little baggie, the lettuce and tomato in another, and the dressings in a snap shut.

                                    I use the bottles that are now seen everywhere. Sort of look like a thermos with a screw top and there's a clip on the lid (its called a subzero, & stainless steel.)
                                    This is the easiest bottle container yet to clean & doesn't hold onto that sour milk smell or other smells. First time that's happened, I've tossed more liquid holding containers because of that.
                                    There are plenty of containers for salad, or with dividers. I even have one for making poached eggs, and one that holds a large tomato for a stuffed tomato salad.
                                    dh, and the 4yr old love their crackers and cheese, so that goes into the lunch.
                                    Yogurt and juices and water.
                                    My personal favorite is pork fried rice, with soy sauce and siraracha and steamed bbq pork buns.

                                    1. My favourite salad to take for lunch:

                                      Chickpea & Carrot Salad
                                      3-4 carrots, grated
                                      1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
                                      handful of parsley, chopped
                                      hunk of feta, crumbled
                                      Toss with dressing: juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp ground cumin, s&p to taste

                                      Sometimes I throw in a handful of pumpkin seeds. It's fresh & filling, lasts for a few days, and is ridiculously easy to make.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sgogo

                                        I do almost the same salad but with edamame instead of chickpeas (can buy cooked and ready to go at TJ) and mozzerella cubes instead of feta.

                                      2. Thanks for all the great responses guys! Todays meal is steak fajitas, salsa, torilla chips, olives and celery + humous (already eaten)

                                        1. Have been brown bagging forever, and am gluten free and sugar free, so no sandwiches, unless you can count cold cuts wrapped in romaine leaves. I cook up a batch of HB eggs on the weekend, nice to have these on hand. You can whip up devilled eggs on no time, reminds me of summer pot lucks.

                                          Fave salad uses the bagged cole slaw mix, tuna or cooked chicken or any protein. Mix in snipped green onions or chives, any dressing or mayo and chipotle mustard. I usually top with pumpkin or sunflower seeds. The cole slaw mix is more nutritious and keeps longer than bagged lettuce.

                                          Of course, leftover home made soup is my fave, but come summer months I don't generally make soups. Any leftovers also nice.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: MNLisaB

                                            I like deviled eggs also....except sometimes to make them more hearty, I stuff then with a tuna/mayo/minced veggie mix as opposed to the usual yolk/mayo mix....nice for something different.

                                            +1 on the bagged coleslaw mix!

                                          2. I tend to bring my own lunch most days, and unless I'm bringing leftovers to warm up in the microwave, it's generally a variation on the "salad with proteins and carbs" type meal. So that's often couscous or beans with cooked chicken, hot smoked mackerel/trout/salmon, roast tofu, gammon, cheese or chopped Polish sausage/hotdogs. When I run out of inspiration, I just steal my ideas from the lunchtime aisle in Marks & Spencer ;-)

                                            I'd recommend making some veggie burgers - I love these http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/... and homemade hummus - try making it with yellow split peas, different canned beans or lentils for a change. If I'm short of time, I just grab a tub of hummus from the cornershop, and have it with a pack of oatcakes and some crudites.

                                            Breakfast is either yogurt and granola or bircher muesli - both are easy to throw together the night before, and travel well.

                                            Have a look at http://www.lakeland.co.uk/F/C/kitchen... for lunchboxes, or look in Japanese supermarkets - bento boxes are ideal! Lock & Lock do a fab one http://www.johnlewis.com/230700516/Pr...

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: babybat

                                              That lock and lock one might be perfect - thanks!!

                                              1. re: Soop

                                                I have the lock and lock that I put in my sons gi joe lunch box...it works perfect

                                              2. re: babybat

                                                There are so many brilliant salads on 101 Cookbooks. Talk about an easy packed lunch--if only we were as all well-stocked and relentlessly healthy as Ms. Swanson!

                                              3. I use these lunch on the go containers -- can you find there or order?

                                                The blue ice thing keeps everything cold. Usually put low-fat cottage cheese in one of the small containers. I use those little plactic salsa containers from taquerias to put the dressing and stick this down in first into the larger container. I put some good olive oil, a bit of vinegar. On the salad, if I put avocado chunks, I squeeze lemon juice over to prevent browning. Throw in olives, feta, chopped cukes, carrot, lettuce, of course.

                                                I have a Nissan thermos for bringing freshing brewed (real leaves) tea -- Twinnings Earl Grey is my favorite. It stays hot 12 hours, at least.

                                                1. For sandwich fillings

                                                  - poach chicken breasts and shred for use in chicken salad. I like a yoghurt based one, with finely diced onions, a bit of garlic, lemon juice, cumin, mustard seed, coriander, salt and pepper, with fresh mint or parsley if I've got it. This one goes well in pitas.

                                                  - Sliced ham or beef. For the beef, wait until it's on sale, and roast a big chunk. Cool, slice and freeze in one meal portions. Add good mustard and some lettuce and tomato.

                                                  - Tuna salad. Go with the traditional mayo, or make with yoghurt and Indian spices, or go with an oil and vinegar dressing.


                                                  - Noodle salads. Cook your noodles and toss with a bit of oil. Add lots of fresh veggies (blanch things like broccoli or beans), fresh herbs, and a dressing. You can use a mayo based dressing, or a vinaigrette based one, or go for Asian with soy and sesame oil and rice vinegar.

                                                  - Soups, stews and chilis. Save time and money by making a big batch and freezing in thermos sized portions to be heated when you need them.

                                                  - Vegetable sticks with dip.

                                                  - Bread or crackers and good cheese (good with the olives!)

                                                  1. Thanks again for the great ideas. Boiled eggs are definitely a good one.

                                                    Today I have a chicken caesar salad with pancetta and home-made croutons, home-made flapjack, olives, and a tricolore salad with buffalo mozzerella (forgot the olive oil though :( )

                                                    1. Oh, me too. I have this problem, suddenly. Just changed jobs, and went from a great company with a great (and healthy) cafeteria in the basement to a great company with a food court (think bad chinese and burgers) in the nearby mall. Ugh. I'm gonna hafta start packing, and I have NO idea what to do. All your suggestions are a godsend. Thank you, hounds!

                                                      1. Made a huge pot of chili on Monday, ao I've had chili and rice for lunch recently :)
                                                        Tomorrow I think I'll be requiring some salad though. And maybe a smoothie?

                                                        1. I have to hop on the Freeze Your Leftovers bandwagon. I don't like eating leftovers the next day either, so if it's freezable just do it! You'll be saving money not only by not paying for lunch at the cafeteria, but by using your leftovers instead of throwing them away. This has made all the difference for me!

                                                          Are you finding that your spending goal was an easy one to meet? It's SO much less expensive to cook at home. After we started, we felt just ridiculous for how much money we'd been spending on bad food!

                                                          Stuff we freeze: pasta with sauce, soup, many stir-fries, cheese-less curries, rice, asian noodles (easier to control your portions when you're freezing these things ahead too)

                                                          Stuff we pack, unfrozen: Pickled eggs and onions with pretzels and ranch // tortilla with leftover meat, fresh greens, pico de gallo, and guacamole // salad, salad, salad, more than anything else // instant noodles for those mornings... well you know those mornings.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: WhatThePho

                                                            Yeah, I think I have saved. It's probably around £3 per meal each on average, but I don't really think about that as much as I get to have stuff I want.

                                                            One thing that is hugely cost effective, is making up a bunch of home-made brownies on the weekend so we can have one each in our lunches. It helps that I already had the sugar raisins and oats.

                                                            Today is flapjack, chicken and chorizo salad, and a ham and swiss cheese sandwich, and a bottle of freshly squeezed orangensaft. (an unneccessary extravegance)