Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 18, 2010 06:48 PM

Bagged lunch ideas- NO FRIDGE OR MICROWAVE!

Yes, you read correctly.

I am starting a new job where we have NO fridge or microwave. I absolutely refuse to pay to eat out lunch every day, so I'm searching for things other than sandwiches that can potentially be eaten as-is or not be disgusting if kept in a lunch-box type soft-sided cooler with a freezer pack. I feel like a gradeschooler (thermoses, anyone?)

I really sort of loathe most cold-cut style sandwiches, and I imagine cold pasta salads will get old real quick. I also don't trust a thermos of soup to stay warm longer than a few hours (I might be eating 5-6 hours into the day.)

Is this impossible?! If all else fails I'll go to my old college year throwback lunch of a bag of rold gold pretzels, but thats not exactly what I have in mind for daily sustenance when I'm on my feet for 8-9 hours at a time...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Do a web search for bento, it will open a world of possibilities for you.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Jeri L

      i actually looked into this, but a lot of this stuff looked like it should be somewhat temp controlled- do those bento containers actually insulate enough to keep stuff temperature appropriate?

      Do you have any specific bento box containers to suggest?

      1. re: CarmenR

        There are sites that discuss food safety, but with a cold pack, most things should be fine. There are plenty of things that won't make you sick if you leave them at room temp for a few hours. Another thought...the fish and chicken that comes in a no-drain pouch is a terrific lunch protein. You can use it in a salad, put it on crackers, make a sandwich or just eat it out of the bag.

      2. re: Jeri L

        This website is excellent for bento lunch ideas:
        They have tonnes of recipes, and meal planning tips.

        1. re: Jeri L

          I haven't tried them, but some bento supply sites sell these sheets that are supposed to keep food from spoiling. I think they have some sort of silver ion but I don't know how/if they work.

          I have a Thermos food container that has a little collapsable spoon in the lid that cost about $20. After three hours food is sometimes to hot to eat straight away. After 5 or 6 it is still at a decent temperature.

          1. re: Jeri L

            Totally. I pack room temp rice in the morning along with various leftovers (sometimes Japanese stuff sometimes not) in my bento box and it's totally fine until lunch.

          2. I made a batch of couscous salad Sunday and divvied it up for Mon. and Tues. lunches. They were in the fridge in the a.m., sat on my desk until lunch time. Room temperature by then, perfect. I also used to take a can of oil packed tuna to work, drain it, flake it, mix in chopped tomatoes and avocado (i would chop them right there), salt, pepper, maybe a little Tapatio. Really refreshing. Maybe i'm off track tho... maybe you don't want cold things?

            11 Replies
            1. re: mariacarmen

              I think the tuna sounds great regardless of the setting.

              1. re: mariacarmen

                That sounds good, but please don't eat/prepare tuna in enclosed office spaces, like a tiny kitchen or cubicle. It reeks to those not eating it!

                1. re: ChristinaMason

                  I think cooked fish reheated can do that but I don't find that to be an issue with cold.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    No, canned tuna smells revolting to those who don't care for it, like me for example.

                    1. re: buttertart

                      Ah, there's a difference between "not eating it" and "don't care for it." Guess it needs to be lowest common denominator rules. I don't think good fish smells but I'll remember that for future reference.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I like tuna fish but agree that I don't particularly care for the smell (particularly when it's not my lunch.) I definitely think tunafish, even good tunafish, does smell. Not opening a can of tuna in a small office setting seems like a pretty good rule to keep the most people happy.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          By lowest common denominator I'll read most consideration of others' sensibilities. I don't think good fish smells either, but canned tuna does have a distinctive smell unlike that of most good fish. (I'm there for sashimi, tartare, ceviche or rare seared, canned tuna is one of the very few things I don't eat.)

                          1. re: buttertart

                            I must be from another planet. I think tuna fish and fresh fish smell great. I also love garlic and onions being prepared. That's just from being around it so much, it's like perfume. But I do know there are some people that just can't tolererate it, my dh being one. And I can't stomach perfume or air freshner, even some candles just whack me out. I loke to cut up lemons or oranges, their aroma will freshen up a room lickety split. Why just yesterday I was cutting a large amount of onions, I cut lemons and rubbed my hands to help with the smell, and the room began to clear up....

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              I'm with you regarding smells. I can't remember the smell of garlic ever bothering me, but I cannot stand to walk into, say, a Michael's arts and crafts store with all those scented candles and potpourri (sp?).

                    2. re: mariacarmen

                      That's exactly what I had for lunch today, although it was a water-packed tuna pouch, grape tomatoes that I halved at my desk, and a small avocado, plus salt and pepper. I probably eat this same lunch once a week or so...

                    3. If you pre-heat a decent wide mouth thermos with boiling water for a few minutes before putting in the hot food, it should easily stay hot for 5 or 6 hours, unless you leave the thermos in your car in Minnesota in January.

                      1. I take my lunch at least three days a week, as there really aren't any restaurants within walking distance of my work, (unless you count college dorms)...we have a fridge, but I rarely use it. Invest a few bucks in a very small cloth cooler (I bought mine at a local chocolate shop for $5 or so); it is about the size of a lunchbox, with a zippered cover. Then get a refreezable freezer pack, insert it with your food, and it will stay cool until lunch. (put the freezer pack back into the freezer every night).

                        Typically, I bring some type of canned drink, one or two pieces of fruit, and a tupperware container of leftovers. But then, I like leftovers....or at least my leftovers....

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: susancinsf

                          Must be a genetic thing...I use a very similar cloth cooler for my lunches several times a week, and also find the freezer pack works fine to keep stuff cool enough...even in the hot drive over there during the summer.

                          Not everything's the same, however: I rarely bring leftovers, as I don't like our office microwave. So I eat sandwhiches or boiled eggs for protein, along with fruit and cookies. Sometimes I bring cheese and crackers. I pass on the drink: I just fill my mug from the water cooler and/or have a cup of coffee with my lunch....

                          I'm not big into sandwhiches either, but make them more interesting by adding good tomatoes or other veggies (which I'll put into a separate baggie so to avoid making soggy bread). Or sometimes I take a small salad in tupperwear.....

                          1. re: janetofreno

                            the lines for our one office microwave can be annoyingly long so as often as not I don't reheat the leftovers. In the winter, this doesn't work with leftover stew and braises, but I find that in the summer and when the leftover is roasted chicken, or a pasta dish, that it is often just or almost as good cold. Helpful for OP to consider since she doesn't have a microwave.

                            I think the suggestion by another poster to consider it a picnic and look at the picnic threads for ideas is a very good one. Fried chicken, for example, makes a great lunch...

                        2. Bentos are neat but unless you have two. U have to decide whether everything is cold or hot.

                          Well, U could use a bento and a thermos. That would work.

                          As far as food, try to cook with leftovers in mind so U can take that for lunch then take Iced tea or water in your thermos. Another possibility is to take soup in your thermos and cold snacks in the bento like potato salad, pretzels, cheese and crackers.

                          U could always make a big batch of Mac and Cheese, take some of that every other day so u don't get burned out.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tonka11_99

                            Are you sure about the all-hot or all-cold idea?

                            I don't use bento, but on reading about it some years ago, I thought I read that one of the attractions was that cold and hot could keep to themselves in different containers, all inside the bento box (which would mean, of course, that some or all of the containers would have to be insulated).

                            1. re: Bada Bing

                              In Japan most bentos are room temp. Rice is never refrigerated and the other things are usually salty enough to be OK for a few hours (unless it's 105 out). Things are work well are grilled salmon, chicken teriyaki, green beans, edamame, etc.