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Portable Work Lunch Ideas

I've been packing the same lunch for my husband for past five years now. Cashew/almond butter and jelly sandwich, egg sandwich or boiled eggs, chopped carrots and celery. Sometimes I throw in a piece of fruit or a Clif Bar. Well, today he came home and declared he's finally sick of eating CB/AB&J sandwiches and his "staples" in general. So I need to come up with a couple other options, and I thought - I must ask the hounds at Home Cooking board!

I'll admit I'm not much of a cook. So I need something simple and easy. It should also be easy to assemble - I usually don't have much more than 10-15 minutes in the morning to do this. I could make a large batch of something in advance and assemble it each morning, if need be.

It also has to be something he can eat with no utensils. He works at an ER so there's almost never enough time to sit down and eat. Also something that will keep fine at room temperature for hours and be fine to eat at room temperature as well since fridge/micro access seems to be rather limited.

All I could think of was making rice balls (onigiri) with various fillings inside. But I'm not even sure how long it would hold up though at room temperature.

Any ideas?

Thank you so much in advance, as always.

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  1. This is always tough, isn't it - I have the same problem with lunches for my two boys at school every day! The most obvious thing is to have a wider range of types of bread and fillings that you can mix and match to stay interesting - wraps, seedy bread, rolls, slices of french bread, crusty white sliced, rye for the sandwich 'outside' to go with fillings like cheese and marmite (yes, I'm English!), cheese and pickle, tuna, ham, chicken, salami, pastrami etc etc. It's also fun to include plain slices of artisan bread with ready-sliced cold meats, cheeses and pate so that he can make his own combination with his fingers.

    Tiny pots of hummus or taramasalata with breadsticks and veg dippers like pepper or sugarsnaps are good, as are pastry things like pork pies, pasties, sausage rolls. Cold pizza's always popular in our house for lunchboxes, and you can even do cold mini Indian snacks like onion bhajis or samosas, perhaps with a raita.

    If these are not removed from the fridge until the last minute they should all last until lunchtime at an ambient temperature; I've never poisoned anyone yet! Hope some of these ideas help.

    3 Replies
    1. re: flashria

      Pasta salad with oil-based dressing is good. I make a greek orzo salad with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, chopped olives, red onion, mint and feta cheese. It's great.

      1. re: flashria

        I second the hummus idea. I take it to work we me at least twice a week. You can easily make your own, or buy at the store if you don't want to make it. My store carries Sabra brand hummus, which I like when I don't feel like making it. You can vary the type of hummus for variety. Dip it with carrot sticks, peppers, cucumbers, Jicama, snap peas, etc. for variety, or bring a few pieces of pita bread, or slices of crusty sourdough. Whatever you can think of to add variety. Or, you can take the pita bread and use the pockets to stuff with hummus, cuke slices, and thinly sliced onion. I tend to switch it up with hummus to add some variety, or use what I have in the fridge.

        1. re: flashria

          I second the wrap idea. I do wraps with scrambled egg, sweet potato, cheese, chili, chicken salad....just about anything I have ready or quick to prepare.

          Crepes or Socca made with garam masala in the batter make a great alternative to wraps, too.

        2. Good suggestions. I would get him an insulated lunch bag and put a cold pack in or a frozen juice box. Should keep well the whole day.

          1. Macaroni and cheese keeps well as long as it's refrigerated until morning. Pack him a plastic fork to eat it with. He doesn't need to sit down to eat it.

            1. Same sandwich for 5 years? Your husband's a saint!
              I always pack leftovers or a sandwich for my dh. I try to incorporate nuts and fruit too, and sometimes something for dessert.
              I love my Martha Stewart containers I bought from Macy's.
              I also got him an insulated lunch bag from Land's End.

              1. Stromboli! On Sunday, roll out a batch of pizza dough (prepared from the grocery is fine. Layer with meat and cheese (pepperoni and mozzarella would be the most common, but there's no need to stick with Italian. Ham and swiss would be delish!), roll it up and bake it. WHen it's cooked through and cooled, slice it and wrap the slices. He can just grab and go each morning.

                1 Reply
                1. re: katecm

                  This is my suggestion, too. It keeps, it's self-contained (ie, not messy to eat) and delicious.

                2. I agree with getting an insulated lunch bag. I prepare my kids lunches the night before, then throw the sandwich, drink, etc. in the lunch bag and it is still fine by lunch time. I only use the ice pack in there if it is particularly hot out side.

                  If your husband wants a hot lunch, get a thermos maybe like this.


                  My son prefers a "hot lunch" so I heat up leftovers, mac & cheese, or whatever else, right before he goes to school and it stays warm until lunch. As someone else said, throw in a plastic fork or spoon. Could be used for soup too (though my son won't eat soup!).

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: valerie

                    I was going to say soup in a thermos. Drink it without a spoon.
                    Pizza is always good cold to room temp.
                    Any other type sandwich; I'm thinking capicolli with hot pepper spread and fresh basil in an Italian roll, or smoked meat (pastrami) on rye, or fried bologna on white bread with mustard, or grilled cheese (yeah, the cheese won;t be melted, but what the hey) or a meatball grinder, or or.
                    Instead of pickles, howsabout a few olives or pickled garlic.

                  2. Quiche. You can make it with a different filling every week. It tastes better at room temperature than when chilled.

                    1 Reply
                    1. The onigiri sounds great. Just rely a bit more on cured/smoked meats and pickled vegetables. Cooked/wilted greens should also work long as you dress (or just mix with the pickled) it. Things like seaweed just last by being itself.

                      Me... I'd try to be cute/funny and throw in something like a turkey leg confit once in a while.

                      1. Check out the Kraft Food Recipes website. Though they are not gourmet type foods, you certainly can make them taste good with the right ingredients. My kids love the pepperoni pizza biscuits. I enjoy the crescent turnovers with steak, or pulled pork inside, or even chicken salad.
                        also wraps are very quick and easy (once you get the rolling down), turkey, cream cheese and salad with some dressing is wonderful and healthy--just be sure to roll the bottom up. I wrap in clingwrap so it stays together and I can unwrap as i eat it

                        1. lots of great suggestions already here, so i'll try not to repeat...

                          definitely second the thermos idea.

                          stuffed pita with: curried tuna salad, or greek salad with tomatoes, feta, cucumber, olives, dressing (maybe send dressing on side for him to drizzle before eating to avoid soggy factor), egg salad, etc.

                          crab or tuna or salmon croquette "bites" baked off and keep in fridge or freezer. then send with some mashed potatoes on the side or cauliflower soup for dipping

                          grilled polenta squares (super easy to make ahead) with some marinara dipping sauce

                          burritos - mix it up with black bean, turkey and sweet potato (keep warm in thermos if preferred); can do same with quesadillas and send some salsa on the side and store in thermos

                          mix up the bread - use savory waffles - ham, cheese, turkey on "waffle bread"

                          leftover Chinese egg rolls and dumplings :)

                          like pasties or pork pies, there are also empanadas..

                          you're a good wife to seek out ideas to make him happy... and he's a saint for eating the same things for 5 years ;)

                          1. Cream cheese and olive sandwichs are good. Just spread cream cheese on both the top and bottom slices so the bread doesn't get soggy.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: calliope_nh

                              i was just thinking of this, since he seems to like sandwiches so much.
                              cream cheese mixed with chives, chopped gherkins, pimento, or roasted red pepper...
                              liverwurst with swiss cheese.
                              falafels in pita, with hummus on the side so it won't get soggy...
                              couscous salad (chopped veggies, cilantro, parsley, tomatoes, toasted pine nuts) in a pita, also with hummus...

                            2. I'm sorry that it took me a while to reply to this - I hope it didn't seem like I didn't appreciate all the replies because I truly do! My husband's actually had a few days off so I was putting this (getting all the ideas together and replying) off until he's ready to go back to work. Well, not when he's ready to go back to work but when he has to. Ha!

                              Great ideas about changing up types of breads - he won't eat most lunch meat though (too much sodium) so I'll have to get a little creative with the fillings. Thank the stars my MIL (who is the BEST) will pack us home with some turkey meat. Solution for at least a couple of days!

                              I thought hummus and pita bread was the greatest idea ever (since it's so easy) until he told me it makes him too gassy (TMI - I know.) BUT stuffed pita sandwiches are a great idea and will definitely be happening.

                              I personally LOVE the insulated lunch bag and thermos ideas, but his work space (which changes daily) is a total and complete CHAOS and I know he'll never be able to keep track of them. He's already lost a thermos (which contains black tea, his daily dose of caffeine) and a couple water bottles. I wouldn't trust him with any more "gadgets" (sorry honey!)

                              Quiche/frittata/calzone/other baked goods - I must do a trial run first. I'm a decent baker though, so I'm not too worried.

                              Love pasta and/or grain salad ideas - nice way to make plain veggies look fancier! I've never made it, but it can't be that hard, right? I can cook the hell out of rice (I'm Asian.)

                              And last but not least - yes, he is a saint not only for eating same sandwiches for five years but also for putting up with my craziness!

                              Thank you thank you thank you!!! I can't honestly say how much I appreciate this. There's no way I could've come up with even quarter of all the ideas here.

                              1. Assuming he can take a lunch bag with a cold pack in it, I've found most things keep just fine especially if they are sitting in a temperature conotrolled room. Tuna salad, chicken salad, make a large bach of chili (I personally don't mind chili at room temp). Salads are a good option, taco salad being of my favorites.

                                1. This sounds like a vegetarian regimen. What do you mean by "egg sandwich"? Plain egg? Consider the birthday party standard of my childhood, egg & olive---mashed up hardboiled eggs, sliced stuffed green olives, and mayonnaise, on whole wheat bread with lettuce. Wrap it on a portable ice pack so it stays nice and cold. Does he eat fish and seafood? Tuna salad and shrimp salad come to mind.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Querencia

                                    He's not a vegetarian but doesn't want to eat meat products with regularity. I could've mixed it up a lot more but I was being lazy (still am but trying to be a good wife.)

                                    I see there are a couple ideas with olive - I'll ask him if he likes it. Tuna I know he tries to save for sushi because of mercury content. I was thinking maybe I'll vary it with canned salmon or whatever. Shrimp could work too.

                                    1. re: uwsister

                                      would he eat sardines? no mercury worries there. or crab salad?

                                      and i know you said no utensils, but for some reason cold sesame noodles popped into my head...you could tape a plastic fork or a pair of disposable chopsticks to the container for him :) just use reduced-sodium soy sauce in the dressing if salt is a concern.

                                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                        He detests crab for whatever reason, but sardines are a good idea! He likes those, and I have quite a few cans of them around :)

                                  2. How about you just tell him to make his own lunches if he is dissatisfied with the ones you prepare?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: katiep516

                                      I am more than happy to make his lunch - he works a LOT more hours than I do and does most of the cooking when he's home.

                                      1. re: uwsister

                                        You're very sweet to pack his lunch though, maybe you are the saint here. He sounds a bit picky! I'm just saying. Give yourself some credit. :)

                                        1. re: prunefeet

                                          Aw - thank you for sweet words! I appreciate it.

                                    2. if u like rice paper rolls (summer rolls?), they hold quite a bit. filling, much stronger than first i thought. choices are endless, as long as they r not soggy. they hold up well for at least 8 hrs without refrigeration. i assume his workplace is air-conditioned.

                                      filling options include cooked or raw/salad veggies, pickles, cooked beans/lentils, sprouts, dried fruit, crisp fruits (apples, pears), nuts, cooked rice, rice noodles, pasta, barley, cous-cous, quinoa. I suppose meats could work well, if not soggy.
                                      i've added hummus, mole paste, hot sauce, etc. to the filling & rolled it so it is in the center, not touching the wrapper.
                                      any wet sauce, i pack as dipping sauces - peanut sauce, pasta sauce, salsa, salad dressing...
                                      (i told u the options are endless)
                                      i "line" the rolls with 1-2 lettuce leaves, so they don't stick. i roll that over the rice-roll when eating. no utensils needed.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: jooser

                                        I second the summer rolls, it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the original post. Shrimp with some basil, mint and thin rice noodles--yum!

                                        1. re: jooser

                                          Wow, I never even thought about attempting to make summer rolls. Great idea - thank you!

                                        2. looking recipes or things other than sandwiches to bring?
                                          I start by planning the protein I will eat each day.
                                          Poached salmon.
                                          Grilled shrimp.
                                          Teriyaki chicken.
                                          Beef skewers.
                                          Chick pea salad.
                                          Tofu with kimchi.
                                          Pasta salads.
                                          Grilled veggie wraps.
                                          +1 curried chicken salad.
                                          Rare steak over arugula (keep salad dressing at work).

                                          One of my favorites is a simple shrimp "salad:"
                                          steamed or boiled shrimp (chopped coarsely)
                                          chopped celery
                                          red onion
                                          mayo (preferably Japanese lite Kewpie)
                                          lemon juice
                                          cilantro or parsley
                                          serve over greens or on a the bread or roll of your choice.
                                          I also keep instant miso soup at work.
                                          sounds like work but if you plan, and make your proteins in advance, its really not