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Question from a new guy.

Here is my situation. I'm a student and work full time. My wife is equally busy. Due to my schedule, cooking is very difficult. But, even if I could cook, there is a lack of refrigeration at school and a lack of tools to heat up a meal in both places. The last thing is that being at school all day and not having access to storage I have to carry my meals with me and all my books as well. It's not the easiest thing since I'm on campus close to 12 hours.

My question is:
Does anyone have any good ideas on how I can feed myself with these circumstances?

I understand that my whole life is not laid out in detail, so it's hard to assess what my free time, which is limited at best, looks like. However, I need to figure this out before I start school this fall because my time will be even more limited with the course load I will have. The last thing I would like to request, in whatever responses I might get to this post, is that the food I eat be as far away from processed as possible.

Thanks in advance for any advice.

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  1. This is where the sandwich and wrap will become your best friend, hamhockpunk. (Great name, btw - and welcome, welcome to the CH community.) Okay, you can't really cook or re-heat. So you need to go the other direction - chilling. You need a few cold packs and maybe an insulated bag. I'd get some good whole-wheat bread and wraps, and start devising layers of sliced veg. and cheeses to roll on up. Refried beans, shredded cheese and salsa is a nice option. Tuna with mashed cannelini-bean spread's another one. Never forget your quick protein source: the hard-boiled egg, which you can devil or do add-ins for interest. You can buy salad ingredients in a quantity that works for you so that you won't have leftovers, and carry that along with you. Consider shopping at an Asian market; there are some decent-quality low-sodium noodle bowls available, but READ the LABELS!! You might also consider a crockpot, scaling back on proportions so that you won't have leftovers, and crafting soups and chili that you can carry in a thermos - rinse it first with boiling water, and the contents will stay hot for your lunch. Small containers of cottage cheese, and some sliced veg. are a good lunch; sprinkle with some sunflower seeds for interest.
    Really as long as you have a means of keeping the cold cold and the hot hot, anything should be okay, though I'd seriously avoid chicken under any circumstances. Mayonnaise will actually help things stay fresh, though. Your limitations seem to be in the initital prep. and re-heating, but you can work around that.

    1. I would also suggest a pasta salad with oil based dressing - chopped onions, cucumbers, olives, beans or tuna, cherry tomatoes and an italian style dressing and you're good to go for the week! Peanut butter is also a good choice - on bread, or with fruit or veggies as a snack for your long days. The other thing is simple whole grain crackers with cheese slices. Quick and easy and delicious! A cold pack can get heavy, so you may consider freezing a water bottle and then packing it with your lunch and drinking it at lunch time. Yogurt can also be frozen and then thaws by the afternoon when you're ready to eat. Hope that helps!

      1. Sushi, Maki, onigiri are all your friends. The Japanese bento and lunch options are specific to no refrigeration, no heating, small containers to be carried with you.

        You can roll your own sushi/maki or make your own onigiri, they are easy, healthy, easily filled with many many options to allow you to use what you have available, to do different flavours as not to get bored, and can do flavours you enjoy.

        You can use canned tuna, canned salmon, mix with a little mayo, mustard, salt and pepper, and either roll maki rolls/sushi rolls or just fill a rice ball, and you can opt to use seaweed/nori if you wish, but you don't need to. 2 or 3 are filling and healthy, you get a lot of protein and vitamins from seaweed, you can use proteins like the tuna or salmon, you can also put in teriyaki chicken or beef or shrimp or anything you like at all. They can be eaten at room temperature with no need to heat them and no need to keep them cool for a few hours. You don't have to use mayo if you don't want to leave it at room temperature for extended time.

        You can do various things like pasta salads or potato salads which can incorporate proteins like canned tuna, or beans, pasta salad/potato salad can be fine at room temperature. If you don't like the idea of mayo at room temperature for extended times, my potato salad recipe uses just mustard and a little white wine vinegar and oil, this is fine at room temperature and with some bacon in there for flavour, i usually use just green onion but you could put peppers in as well for more vitamins, any vegetable is fine.

        Sandwiches are a good idea, but you will get bored of them eventually, you want many options.

        1. If you don't mind cold/room temperature homemade pizza would be fine, salads with cous cous, with orzo, with quinoa, you can make Japanese style potato croquettes with bacon or other meats in them, they are actually pretty good room temperature, albeit a bit of prep work. I don't think room temperature vegetable lasagna would bother me, though it might bother you, but some sort of hybrid lasagna or eggplant parm might work for you. Any cured meats will work well for extended times.

          1. It depends if you want cold foods or warm foods. If you want cold foods, then you can always prepare salad, sandwich, sushi, maki (as TeRReT nicely pointed out)....etc. In the case of sushi or maki... you may even have to pack ice with your lunch bag. If you want warm foods, then you are really down to two options. One is to use the microwave at the school. You can always find a microwave in today college campus building. It may be tough at first, but once you located them, then you can use them for future uses. Now, if going to a microwave oven is too much out of your way, then you can consider buying a vacuum insulated lunch box/jar like this (but does not have to be exactly this one):


            Make your food extra hot, pack it, and it will be about the right temperature when you open it for lunch.

            6 Replies
            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              For the record, if I ever do end up getting a job, onigiri and maki will be my lunch, and I won't be refrigerating it at all. I won't be using raw fish or raw proteins though, just canned tuna and canned salmon and various other pickled seaweeds and stuff as fillers. So as long as you aren't using sashimi, I'd have no problem with bringing sushi/maki with no ice pack at all, but its up to you.

              1. re: TeRReT

                You should have Cup-Noodle for your lunch. :)

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  they aren't so filling for me and are higher in calories and sodium, the maki are much more filling and healthy

                  1. re: TeRReT

                    I took a sushi making course and the teacher gave the rule of thumb that sushi rice should not be refrigerated but should be eaten within four hours (less if stuffed with raw fish obviously). This makes sense to me as chilling sushi rice makes it dry and chewy, even if carefully wrapped.

                    Peanut butter and honey sandwiches got me through grade school, high school, undergrad and an MA. Gotta use the hard honey though, not the liquid stuff. They don't need refrigeration, don't get slimy and tasty pretty darn good, even if they get a bit squished in your rucky! I have a high tolerance for repetition when it comes to everyday breakfast and lunch so YMMV.

              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                Also, if you are packing a lunch thermos, boil some water in the morning while you are prepping your lunch. Fill the container first with hot water. Let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then empty and fill the thermos with your hot meal. It makes a huge difference in how long something stays warm!

              3. I am now packing both breakfast and lunch for my toddler, so it's got me back into thinking about things that can be good all day with no reheating and no fridge. Not to compare you to a toddler :) He has an insulated lunch bag that we bought 2 freeze packs for, which I am comfortable keep his food cold enough for it to be safe for lunch, and it's big enough that breakfast and other non-fridge foods can fit in there as well, though when he gets bigger and is eating more, I will have a separate bag for things that don't need refrigerated.

                It's not clear which meal(s) you are needing to be away from home for - assuming breakfast on the go and then something for lunch, and then snacks, and that you will be home for dinner. There are a TON of nutrition bars out there which are mine and my husband's main staple for go-to breakfasts. Pair with fruit or some nuts and it's plenty of food, and no fridge necessary. For him I buy Clif and Powerbars, I buy Luna bars mostly for myself. GOOD bars have all your fruits and veg for the day in 1 bar. Granola bars can give you some nice grains and break up the routine, and many are made with flax, berries, etc now for extra health. Gnu bars have a TON of fiber, which can be helpful for everyone. We have a big "jar of bars" and each grab one before we leave.

                My kid won't eat sandwiches, so lunch is generally cold cuts, cheese, a veg and a fruit or 2 fruits, and then some grain like whole wheat crackers. So he might have trail bologna and cubed cheese and kiwi and apple and wheat crackers. Or whole grain goldfish, fig newtons, a shelf stable smoothie with apple, mango and squash and some ham and another kind of cheese. Or a turkey roll-up with pickles and cream cheese and various sides. Keep it simple and do sandwiches like this and you'll be good to go.

                1. Im old enough to remember the days when everyone I knew had lunch packed in a lunchbox or brown paper lunch sack every day. They almost invariably had some type of sandwich, a piece or two of fruit or vegetable, a bag of chips, maybe some cookies, maybe a chocolate bar. Mom's didn't trust us to manage to get tupperware back home, so if it couldn't be wrapped in wax paper (pre-cling wrap days) it didn't happen. And somehow without refrigeration... i don't remember any one getting sick from spoiled cold cut sandwiches, tuna, chicken, or egg salad sandwiches, leftover fried chicken, or anything else. Of course a frozen water bottle would have been great... but there weren't plastic bottles back in the dark ages either.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    KaimukiMan, it is still common for kids in Aus to take their lunches to school and in my school days we had no refrigeration or storage for lunches (they stayed in our school bags), no airconditioning in classrooms and regular 4o degree days. Lunch was typically a sandwich with ham or other coldcuts and salad, a piece of fruit and for the luckier kids than me a museli bar/small bag of crisps/biscuits. Like yourself a frozen water bottle or container of juice would have been nice to keep things cool and enjoy melted by lunch time, but no one ever got sick. Not much has changed since my time except better storage options for lunch boxes (cold packs and insulation) and airconditioning in classrooms, but essentially kids are still eating under similar conditions and still, noone gets ill.

                  2. Wow! Thanks ya'll! There is a lot for me to get through. Here is my situation:

                    Right now the situation is not too bad, but Tuesday and Thursday I have stay on campus from 9am until 9pm. 12 hours on a college campus will drive anyone crazy, but one of my biggest problems is hauling everything around. I already have my laptop, binder, three fairly large books, and my lunch. Hauling all this stuff around for 12 hours leaves me pretty wiped by the end of the day. I also work a full time job, as I mentioned in my initial post, and if I'm not working I'm doing homework. Gotta maintain that GPA. The original mindset I had when I started to think about this is how people carried food with them during the times before refrigeration. I thought of cured and dried meats, pickled stuff, etc. Unfortunately my cold packs, I have two of them, and my insulated bag don't keep things too cold through out the day. If I eat the stuff by noon then I'm solid, but if I save anything for dinner then it's generally lukewarm. I really want to try and stay away from processed food, but I know I can't completely avoid it. Maybe I'm being unrealistic, but I just finished the Border Series by Cormac McCarthy and I have myself convinced that I can do it like the cowboys. The biggest problem I'm going to have is when I transfer to the university this fall. I will be riding my bike about 10 miles each way and I will have to carry all the materials I need for my classes. Being a computer science and math major means that I will have a lot of stuff to lug around on a bike back and forth. This is why I'm trying to find a way to eat without, or limited by, refrigeration and/or ways to heat up food. I have done plenty of PB and honey sandwiches. They were my jam for a while, but I eventually grew tired of that.

                    Hopefully this info will generate more suggestions. Not that you all haven't helped me out in a huge way. Thanks for all the responses and I'll try some this stuff out now.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: hamhockpunk

                      On that note, what about jerky? It's a little expensive (and salty!), but you don't need to refrigerate it, and it's delicious. Beef jerky is definitely one of my favorite sources of protein, and I ate plenty of it as a student. You could always buy a food dehydrator and experiment with making your own jerky and dried fruit (more perfect campus snacks).

                      By the way, my hat is off to you. A lot of students have it easy, either living on campus or very nearby, or they seem to have unlimited budgets for eating out, which I never did. You're majoring in some pretty heavy-duty stuff, working full time, married, living far from campus, trying to ride your bike, AND trying to eat right and save money -- any one of those things is more than a lot of college students have to deal with. As an academic librarian who empathizes the most with the students who WANT to be here and make sacrifices to do it, it sounds like you're doing everything right.

                      1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

                        Thanks for the kudos Big Bad Voodoo Lou! My main goal is to try to graduate with as little debt as possible. I feel like eating this way will help me stay focused for the demands that school will throw at me. I have considered a dehydrator. Any suggestions on an quality affordable one?

                    2. The frozen water bottle is good because it will keep things chilled and only be a weight in the morning. If you can train yourself to drink luke warm V8, that with a hard boiled egg and some raw veggies makes a good meal that doesn't need chilling unless it is particularly hot.
                      I havn't made granola or protien bars, but there are recipies out there for them. That way you can make them with the unprocessed foods you wish to use.
                      Parmelaut (spelling?) and other brands offer milk "juice boxes" that don't need refridgeration, these can also be frozen and thaw by lunch time.

                      1. you are gonna need to find someone on campus who can keep things in a fridge for you and/or has a microwave. Maybe you can help that person out by making some extra a few times a week.

                        1. Thank for posting more suggestions! The more I have to work with the more I can narrow down a plan with some variety. You all are awesome! Keep the ideas coming.

                          1. A couple of mimi babybel cheeses, an apple, and a handful of nuts ~~ no refrigeration needed

                            A cheese wrap or sandwich, put desired cheese and a sliced pear in a wrap.

                            add ins, roasted peppers, carrots strips, shredded lettuce, cucumber slices

                            leftover cold sliced meatloaf (wonderful)

                            leftover cold chicken

                            leftover cold roast beef

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: laliz

                              Muffins- once a week prepare some heavy duty muffins with dried fruits,nuts,whole grains. Freeze em and take out as needed. Bananas, apples - the usual suspects. Hummus prepared once a week and used as dip with cut up veg or slathered in a wrap. As a nurse and mother of 4 I can tell you that the key to success lies in organization. A trip to cosco once a week comes in handy for me as I buy the individual Greek yoghurts (room temp is fine with me) Good luck! You've got a lot on your plate but plan, organize and execute.