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Mar 22, 2013 02:50 PM

Need make-ahead lunch ideas for a college student

So I want to start carrying stuff that isn't prepackaged junk for lunch (or worse, succumbing to the temptation of the fast foods in the cafeteria), but I'm drawing a blank. I'm working on a limited budget (think broke college-kid budget), so that narrows it down a bit.

I'm trying to think of things I can cook/prep on Sunday night and then grab and go. Such as baking a whole bunch of chicken tenders to chop up for a salad topping, a sandwich, mix in with rice, etc.

So, any ideas? Especially when it comes to produce- I can't think of many ways to work veggies in there besides chopping fresh veggies to carry or carrying a chef salad, both of which would get old very quickly. Help please?!

Also, I have only the basics at home- stove, oven, microwave, Crock pot, pots and pans. No fancy steamers, blenders, etc. I do have a microwave at school I can use so foods that lend themselves to being reheated well are fine :)

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  1. I find the leftover dinners make the best lunches, especially if you have access to microwave. You might want to consider a good size thermos and some plastic or glass containers. Makes life even easier

    I bring my lunch every day. On Sundays I like to roast a whole chicken. Makes for great sandwiches and topping for salads.

    Meatballs and/or meatloaf are great Sunday project too. A meat loaf sandwich, meat ball subs, even just a thermos fill meatballs can be the making of a good lunch.

    Leftover pasta can be turned into a veggie filled pasta salad. add some tuna for protein.

    Soups are easy, cheap and can be chock full of veggies. You could make plain old veggie soup or you could make white chicken chili, vegetarian chili to up the veggie count.

    Then there are your filling soups and stews like texas chili, split peas, beef stew

    Get in the habit of cooking for two even if you are just cooking for one. One for dinner and one to turn into lunches.

    here a couple of thread you might like

    4 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      Love the meatball idea. Sounds delish. Unfortunately, my family never cooks (or when they do they cook fried, fatty foods like burgers and fries) so there usually aren't leftovers. :( I've just decided that instead of buying a week's worth of TV dinners and canned soup I'd like to buy something I can cook a week's worth of and prep in the morning.

      1. re: ForeverBirds

        Ok I hear you. Heres a few ideas for batch cooking. Also- as trite as it sounds you might benefit from Rachel Rays "cook for a day and eat for week" TV show. My twentysomething nieces say they great ideas that at both cheap and easy from that show.

        -meatballs: make huge batches on cookie sheets by baking in the oven. Freeze in a single layer in zip lock bags and then you can just take out what you need.

        -meatloaf: make free form mini loaves and bake on a cookie sheet. wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze. each one should big enough for a good size sandwich

        -baked pasta: buy mini loaf pans (usually 6 for a $1 at the grocery store). Toss al dente pasta with meat sauce, fill loaf pan and sprinkle top with shredded mozzarella. Bake, cook and freeze. You can reheat in the micro by taking out of the foil pans first.

        -Soup: in your crock pot make double batches of your favorite- chicken noodle, vegetarian chili, beef stew, etc. Freeze in individual containers

        -roasted veggie pasta salad: also can be made with orzo, quinoa, rice. Just roast your favorite veggie in the oven and store in the fridge. Cook a big batch of your starch of choice and stick in fridge. In the AM toss a serving of starch and veggies with your favorite salad dressing, Add cooked chicken, black beans, canned tuna, etc for some protein.

        -roast a whole chicken, a pork loin or steak to use through out the week

        1. re: foodieX2

          prep fresh veggies (slice or chop pepper, cucumbers, lettuces, greens like parsley and basil, mushrooms, sliced onion) and put them in separate bags in crisper) - mix your favorite vinaigrette, a russian dressing, and a soy/lime/brown sugar sauce (you can find recipes for these), each in it's own jar. Stock canned white beans and kidney beans. Roast a turkey breast (if you can't get a small one, freeze sliced cooked turkey above what you think you might need for a week) - keep some cans of italian tuna in olive oil. Mix and match (tuna, white beans and vinaigrette, roast turkey, russian dressing, sliced avocado, chef salad, stir fry veggies and turkey with soy dressing) - you can vary it endlessly and you will have spent about an hour or so cooking and chopping and mixing. Adding things like dried cranberries and nuts, keeping some good yogurt and fruit to supplement and you'll be eating healthy, cheap and tasty.

        2. re: ForeverBirds

          My husband and I pack our lunches most days, largely based on leftovers from dinners. If you have no leftovers in your home because of your family's dinner choices, then perhaps instead of cooking foods specifically intended for your lunches, you might take on cooking some dinners for the family that will generate lunch leftovers, ideally with the assistance of other family members -- not sure if that is feasible in terms of your schedule, your family's interest in changing its eating habits, etc, but it's a thought. I'm not suggesting that you take on cooking 100% of the dinners but perhaps a few times per week.

          In terms of how we use leftovers for lunches:
          1. We had a roast chicken with gravy and baked potatoes last weekend. I brought entree salads twice this week with some of the leftover chicken chopped up. My husband packed a container with some of the chicken, a baked potato, and the gravy (in a separate container) and warmed them all in the microwave.
          2 other leftover meats such as roast pork, chicken or beef, can be sliced for sandwiches
          3 leftover chili and white rice, warmed in the microwave at work.
          4. Leftover, homemade slices of pizza, warmed at work
          5. Leftover homemade Mac & cheese, warmed at work
          6. Leftover spaghetti with meatballs and/ or sausage - either (a)taken in a container with the pasta and warmed, or (b) extracting the meatballs or sausages along with a bit of sauce, to be reheated and placed on a baguette for a hot sandwich
          7. Leftover homemade soup.
          8. When we have burgers, my husband always makes an extra to take to work as lunch

          Then there the leftovers, repurposed for dinners that themselves generate lunch leftovers -- e.g., I will sometimes make an Asian style noodle stir fry for dinner that incorporates leftover roast pork or chicken, and the leftover stir fry becomes lunch later in the week.

          Also, I find that taking homemade salads for lunch does not get old as long as you vary what you bring, and they taste so much better than any takeout salad that you can buy, especially if you make your own dressing. I generally use good quality spring mix greens as a base and include sliced red peppers and grape tomatoes (easier to grab in the morning than slicing a whole tomato and your greens will stay dry). From there, it depends what I have on hand, but I might include some leftover tuna salad or egg salad (packed in a separate container so the greens stay dry), sliced apples or pear (packed in a separate container, along with the salad dressing, which will keep the sliced fruit from oxidizing), slivered almonds, craisins, leftover cooked green vegetables like sliced asparagus or green beans, etc. It is important to invest in some good quality containers of varying sizes, with tight fitting lids, especially if you are bringing homemade salad dressing. And, if you need guidance on how to make dressing, search this board for "vinaigrette" as there have been a number of recent posts with recipes and instructions on that. We keep a cruet of homemade vinaigrette in our fridge at all times, so in the morning I can just pour a bit out to take for a lunch salad.

      2. i'll try not to overlap too much...

        try baking some sweet potatoes. roast some veggies. take and heat up and top with rotisserie chicken.

        make some grain salads -- cook grains (bulgur, barley, faro, etc.) make some vinaigrettes at week's start. in the mornings, toss in whatever you like into some grain (roasted peppers, olives, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, etc), and toss with dressing and a little cheese. let marinate til lunch.

        things that have make-ahead components and easily assemble-able at school or home:
        egg salad
        veggie burgers
        mini pizza (love leftover pizza heated up or cold)
        whole wheat pita stuffed with hummus, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, feta (if you want to spend the money)

        1. For room temp eating: there are lots of what I guess you might call "salads" that mix veggies with various grains or starches--wild rice, cous-cous (Israeli cous cous stands up better over time), bulgur, quinoa. There is lots of room to spend Sunday sauteeing up some onions and other aromatics to softened state, sliced sweet peppers sauteed to tenderness in olive oil with spices/herbs (pick a profile, like mediterranean: paprika, oregano, cayenne; or Mexi; or Arab), and then you can toss a mixture together each morning. If you are (as I am) devoted to proteins in lunches, you can include chopped cooked chicken (when pressed, I have used pre-cooked chicken tenders from those large frozen bags), but you can also, or additionally, gain heft from crumbled feta or cooked chick peas, olives, etc. I have an office at work with a small fridge, so I have the luxury of keeping some salad dressings there, like light Italian. But those can also be bought in packets that do not require refrigeration.

          For microwave: think of making a soup or two a week to feed off of. Also, Indian curries reheat well. Get some good containers that can handle the heat and the staining potential. Not all plastic is created equal. I recommend Rubbermaid Premier, as in:

          1. Soups/stews are definitely cheap and healthy. Freeze individual portions and take them to college still frozen. They are then less likely to spill and they will thaw a bit throughout the morning. Also, they work as an ice-pack to keep the other bits of your lunch cool if you put them in the same bag.