healthy and easy lunches to go
September 15, 2009 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for healthy, inexpensive, and convenient lunches that won't need refrigeration or microwaving during the day, but can be prepared the night before (overnight refrigeration is fine).

I do love sandwiches but haven't been impressed with them as the bread is unpleasantly soggy by lunch the next day. Other than that I have no dietary restrictions and am willing to try just about any cuisine. I'd prefer things that were self-contained meals that can go into Tupperware. I'd also be willing to get some sort of Thermos container. Complicated meals with lots of components and prep time are out. Only the bare minimum of prep in the morning is workable.

A bonus would be something I can make in larger batches and freeze in portions. I do have a crock pot I use for that purpose now, for dinners.

This question is close, and has good ideas, but I want a more specific focus on convenience.
posted by 6550 to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 95 users marked this as a favorite
Hummus and pita? Spread and eat.

You could also try wrapping the typical sandwich ideas in a tortilla to make a wrap, which might not get as soggy.
posted by kylej at 8:29 PM on September 15, 2009

If you don't have access to a refrigerator, get an insulated lunch box with a pouch for a freezer pack. Unless you're out in the sun all day, that should keep your lunch safely cool from when you take it out of your fridge until you eat it.

Fresh fruits and veggies, olives, pickles, nuts.

Canned tuna (the kind that has a easy-to-pull-off top) and crackers.

If you get the ice pack, hard-boiled eggs, wraps (tortillas and some sort of filling), single-serving yogurt and cottage cheese.

A neat trick for bringing salad is to keep a container of salad dressing at work (homemade balsamic vinaigrette is fine at room temperature) and then just bring a container of lettuce. Drizzle some dressing on the lettuce, reseal the container, and shake, thus evenly distributing the dressing. Reopen and eat.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:33 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try different layering combinations for your sandwiches. Or toasting the bread lightly, and/or packing the condiment separately. Or adding a condiment- sometimes a layer of mayo can keep deli slices from making the sandwich yucky. For sure keep the lettuce separate from the bread. Another thing I do is use english muffins instead of bread- makes for a tastier sandwich, and it's real hard for them to get soggy. What little "sog" they might pick up just makes the eatin' easier.

Just as an example, McDonald's specifically designed their buns and bun toasting regimen to stand up to the ketchup so the sandwiches don't get soggy on the way home.
posted by gjc at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Really good artisan bread, and some good goat-milk cheese. Spread and eat. My lunches have improved markedly since I switched to this from lunchmeat on plain bread.
posted by notsnot at 8:45 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

if you'd like the sandwiches, save the soggy bread, get a tupperware for all the sandwich fixins (lettuce, meat, etc) and the put 2 pieces of bread in a ziplock. get individual packets of mustard/mayo. the assembly should only take you 2 minutes and you won't have the sog problem.

another suggestion is pasta salad (either the veggies and salad dressing kind, or my boyfriend eats leftover marinara pasta room temperature)
posted by nadawi at 8:47 PM on September 15, 2009

The trick for non-soggy sandwiches is to put the bread in one bag and the filling in another bag/ container, then assemble at lunch time. Leftovers from dinner are my favorite for lunch - no work at all, and often they're fine at room temperature.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:48 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, I keep salad dressing at work and bring in more perishable items as needed. Lettuce in one container, other salad items in another. Great for leftovers.

As for sammys, try keeping the bread at work and bringing in the ingredients. Also, you want to keep the wet from the bread, so put a piece of cheese or meat or lettuce on top of wet things to buffer them from the bread.
posted by cestmoi15 at 8:50 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I believe paninis fit the bill pretty closely though you'd have to invest in a panini maker, ~$30 USD. With the correct recipes you would likely not experience the sogginess.
There is a great blog that covers just panini recipes:
posted by DumbPoet at 9:02 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: PB&J's are great, because they don't require refrigeration. The secret to not making the bread all soggy is to put the Peanut butter on both slices of bread, then put the jelly on the peanut butter.

If you get the little jars of jam/jelly you go through them quicker so you don't get sick of eating the same flavor all the time.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:02 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, try different bread. I use some high-density focaccia from the local supermarket, and toast it first. And I make sure the soggiest part -- tomato -- isn't touching the bread. This technique holds up fairly well overnight.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:04 PM on September 15, 2009

Take some trail mix for the side. You can make you own and have it your way. Or any of the contents by themselves, dried fruit, raisins, nuts as was mentioned by Jacqueline. If you do go the ice pack route (another suggestion by Jacqueline), most cheeses are healthy and nice at lunchtime. Possibly a good way to avoid the soggy bread issue is to try Pita bread. We've been using these whole grain pita "buns" made by "Pita Break" with our burgers. They're pretty filling and taste great. Might not get so soggy being a little more heavier than regular bread.
posted by Taurid at 9:08 PM on September 15, 2009

Best answer: buckwheat soba noodles are delicious when served cold. squeeze a little lime over the noodles after you cook them, then mix with shredded uncooked red cabbage. add crushed nori and a little soy sauce (and sriracha if you like spicy) just before eating.
posted by 256 at 9:12 PM on September 15, 2009 [8 favorites]

Bittman's salads list has some good suggestions. I also recommend this chickpea salad and quinoa salads are both fine all day, in an insulated lunch bag without reheating.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:28 PM on September 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

A bodybuilding buddy of mine used to eat a mixture of brown rice, tuna and regular pre-made salsa. Very healthy, and remarkably yummy at room temperature. You could probably play with the recipe to suit your fancy. If you're veggie, I bet it would work with tofu instead of tuna.
posted by Go Banana at 9:47 PM on September 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Consider things that you usually eat warm that might be okay at room temperature. I'm often quite happy eating room-temperature pasta or rice, for example.

Try pasta with veg, capers, and chunks of cheese gets dressed with a little oil and lemon juice. Room-temperature lasagna is also often good. Both of these things can be made a day (or several days) ahead of time and just portioned out.

Pizza is often eaten cold, but it's even better at room temperature. You can make it at home and top it with lots of veggies, which is both reasonably healthy and cheap.

I frequently eat rice and room-temperature stir fry.

Many meats taste just fine at room temperature, too. Chunks of pot roast or pork roast, for example, are easy to cook and freeze, but taste great at room temp.

Things like turnovers might fit your requirements, too. Calzones and samosa are options, as are empanadas, spanakopita, and meat pies.

If you get a Thermos, your options are wide open. Soup, curry, rice and beans, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, hot dogs... Heat the thermos first by filling it with boiling or the hottest tap water you have and let that sit in the thermos while you prep the food. Microwave soups, curries, pastas, and that sort of thing, then dump the water out of the thermos and put the food in. Keeps them piping hot until lunchtime. For less liquidy food (like hot dogs), fill the thermos, but then dump it, wipe it out real quick, and wrap your food in tinfoil or plastic to keep any liquid off of it.
posted by MeghanC at 9:48 PM on September 15, 2009

Frankly you are asking to be shown and the myriad delicious (and apparently quite healthy!) recipes there, easily prepared the night before, and fit readily into a tupperware-type thing.

Seriously, it's exactly what you want. Just click "best answer" now and then check out the recipes on there.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:13 AM on September 16, 2009

Best answer: This could be adapted to a "lunch burrito" easily enough:
posted by Alabaster at 4:33 AM on September 16, 2009

I bring this up every time it comes up on here, but go to Lunch in a Box's Top Tips page. All of her bento meals are made to be eaten at room temperature, without refrigeration, and she has plenty of tips regarding food safety. Even if you don't want a super cutesy kid's lunch, there are great ideas there.

That being said, I bring sandwiches in Tupperware that I keep at room temperature to work just about daily, and they're never soggy. The trick is to leave off the tomato, and go light on mustard/mayo. I also fold up a little paper towel in the Tupperware box for lunch, which seems to absorb a smidge of moisture--and is useful for cleaning the hands during lunch!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:01 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love making all kinds of different pasta salads. I make a huge batch and it lasts me many days for lunch. They're super-easy to throw together on the weekend, and keep perfectly in the fridge. In the morning, when I'm getting ready for work, I just spoon some salad into a container and go. No prep or effort required.

Sometimes, I'll do an Asian-inspired salad with udon noodles, strips of marinated steak, red peppers, shredded carrots, sugar snap peas and topped with a spicy soy-peanut-ginger vinaigrette. Other times, I'll go for something southwestern with penne, chunks of chicken, black beans, corn, cubes of low-fat cheddar cheese and a spicy low-fat ranch-style dressing. Traditional Mediterranean style salads are great too - spiral noodles with olives, artichokes, roasted red peppers, feta and a Greek-style dressing.

I usually do some kind of fruit on the side. Add some crackers... maybe a handful of almonds or raisins and you're set!

I just throw in an ice pack and everything is perfect at lunchtime.
posted by MorningPerson at 5:24 AM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I asked a similar question.
posted by desjardins at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2009

Curry's good. Also, you can take it to work in a Tiffin tin which is cool.
posted by rhymer at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2009

My favorite lunch at the moment is variations on a pasta toss: pasta (bowtie, penne, whatever) plus tomatoes, feta cheese, red peppers, and pancetta, with some olive oil thrown over the top. You can make this the night before, or boil the pasta while you're taking your morning shower.
posted by vickyverky at 11:05 AM on September 16, 2009

Best answer: Hi. One of my favorite foods fits your needs perfectly - it is actually much better if prepared the night before. The recipe is from the Republic of Georgia, and has spread to southern Russia where I'm from; I learned it from my Georgian uncle. It's called lobio, which either means "beans" or this dish specifically, I'm not sure. There are a million ways to prepare this, but this is how I like it:

5 15.5 oz. cans of red kidney beans (I use the Goya brand)
3 cups very finely ground walnuts
1 bunch finely chopped green onion
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 cup liquid from the above-mentioned cans of beans (again, you may want more than this, so don't discard the liquid in the cans)

Combine everything in a large bowl and mix. You will need a food processor for the walnuts, because they need to be crushed up as finely as possible so their oils mix up into everything ... that's where the unique flavor and heartiness comes from. I did bash them with a hammer once with some success, but it's not as fun as it sounds. In the end, you may want to add some salt to taste, and some more bean liquid, which will keep things from tasting dry. Serve cold or room temperature.

This makes enough for at least a week. It's very filling, healthy, nutritious, and tastes like a lot more than the sum of its parts (I don't personally like either kidney beans or walnuts, but can tear through this stuff like a lusty Abkhazian tangerine farmer after a long day of pruning).
posted by geneva uswazi at 3:04 PM on September 21, 2009 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great ideas, everybody!

I have picked up a food thermos, and the sandwich ideas involving more robust breads and better layering approaches have helped for making non-soggy sandwiches.
posted by 6550 at 12:15 PM on September 30, 2009

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