Recipes for healthy brownbagging?
June 27, 2011 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Brown Bagging for the boyfriend! We've come to a compromise- He won't eat Doritos and a brownie for lunch everyday if I pack him something else. Alas, he is getting bored. I need some recommendations for recipes. What is your favorite semi-portable snack?

I am a long-time vegetarian and salad lover- and he is not. I don't mind cooking meat or making meaty sandwiches- I really just kind of don't know how to branch out of my own minimalist-lunch leanings. I'm not too worried about salt or calories (he's a healthy weight)- but processed food makes my skin crawl.

Example Meal- today was a sandwich (turkey bacon, avocado, spinach, cucumber and tomato) steamed broccoli and asparagus, and a shepherd salad (cucumber, tomato, parsley, onion, lemon juice, feta and apple vinegar).

Things that i can make in bulk and freeze for later would be especially welcome. Other totally welcome things: Stews, sandwiches, ethnic foods, different ways to present vegetables, new sides.

difficulty: No microwave and he's allergic to most dairy/ can't have spicy food (like chili pepper). BUT if you have a great suggestion that contains either= please share. I am very good at modifying the heck out of recipes!

Ease- We live in NYC and I am absolutely able and willing to hunt around for unusual ingredients.
posted by Blisterlips to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
posted by royalsong at 2:30 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ooh -- Kale! I discovered it last year thanks to and I fell in love with it. I sauteed some in olive oil and some black pepper. It works well as a spinach replacement, so maybe some kale and, hmm, fresh-sliced roast beef and swiss cheese? There's a lot less heebie-jeebie processed crap in the better delis, which will slice that for you.

If you want to add some fun, grab some simple cookie cutters and cut sammiches into shapes! Make sure he can't see the sammich until it's lunchtime, so he gets a kick out of it. Do the same with the veggies -- slices of cucumber shaped like stars, hearts, toy cars, whatever you can think of.

Tortillas can be fried to make really REALLY tasty chips. I cut the tortilla into eighths and have at with a bit of olive oil. It's pretty easy to control their 'doneness' by keeping the heat pretty low.

If the lack of a microwave wasn't an issue I'd say make up tuna casserole but it's kind of nasty when it's cold, in my opinion.
posted by Heretical at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2011

You can make bulk portions of pita type sandwiches in pita bread or whole grain tortillas. They work with a lot of different meats, vegetables, eggs, beans, sauces, and cheeses and you have a lot of latitude to make up all kinds of recipes. They're also more tolerant of being refrigerated and frozen than regular bread is.
posted by crapmatic at 2:57 PM on June 27, 2011

Grain based salads? Bulgur/tabuleh, lentils mixed with vegetables, cous cous can be eaten chilled as well. Frittata/tortilla espanola works cold, as would a lot of different quiches, maybe even some omelettes.

I'm not trying to come up with meat-free suggestions; I just happen to be a vegetarian.
posted by kellyblah at 3:24 PM on June 27, 2011

It sounds like he likes snack-y things, if his old lunches consisted of Doritos and brownies. What you describe sending him off with sounds more like a real meal (and delicious!) - but maybe it would make him happier if you supplemented your various usuals with extra snacks.

Some ideas:

- Seasame sticks are probably not the healthiest thing ever but they are delicious and less viscerally gross than Doritos by a long shot.

- A hardboiled egg (accompany with a little packet of salt and/or some other seasoning he likes - you can wrap a pinch of whatever in a tiny square of tinfoil)

- Something for dessert? Maybe a little square of good dark chocolate - that's pretty healthy.

- A bag of nuts.

And ideas for more "meal" type things, two favorites from my brown bag lunch days: (1) Tabbouleh and (2) hardboiled egg sandwiches (easier to make if you own an egg slicer) with tomato and spinach or something like that.
posted by bubukaba at 3:45 PM on June 27, 2011

You can do breakfast for lunch - it works surprisingly well cold and is a fun change from normal lunch foods. I used to do this on a regular basis when I didn't have access to a microwave. Some of the foods you can pack are:

- fruit (whole or cut-up)
- sausage links (I used to get these slightly sweet chicken apple sausages that were awesome for this)
- bacon
- granola
- a slice or two of cold quiche or frittata
- tamagoyaki (a yummy Japanese rolled omelet)
- leftover pancakes or frozen waffles (I would lightly toast anything frozen in the morning and pack them after they cooled) with a container of syrup for dipping/pouring on top
- English breakfast veg like tomato and mushrooms
- yogurt
- lightly pre-toasted bread with jam separate on the side
- hardboiled egg
- baked oatmeal (I don't like regular oatmeal at room temp - others might differ - but baked is still pretty tasty when cool)
posted by warble at 3:52 PM on June 27, 2011

What about getting him a thermos? Then he could have a wider variety of things and they would be warm without a microwave (you fill it with hot water, then empty out and fill with hot food). I sneak a lot of veggies into my non-salad-loving honey through fried rice made with brown rice--totally health food without seeming like it. I put BBQ pork in it, as he does like his meat. Chili or pasta would also be great in a thermos.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:16 PM on June 27, 2011

Does he like hummus? I put my hummus in a shallow flat Tupperware, put some chopped veg in another container, then dump the veg on the hummus when it's time to eat.

There's also trail mix, which can be healthy depending on how you make it. And if you like to bake, you could bake and freeze cookies ahead, then throw them in his lunch frozen.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 4:25 PM on June 27, 2011

Lately I've been making quesadillas for lunch. They taste great cold and I fill them with cheese and a ton of vegetables.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2011

This recipe for a BL(slow-roasted)T looks amazing. I think it could work cold?
posted by pilibeen at 4:42 PM on June 27, 2011

I make a healthy lunch for a seven year old every day. I like to do it well, because I hate wasted food. For her, the most important thing is that it's colourful. For me, what works is when she tells me what she's in the mood for. "Something noodly today, please" or "Something not too crunch, I have a headache" or "I want things I only have to eat with my hands".

First, you're putting a lot of thought and work into creating lovely individual meals - but for lunch, quite honestly, based on your description it's too much work and you'll burn out. Don't worry about individual meals for lunches, learn to make lunches with what you already eat lots of.

What works for our family:

Easy answer: Leftovers. Cook dinner (or once a week) with half a mind toward lunch.

Sunday Dinner = Roast chicken, salad, rice

Lunches (for husband and child):

Day 1: Tortilla with strips of chicken and leftover salad (add cheese and condiment), side of rice.
Day 2: Rice with chicken and added vegetables, stir-fried with a little soy sauce or any condiment and a scrambled egg added, and eaten cold.
Day 3: Chicken salad in lettuce wraps with veg and hummus on the side.

(Sometimes soup in a thermos, if there's any left - but usually not.)

Dinner: A huge grilled steak, salad, veg


Day 1: Tortilla or lettuce wrap with thin steak strips and cheese and various veg inside.
Day 2: Philly cheese steak-type sandwich on mini ciabatta bun with veg and fruit on the side

But also what I do is have an assembly line of appropriate lunch stuff, and choose from column a - z depending on the day:

A: Breads/Wraps, including slider buns, mini ciabatta buns, whole wheat tortillas, multigrain breads, bagels and crackers, pitas, flatbreads for pizza crusts, naan, rice cakes etc.

B: Spreads, including hummus, flavoured butters, goat cheese, cream cheese, artichoke & asiago dip, nut butters etc.

C: Fillin's, including assorted cheeses for slicing, prosciutto, leftover dinner meat strips etc.

D: Veg: purple cabbage, lettuces, cauliflower, baby carrots, celery, sweet peppers, cucumbers

E. Fruit: mango, apple slices with cinnamon and brown sugar, clementines, pears, watermelon...

E: Extra nibblies: olives, chick peas, dried apricots, raisins

F: Sweet and easy: banana bread, mini muffins etc.

If there's always stuff stocked, I can make a different lunch for every day using what's there, based on how much time I have and what we've been eating around that. But planning ahead makes all the difference, so I don't end up with five types of bread mouldering and a cupboard full of stale crackers.

So today's lunch was slider buns with cheese, mayo, pea shoots and lettuce; crackers and butter (mid-morning snack); carrot sticks, celery with cream cheese and dried apricot bits sprinkled onto that; a mango sliced "like a porcupine". We also had this week some of every fresh veg in the house, including bread sticks, with hummus on the side. Another day might be some leftover pork chop, sliced thin with mango and red onion and spinach on a ciabatta bun with apple slices on the side. Sometimes I'll make broccoli and cheese muffins. Once or twice I've sent granola cereal with yogurt and fruit. Other days, a bagel with nut butter and so on.

I also love this blog, and make this salad from it at least once a month and we'll eat it for days:
posted by peagood at 4:56 PM on June 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I pack breakfast and lunch 4 days a week, and I came here to give you the link the first reply did. Not just for recipes, but philosophy and methodology (including some food safety techniques for bentos.

But I also second what everyone else has said: cook extra and stash in fridge and freezer. Also keep certain staples on hand for when you don't have leftovers - my go-to is frozen meatballs. Sometimes from the grocery store down the street, sometimes Trader Joe's, sometimes IKEA, but always frozen meatballs. They can be nuked, baked, or pan-fried and then packed in with just about anything that appeals.

I bake/roast a lot of chicken. I bake boneless, skinless thighs with a very neutral seasoning (olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon), which might then become chicken tacos, BBQ chicken, and a mayo-less salad of chicken, red grapes, and feta chunks tossed in a drizzle of olive oil.

I pack a lot of hummus. It makes up for many kinds of sauces that wouldn't travel so well. So do refried beans if he can accustom himself to eating them cold.

I generally take eggs for breakfast. Sometimes it's a proper omelet, sometimes just scrambled with odd-ends leftovers over the top (a couple of meatballs, a couple of sauteed mushrooms, a spoonful of rice, some asparagus, crumbled goat cheese or a little blop of sour cream and salsa). If you're going to scramble eggs the day of, leave them pretty loose when they come of the heat because they'll continue to cook on their own for a bit.

You can do wonders with an ice pack. I like the flat ones that often come with Fit'N'Fresh containers because you can slide them between bento boxes or tupperware and tie or rubberband the stack together.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:02 PM on June 27, 2011

Were his old lunches Doritos and brownies because that was what he liked or because that was what was convenient? If it was because he liked those as lunches, it sounds like he and I may be similar- I would much rather eat tiny portions of different things than a real "meal" around lunch time. My lunches for the past week consisted of some combination of sandwiches (usually a single slice of bread folded over on the fillings- I can't eat a full sandwich of bread at once), nuts, cubes of cheese, vegetables and dressing, homemade pita chips and hummus, individual squares of good chocolate, and sliced fruits. I generally prepare my lunches on saturday by separating everything into individual baggies- so for 5 days of lunches, I'll have 2-3 baggies of each item packed. In the morning, all I need to do is pick a few baggies and throw them into my lunch box. I bring the baggies home and re-use them each week. I also second getting a thermos of some sort- these food jars are great because they're small and wide, which allows you to eat straight from the jar, and you can get them at any Target-type store for just a few dollars.
posted by kro at 11:13 PM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Lots of good ideas here, but I'd like to add Mark Bittman's 101 salad ideas. Lots can be modified into sandwich fillings. It's made lunch much more interesting for me.
posted by tempest in a teapot at 6:26 AM on June 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Summer Rolls! Fill them with veggies (tofu! cucumber! carrot!) or shrimp if that's his bag. They're eaten cold, handheld and easily transportable. Don't forget to send a dipping sauce!
posted by troublewithwolves at 1:17 PM on June 28, 2011

People have already mentioned Just Bento, but I wanted to point out that as well as full-blown bento boxes, it's an excellent source of advice on onigiri (rice balls), which make a splendid addition to a packed lunch (and can be frozen, according to that FAQ). The plastic wrap method for making them, while doubtless cheating by Japanese standards, is a godsend.

I'm not sure these are healthy/unprocessed enough to work for you, but on the off-chance: hard-boiled eggs are certainly good, but Scotch eggs are better. The archetypal Scotch egg is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausagemeat, coated in breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried (and it's delicious eaten hot or cold). Deep-frying isn't compulsory though: you can bake them in the oven instead, and there are quite a few interesting variants around that take that approach. For instance, this one, which also replaces the breadcrumbs with bacon, and this one, which uses quails' eggs for a bite-size version.

On the sweet front, this banana bread is filling and delicious, and improves with age (well, it gets steadily better over the first two or three days, then plateaus). I use soft dark brown sugar, which gives it an added depth of flavour, and I skip the sultana-soaking step because I don't generally want to add the extra hour to the preparation process.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2011

101 cookbooks -- healthy, easy and delicious. My husband who is not a healthy eater by nature LOVES everything I've ever made from it!
posted by caoimhe at 6:22 PM on July 2, 2011

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