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September 1, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

What are some good snack and lunch foods for a student who is stuck at school all day? Special snowflake details inside:

This Fall I'm starting a college program that will keep me at school for the whole day, every day. I'd like to avoid eating at the cafeteria, because it's expensive and gross, so I need to start packing my own lunches.

I'm also looking for good snack foods. I'm mostly fine with the fruit/granola bars, yogurt, apples, and crackers that I've been eating. But some variety would be nice, and I'm not so good at thinking outside of my (very small) food box.

There are a few complications, however:

-I won't be able to refrigerate any of my food while in school. I'm not so worried about food spoiling, since that's just a few hours, but I am worried about foods that just don't taste food if they've not been refrigerated. Like cheese - I cannot stand room temp cheese. But if you have a salad idea that would be okay at room temp, I'm down.

-I will have access to a microwave, but I'd love some ideas for stuff that doesn't need microwaving, too.

-I love sandwiches, but I dislike both mayo and mustard. I still haven't found a really great replacement for one of these to make sandwiches juicier (I tried hummus and it was still too dry). And again with the not being so good at thinking outside my food box - any ideas for tasty sandwiches you have are welcome!

-I'm on a bit of a budget, so if I'm going to buy a special ingredient for a dish I'd like to be able to use it in other dishes before it spoils. Food spoilage is a huge waste that happens a lot when I try new food, and I'm still figuring out how to plan my dishes so this doesn't happen. Ideas that cost less are great. (On the flipside, I am willing to spend some time making this food. Isn't the idea that you can't get quick, cheap, and healthy, but you can do two out of three pretty easily? I'm shooting more for cheap and healthy). I do have access to a Costco.

I know there are some past questions that have ideas in them, and I'm definitely exploring them. But I wanted to know if anyone had new ideas that would fit with my limitations. Thanks in advance!
posted by sherber to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Guacamole is good on sandwiches, as a replacement for cheese and/or mayo.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:59 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

My previous very similar question
posted by desjardins at 12:01 PM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: I missed that one, thanks desjardins!
posted by sherber at 12:06 PM on September 1, 2011

You should get a lunchbox with some ice packs. I frequently had all-day classes in college, and I carried my lunch around with me like a boss. They make really sedate ones, but I used one like this.

Having some manner of food refrigeration really opens up a whole other world of possibilities.

One thing I liked to do was put a dollop of dip (bean dip, hummus, etc) in a small tupperware with some carrot and celery sticks, then eat that as a snack. Much more refreshing and fulfilling than a bag of chips.

Nuts are also good.

For a sandwich moistener, how about some eggplant spread? You'll never be able to enjoy a sandwich without it again.
posted by phunniemee at 12:08 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I bring baggies of nuts to snack on, sometimes mixed with regular dried fruit, chocolate-covered dried fruit, or chocolate-covered espresso beans.
posted by illenion at 12:09 PM on September 1, 2011

If you like savory snacks: roasted edamame.
posted by illenion at 12:12 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pasta salad is great as a packed lunch or snack. If you make one that's vinaigrette-based (as opposed to mayo-based...and you dislike the stuff anyway), it will still taste great after a few hours at room temperature. It's something you can make a big batch of; it will last in your fridge at home for three or four days and you can eat on it for a while.

I recommend penne or rotini, + a vinaigrette, + almost any combination of other things you like...broccoli florets, olives, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomtatoes, fresh basil, little cubes of fresh mozzarella (IMO they don't get gross sitting out a bit, I do know what you mean about room temperature cheese), bits of asparagus, etc. etc. Crushed red pepper flakes in the dressing are nice too if you want to give it a bit of a kick.

The best pasta salad vinaigrette I ever used was a recipe that came from Cook's Illustrated. It is behind a paywall, I think, but as I remember it's equal parts olive oil and lemon juice, maybe a clove of garlic, some crushed red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 12:19 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

In terms of sandwiches, don't forget pain baigne, or its New Orleans counterpart, the Mufuletta. Sliced meat and chopped vegetable salad in vinaigrette, packed into a baguette or other round loaf, wrapped tight and smooshed under weights in the fridge until the bread is soaked with vinaigrette. Delish!
posted by LN at 12:21 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: For snacks I like a make your own trailmix option - nuts, craisins, choc chips and more. I also love a bit of peanut butter to dip apple slices or on a banana. I also agree with the suggestion of hummus or eggplant spread as a snack with crackers or veggies.

For lunch there are a lot of great room temp salads made with cheap grains that will last for a long time. Think israeli couscous, quinoa, orzo pasta, etc. Tabouleh is a favorite of mine but does require fresh things (tomato, cucumber and lots of parsley). I'd also recommend Ina's orzo salad with roasted veggies and feta - lots of fresh things but its great at room temp and you should be able to only buy what you'll put in the salad.

Ina Garten makes a great curried couscous salad that I've made with carrots, raisins, dried apricots and nuts, so not much you'd have to worry about going bad. I've also seen variations on a quinoa salad - one TexMex ish with black beans, corn and cilantro (you could grab the frozen cilantro cubes if you're worried about spoiling) and another with mango. Sorry I'm not including the links, but you can google search to get specific recipes that appeal to you.
posted by moshimosh at 12:23 PM on September 1, 2011

I just discovered this at Whole Foods, and it's my new Favorite Thing: Toby's Tofu Spread. I like the mild jalapeno one, especially. I spread it on a flour tortilla, wrap it up, and it's a hearty, tasty snack. It also tastes OK at room temperature.

I noticed that peanut butter wasn't mentioned, that's an old standby. If you don't like (or can't eat) it, there's numerous nut butters that are tasty as well. Personally, I like sunflower seed butter.

Beef Jerky is another favorite of mine.

I've only made this a couple of times, but when I did, I loved them: Onigiri. I sprinkle mine with Furikake, and wrap in dried seaweed. They keep without refrigeration, and taste good at room temperature. Some people get molds to shape the rice; I just use my hands.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:45 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kale makes an awesome substitute for lettuce when you want a green salad and is much less prone to both wilting in your lunch and spoiling in the fridge.
posted by rosebengal at 12:45 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know what you mean. Here are some good snacks/lunch foods that will be good at room temperature:
* This brown rice salad from Mollie Katzen. I use Trader Joes frozen brown rice to make it easier.
* Chinese Chicken Salad in a rolled up tortilla.
* Baked yams (I think they're even better at room temp than hot)
* Tangy chicken wings
* A pressed sandwich. You can follow the recipe or put anything you like in it (tuna, olives, roasted peppers, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, salami). It's up to your imagination. It's wetter than most sandwiches because of the vinaigrette and the fact that you scoop out the middle fluffy part of the bread.

The site Just Bento may give you some other good ideas. It's not good for microwaving but I like my stainless steel bento box for carrying lunch.
posted by hellochula at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2011

I still haven't found a really great replacement for one of these to make sandwiches juicier (I tried hummus and it was still too dry).

Chutney. It goes well with cheese, though I don't know about anything else. (Also, if you like cheese sandwiches, you can freeze the bread to keep it cool longer.) Similarly for Branston pickle, if you can find it. Actually, those would probably go well with some sort of baked tofu (or whatever meat product is like baked tofu). I may need to try that.
posted by hoyland at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: I have a previously on this one too!

For mayo replacement, I use sour cream. I know a lot of people who use hummus on sandwiches. Sauteed veggies like mushrooms and onions can make a very satisfying moist addition to sandwiches, and they can also be filling on their own. I do my best to get all my friends addicted to roasted red peppers as sandwich moisteners, because they're delicious. Sundried tomatoes packed in oil are a little pricier, and chewy, but they have add a nice savory note to sandwiches.

Today I brought beans and rice, using this Cooks.com red beans recipe. 1/2 a cantaloup that I cup up myself, smoked almonds (Emerald brand, I only buy them when they're BOGO at my Publix), some cheese (I know, you don't care for it) with crackers, and an orange.

I like to cook boneless skinless chicken thighs (buy them in bulk, cook in bulk, or freeze some and cook a few at a time) for school lunches because they're less mess to eat than bone in. Slow cooker is good for this, but so is the oven. Roasted veggies are good in lunches too, because they taste good at room temperature, and you get lots more vitamins than a bag of chips provides.

To prevent some kinds of food spoilage, your freezer is your friend. For example, recipes will often call for only a tablespoon of tomato paste. In this case, open the can, use the tablespoon, put the rest into a ziploc baggie. Smear it flat, seal it up, freeze it. For future use, break off a chunk that looks about right. Same for chili in adobo (I buy them in a can), if a recipe calls for just one or two chilis, I have at least two, and probably more leftover. Into the freezer!

I enjoy bringing boiled eggs to school, but use caution if they make you farty. And I make my own hummus. Tahini feels like an investment, but it lasts a while, and the bag of chickpeas will cost you maybe $1.50 to get so much hummus. (May I suggest roasting the garlic, and using more than most recipes call for?)

Finally, may I suggest an emergency candy bar? It's not an ideal snack, but they sure do have some shelf life. Having a PayDay bar tucked into my bag has saved me every now and then from sudden starvation doom.
posted by bilabial at 12:57 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: Sandwich-juicers (some are dairy-based. Toss an ice pack in your lunch box if you're concerned about keeping them cold):

- Olive tapenade - maybe with roasted portabella mushrooms, red onions, and spinach?
- Pickle relish, if you're a fan of pickles.
- Cream cheese - maybe with some smoked salmon, capers, red onions, and hard-boiled egg.
- Banana peppers. These make everything better.
- Roasted red peppers, as bilabial mentions above.
- Cranberry sauce. Pair it with turkey.
- Aioli - yes, it's mayo-based, but a lovely garlic aioli, in my opinion, tastes nothing like straight outta the jar mayo.
- Pesto. Pair it with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Or turkey. Or anything, really. Pesto's flexible like that.
- Ranch dressing. Especially tasty with roasted red peppers. Especially tasty when blended with roasted red peppers and used as a delicious sauce.
- Hell, any salad dressing really. What can't bleu cheese make better?
posted by pecanpies at 1:27 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

A really quick lunch to pack in the morning is canned chili. (Or make a huge batch yourself and freeze into muffin tins for individual sized portions).

It's cheap and just make sure you bring a microwavable bowl and spoon with you.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:08 PM on September 1, 2011

Best answer: French green beans, Sugar snap peas, and sliced bell pepper are great crunchy snacks (raw) in addition to all of the above.

I buy the bigger bags of veggies, divvy them up in those convenient snack bags, put them in a pile in the fridge and then grab and go in the morning.
posted by getmetoSF at 9:42 PM on September 1, 2011

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