Good food without refrigeration
June 13, 2012 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me pack a lunch for my 4.5 year-old daughter.

My daughter is an adventurous eater for her age... Heck, for any age. When we go out to eat, she tends to desire whole grilled fish and is dismayed if it is served without the head and tail. She believes the best part is the fish's face, and has been known to eat the eyeballs. At home, she prefers duck, crab, olives, and broccoli to chicken fingers.

Don't get me wrong -- she loves a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate chip cookie. She likes PB&J, too.

What can I pack her that doesn't need to be refrigerated? Another way to ask is this: can a sandwich with a protein on it taste good and not hurt her if it is unrefrigerated for four hours?
posted by starkraven to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Can you send a freezer pack with it? That will help.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:04 PM on June 13, 2012

I brought turkey/cheese/mayo sandwiches to school and never had any problems. Tuna salad, too. It was probably about four hours.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:11 PM on June 13, 2012

Yes, totally. Cooked real meat (as opposed to deli meat) does fine. (Deli meats are ok but probably the most susceptible to temperature. We have been okay with them in moderation too. Even chilling the juice container helps keep an insulated lunch bag cool.)

Some favourites from my 6 year old: hummus and red pepper rolled up in a tortilla; avocado and cheese, cucumber and cheese, egg/chicken/tuna salad, sliced chicken breast with grated carrot; grated carrot and grated cheese kind of mushed together with a bit of mayo.

But also bento-box type finger food: chunks of ham, chunks of cheese, olives, crackers, sliced cucumber/zucchini/pepper/carrot/celery/cauliflower/broccoli bits, in his case without dip but dip is fun too. Leftover pizza. Toasted english muffin with a hard boiled egg. I could go on because it is June and he has been carting his lunch since Sept.

A great blog/book is the Vegan Lunchbox; we're not even vegetarian but just the ideas were so keen. There are bento box sites and a search on sandwiches will probably give you a bunch of ideas.
posted by Zen_warrior at 6:13 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I should note for the Vegan Lunchbox blog, start with 2005/6 as those were the main kid lunches. I'd forgotten the mini bagels/cream cheese trick, yay.
posted by Zen_warrior at 6:15 PM on June 13, 2012

Hummus w/ cucumber & carrots to dip.
Hummus sandwiches with cucumber and lettuce.
Sliced meats & cheese in a " roll up".
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 6:17 PM on June 13, 2012

We do freezer packs for school, but for summer camp I have to send my 3.5 year old with a sack lunch.

On sack lunch days I do a box of raisins, a snack bar, a PB&J, a juice box/milk box that doesn't need to be cold, fruit/veggies.

I do see many other parents doing things that I wouldn't want to eat warm - yogurt, meat, you name it... and those kids seem to survive.
posted by k8t at 6:18 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you use an insulated lunchbox, and you put her water bottle in the fridge the night before, it will help keep everything cool. Then absolutely pack the things she likes. My son didn't have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until he was well into his elementary school years. His favorites: hummus & crudités, pickled turnips, rosemary rolls with garlic butter, etc.

Pack good food, not "kid food."
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2012

This references a recent study on packed lunch safety.

These guidelines and foodlists might help in packing a safer lunch.
posted by batmonkey at 6:24 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was a bit older than your daughter my favourite thing to pack for lunch was a wrap of turkey, carrots, spinach, and cream cheese with horseradish. My mom made it as an hors d'oeuvre and I loved it. My friends thought it was foul. I also liked left over chicken. I thought I was having a picnic from Wind and the Willows.

I also liked frozen juice boxes - acted as an ice pack and fun to eat.
posted by kendrak at 6:32 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I use the frozen juice box trick on my own lunch if I'm out and about. It's usually slushy by lunch time and liquid if I let it sit out on the table for a few minutes; works perfectly. I have referred tothese tips on practical food safety a number of times.

Does she like sushi? Vegetable sushi keeps quite well even without trying to keep it cool.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:50 PM on June 13, 2012

A small yogurt (4 oz.? 6 oz.? the little ones at the supermarket) can be frozen and serve as an edible, disposable freezer pack for the rest of the lunch. I used to take them to school all the time and they're just defrosted enough by lunch time. You can send things to mix in the yogurt (wheat germ, yum!) or dip in the yogurt (apple slices) or spread with the yogurt (a pita with cucumbers?), to mix it up and not be just "eat the yogurt."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:48 PM on June 13, 2012

Thanks all. Frozen yogurt or juice box has increased my kid's summer lunch by leaps and bounds.
posted by k8t at 7:59 PM on June 13, 2012

Buy her a little Thermos and send a hot lunch. Then you can send leftovers.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:38 PM on June 13, 2012

Duck. Is there a more perfect mid-day meal for the young (or old) gourmand? Halfway between poultry and red meat, alternately comfort food or gourmet. Duck breast medium rare sliced (do a bunch on the grill) or roast a whole bird, though I think the former is way easier.

Accompaniments like bread, cheese, herbs, veggies, spreads, etc on the side -- they'll hold up better not sticking to the meat.
posted by desuetude at 11:06 PM on June 13, 2012

Tacos/burritos travel well if covered in aluminum. You can make them in many protein-veggie-binder combination. By binder I mean something to make things stick, for example, refried beans or sour cream or melted cheese (which would make your taco a quesadilla). Just use flour tortillas, those last well in a packed lunch; corn tortillas go nasty (in texture).
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:07 AM on June 14, 2012

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