Cooking 101: Cooking for the on-the-go student.
September 14, 2012 6:27 AM   Subscribe

I need recipes for on-the-go! With the semester starting, I need things I can prepare ahead of time that will last, are healthy, don't need refrigeration, can be eaten cold, and aren't sandwiches.

The semester recently started and with classes, TAing, and part-time work, I find that I'm rarely home for lunch and dinner. I'm often eating in the library, etc. What I'm used to cooking requires reheating to taste good, and I normally don't have access to a microwave (although sometimes I do, so if you have a recipe that fits otherwise, please include it!). Right now the only thing I've sorted out that works on the go is chopped veggies in a low-fat Italian dressing. Problem? I get sick of a certain meal really quickly. I can eat the same meal a max of 3 times a week.

Food preferences: I like veggies, I eat meat but not a lot, and I'm trying to cut down on carbs because I will eat way too many unless I consciously avoid carbs. I don't have any allergies, but don't process large quantities of protein very well unless I'm deficient.

So here's what I"m looking for:
* Meals that can be prepared in 3-4 serving quantities (I get sick of eating the same meal more than that).
* Healthy -- veggie heavy, preferably.
* Lowish on the carbs.
* Best eaten at room temperature.
* Won't spoil if I'm toting it around all day.
* Easy to transport in tupperware in a lunch bag.
* I don't like sandwiches, plus the carb-heavy thing.
posted by DoubleLune to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
We do babybel cheeses, and salad with a separate container for dressing, and then precooked chicken. Not sure how long the precooked chicken would be okay, but maybe you could put an ice pack in your tote?

Other thoughts - carrots and hummus (I eat it in the single serving containers to limit carbs), almonds.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and I guess I should add that I have a full kitchen at home, and own a bread machine, VitaMix, and slow cooker.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:32 AM on September 14, 2012

Bento! Usually requires no refrigeration or microwave. Full of veggies and some meat, and you can always switch out the rice for more veggies. Plus it allows you to make large batches of different items and pack a different combo each day. Here's her list of vegetarian recipes.

I like to squeeze out some tofu, slice it, marinate it, then cook it ~350F for about 45 minutes until it gets dried out and chewy.
posted by specialagentwebb at 6:37 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I used to boil up Ramen in the morning (not a super healthy food, I know), drain it, mix 1/2 the packet with the drained noodles, then pour in frozen veg at a ratio of 1:1 ramen and veg (or even more veg). Take a pop-top can of chicken with you (or frozen in with the veg) and heat up or eat chilled but dethawed.

Chickpea of the sea - tuna salad, subbing in mushed chickpeas (garbanzo) for tuna and mayo.

Tuna salad undone - all the ingredients of tuna salad, minus mayo, tuna in a can, mix at food time. Alternatively, go in with a friend on a Costco box of mayo packets and tuck those into the "ready to assemble" tuna kit.

Chilled noodles, with a drip of oil to keep them from getting sticky, again with veg and a shelf-stable meat.

Wrapped sandwiches. Mostly a sandwich but in a tortilla.

Frozen edemame in shell. Throw a bag in your bag and eat as you go.

Fruit salad.
posted by tilde at 6:39 AM on September 14, 2012

Hard boiled eggs can stay good for quite a while without refridgeration. A couple of those with some raw veg and hummus (Mmmm... Hummus), maybe some babybel as suggested above. That would be good. You could keep it interesting by changing the different veg you bring, maybe switching out different cheeses.

And what ever happened to bringing a thermos? I used to bring a thermos full of soup/chili/curry/etc when I was in school. Get a good one and it'll definitely keep stuff hot/warm until lunch time.

also - cold pizza is delicious. I think pizza is better cold/room temperature than it is hot.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 6:44 AM on September 14, 2012

Guacamole in pouches
Crackers made of flax seeds and nuts rather than grain
Lunchmeat cream cheese rollups
Greek yogurt
hard boiled eggs
posted by waving at 6:46 AM on September 14, 2012

My husband has some kind of thermal pack. I put sandwiches, boiled eggs, trail mix, chopped veg, cheeses, fruit, etc in it along with an ice pack-he is in the same boat as you and this seems to work well.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:47 AM on September 14, 2012

Think I saw this recipe here a few years ago. It's one of my faves - perfect at room temperature.
posted by bifter at 6:50 AM on September 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you might need some hot and cold gear, too.

I've found the 12 ounce thermos cans pretty decent for soups and stews, or fat little burritos or tamales rolled in a cloth napkin (put napkin, corners out, in thermos, slide in burrito, flap corners over, close lid. Use corners to extract it later.

Cheapo ice packs - wet (10 pts water to 1pt rubbing alcohol) clean new sponges in a zippy bag, frozen.

Cloth napkins are the bomb - you can roll your clean or dirty untensils in it.

One thing I do with the kids is have one of those fill-your own juice box containers that I fill with juice and freeze - wrap it in a napkin with a cheese stick and its ready at lunch time.

I've also seen, if you're going to be parked for a while, little portable crock pots for keeping/warming food over a number of hours.

One thing I've wanted to try but been to lazy - make a hot sandwich (like piping hot) bag and layer it in an insulating wrap with a hot rice sock. Take sock, insert rice, knot bag. Nuke in microwave. Hot sandwich bag - take thick crusty oval roll (we called them mini french bread, no idea the proper name), warm, scoop out soft innards, fill with hot sammich filling (pulled beef or pork or chicken), heat up some darn more, and serve. I'd make it, wrap it in foil, I guess, then pouch it with the hot rice sack. I'd test at home to see how long it stayed at a safe temp.

Things you can freeze and munch on - Hummus (freeze in globs on wax paper and toss in a container to eat - I do one at a time so I've nver tried to bulk it, garbanzos (a big ol crock of 'em once a week or so).

Flavored rices are good for hours (rice a roni or diy). I've also got in my desk a can of rice and beans from the Caribbean section of my local market.
posted by tilde at 6:59 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

My standby for cold lunches is chickpea salad: chickpeas+ baby spinach + mix-in + olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I find it tasty and it seems pretty healthy.

Changing up the mix-in makes it hard to get tired of even for near-daily lunches. I like cherry tomatoes, strawberries, blackberries, oranges, etc. You could experiment to ind others.

You can prepare it a day or two in advance if you leave the dressing off, although it's so fast to put together in the morning that there's not much point in making it ahead.
posted by randomnity at 7:26 AM on September 14, 2012

My current school snack is just an apple (or other fruit) with cheese. Tons of adventurous combos, but a simple Fuji apple with store brand sharp cheddar is also fantastic. Bring a pocket knife and two paper towels for slicing.

(Also, dig around in odd corners for microwaves. Maybe your department sucks but you can make friends in some other department so that you can casually pop in to use the microwave.)
posted by anaelith at 7:53 AM on September 14, 2012

Insulated bags for your lunch are really cheap. You can even buy the flat kind sold near supermarket checkouts.

Almost every day, I take a two-serving container of lowfat Greek yogurt, remove some of the yogurt to use later and fill the rest of the container with fruit, cereal, vegetables, whatever. If you put frozen fruit in the yogurt it will keep it cool even without insulation. I add some protein powder to the yogurt if it's going to be a long time between meals, but I see you are not aiming to maximize protein.
posted by BibiRose at 8:06 AM on September 14, 2012

I love the bento idea too! This eGullet thread has discussion and pictures of lots of bentos created by people in different countries.
posted by BibiRose at 8:12 AM on September 14, 2012

There are many many bento resources out there - I like Just Bento because her archives are so clean and searchable. You do not have to use cute boxes or make food faces, but the recipes are very tried-and-true and meant to be carried around with no preservation (I personally like to use a thin ice pack anyway). Many of the recipes have suggestions for lower-carb and meatless changes.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:27 AM on September 14, 2012

I call it Mexican salad, buts it's basically a bastardized pico de gallo. Black beans, corn, tomatoes, white onion, cilantro and little lime. (you can also dice up avacado in there). Eat it as is, or with tortilla chips.
posted by raccoon409 at 10:34 AM on September 14, 2012

Check out 101 Simple Salads.
posted by thirdletter at 11:29 AM on September 14, 2012

When it comes to cooking, I like having a book to refer to.

I did really well with Meals for a Month. It's a book of recipes that you spend preparing the components for on one day of the month, to be frozen, then microwaved and assembled later. It's very detailed about the shopping, prepping and freezing processes.

The book I linked is a similar title to mine, but a different cover. I would search for "once a month cooking" and see if anything appeals to you.
posted by teabag at 11:59 AM on September 14, 2012

Salads made with quinoa are versatile, nutritious, high-protein and keep really well. Just google for recipes. The flavor mixes well with everything - I like it with dark leafy greens and a vinaigrette. You can include beets, avocado, artichoke hearts, carrots, olives, crumbled cheeses - whatever you like. A big bowl of it lasts a long time in the fridge.
posted by Miko at 1:50 PM on September 14, 2012

I will totally second the Bento tip . . .

But more specifically, look into Onigiri. There's a thread on Ask Mefi about these but I'm too lazy to look it up. They are essentially rice balls with cool stuff in them.

And the sub-genre of Onigiri that I was addicted to for a while was the pickled plum, umeboshi. The thing with this is, not only is it super tasty but the claim is that the properties of the salted plum inhibit growth of bacteria, making this ideal for carrying around at room temperature all day.

You will likely have to go to an Asian market to find these, but they last a while so you can stock up.
posted by jeremias at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2012

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