Introduction to Culinary Studies - Portable Edition
December 20, 2013 1:17 AM   Subscribe

Looking for lunch ideas to pack and take with me, when I go to college starting in January. So, in January, I'll be starting full time school again. Yay. However, this particular Community College has a dearth of lunch options - just a sad cafeteria, and nothing within easy walking distance that I know of. Boo. (North Seattle Community College, if familiar). And I need ideas. I won't have access to a refrigerator. I will have, in theory, access to a microwave - but it may break, and/or be in constant use by other students. So I'd probably need dishes that can be eaten safely at room temperature that are filling and tasty. I can cook, and am adventurous, so I'm willing to try lots of different things.

My food restrictions: I absolutely cannot have, due to allergies: strawberries, peanuts, walnuts, Kim chee, and items with sulfites in them (wine, some lemon juice, dried fruit, balsamic vinegar, etc.) all cause asthma.

Food dislikes: cheese (but I can try to get over it and eat string cheese or Babybel or something; anything stronger tastes like Hell exploded in my mouth). Olives and the like. Other dairy, with the great exception of yogurt. Nearly any kind of seafood. Red meat (though I can have it once in a while). Really spicy foods.

Food loves: salads! Kale! Other veggies, and fruits. Hummus/baba ghannouj. Chicken, turkey, tofu. I really also love soups and stews with rice or quinoa, but it might be dicey if I can't warm them up.

Aside from these things, I'm not on any special diet. So, hit me up with ideas! Thank you!
posted by spinifex23 to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Soups and stews stay fairly hot if you keep them in an insulated flask. There are special ones for food. The one I used to take to school in the 1980s worked well, and I'd imagine that they're even better at keeping things hot now.
posted by pipeski at 1:56 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can get insulated lunch sacks, and when used with those freezer gel packs, will keeps things chilled well. Especially when they start out cold from the fridge.

OTOH, lots of things taste just fine not-reheated (or maybe I'm weird). And most everything can tolerate sitting at room temperature for a few hours, especially when they start out cold from the fridge. So you don't need to worry about refrigeration.

Humans spent a long time without effective refrigeration :)

Anyway - salads, sandwiches, last-night's leftovers are all quick and easy. Lunch is just another meal, you don't have eat "lunch" foods at lunch. Maybe some crackers/breads and meat? Or meat and veggies?

Make your own Lunchables. Or your own wraps - go buy a few wraps that you like and reverse engineer them and make enough for the whole week (or month! freeze the extras until you need them).

Hamburgers - pack the patty separately so it's easy to reheat (or eat it cold) and assemble at lunch time.

Big salads with chicken or other meat on top? Even easier when you toss it at home so you only need to open the tupperware and start eating.
posted by jpeacock at 2:30 AM on December 20, 2013

Best answer: I don't have any immediately great ideas for food, but as a fellow college student with similar choices, I cannot recommend the Mr. Bento enough as a food transportation, storage and serving device. (link goes to the entire product line, as they have many options, nearly all available on Amazon.)
The way I end up using it is the two upper bowls have dry cereal and Cheez-its or pretzels, and the insulated bowls have some manner of leftovers or a small salad, and a sandwich. Occasionally soup or other liquid, but my school cafe's soups are pretty good.
I find my favorite kale, craisin, lemon and almond salad gets nice and wilt-y perfectly after four hours in the bento, and rice stays warm if it goes in warm.
posted by ApathyGirl at 3:57 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

This chickpea flour fritatta recipe is a good basis for lots of variations (I've tried pretty much every type of greens in there, with different herbs/spices & it's always a winner), and it cuts and eats well cold the next couple of days. It's great, and filling, with a dip - salsa, salad dressing, hummus even.

That website also has quite a few mini-savoury pastry recipes (e.g. these chickpea empanadas) - pasties & empanadas which I think would also be fine cold with salad and dip, and they're easy to make as a batch at the weekend.
She uses quite a lot of cheese, but I think much of it could be substituted with a mild babybel-type cheddar or similar.
posted by AFII at 3:59 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a nice Thermos they keep hot things steamy burn your mouth hot hot for 24. Foods: Chicken tamales a La Alton brown. Soups. Turkey chili. Slow cooker anything. Etc
posted by chasles at 4:57 AM on December 20, 2013

I'd say a cashew nut butter and jelly sandwich. Ham sandwiches also keep well. There are yogurts for kids that are meant to be frozen and taken in lunches, so check those out. Go-Gurt, I think.

I make rice salads with chunks of yummy things in them. So perhaps brown and wild rice, tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice or a vinegar you can deal with, with mandarin oranges, almonds, chicken chunks, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. The good news is that it can come out of the fridge, and by the time it's lunch, it will be at delicious room temperature. Also, can be made in bulk.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:14 AM on December 20, 2013

Invest a little bit in some good containers that keep things hot or cold and you won't have any problems adapting any recipe you like. While you're at it, I've used these bamboo utensils for 4 years now, still going strong.

I've been on a big kale-chickpea-turkey-sausage stew kick lately. This in a soup thermos, plus bread is perfect. Make big batches on the weekend. Heat up individual portions in the morning in the microwave, pour into thermos.

Also fruit is the perfect side dish to anything. An apple, orange, banana, pear, kiwi.
posted by fontophilic at 6:32 AM on December 20, 2013

Agreeing on the Mr. Bento. It's kind of expensive but super worth it. There's a smaller one called Ms. Bento that is also fine and is a size I find more lunch-like (Mr. Bento is more of a lunch-and-a-half). If you have an east Asian grocery store nearby they may have cheaper versions.

I like having a falafel lunch--big salad, falafel, hummus, pita, maybe some Israeli salad (using an acid that doesn't set off your asthma), maybe some couscous. If you make a batch of falafel on Sunday you can have a few every day for the week.

Soba noodles are yummy, meant to be eaten cold. You can add edamame, tofu, or meat for more nutrition. (We sometimes make peanut sauce to put on them, but other nut/seed butters should work as well.)

Grain salads in general are very flexible to whatever you've got in the fridge. They can be done with rice or quinoa.

And then have some sun or soy butter, jam, and bread in the freezer for days that it's just not worth the hassle.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:43 AM on December 20, 2013

I would go for hearty salads with roasted vegetables and a bean or grain (lentils, barley, white beans, quinoa, etc.) plus maybe some chopped roasted almonds for extra crunch. The Recipes for Health column in the New York Times often features grain salads. This list of recipes might be a good place to start browsing.
posted by yarntheory at 6:46 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will let other people cover the make-at-home option, but I know a little of that area. All your food options are basically up by Northgate Way. Northgate way is basically 110th St. and the NSCC campus is centered on 97th St. Setting aside the fast food options, which are not hard to locate, the small office park on the south side of Northgate Wy (between Meridian and Corliss) has a sandwich shop and a taquiera, both I assume pretty small. Across Northgate Way there's teriyaki and a shawarma place-- those are in a line with the 7-Eleven. There are only 3 Arby's in seattle that I know of, and two are south of downtown, so I consider that one by NSCC to be the Jewel of the North.

Keep in mind that business-park-based shops tend to run on business hours only, so you'll be good for lunch most days, but they'll be closed early in the evening. Those may be exceptions but... probably not.

Incrementally closer(?) is Aurora Avenue, due west-- there's a shopping center centered around 100th and Aurora, and there are a bunch of food options there. A deli/teriyaki place, another teriyaki place, IHOP, chinese, ethiopian. I'm not sure how much if any of that will be compatible with your restrictions and preferences.

tchemgrrl wrote: If you have an east Asian grocery store nearby they may have cheaper versions.

The shopping center between 100th and 105th on Aurora has the [east] Asian grocery store, HT Market. It's fantastic, and also has a very good latin-cuisine aisle as well. Great place for everything from raw ingredients to heat-and-eat. I believe they have some central-asian foodstuffs there, dals and what not.

Also, you're really only a 20 minute walk to the mall at Northgate, so you've got some grocery and restaurant options, food court, more teriyaki, etc. Cross I-5 on 92nd.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2013

Best answer: Also if you time it right (One Bus Away, e.g.) you can hop on the 16 bus (route map) and get to Northgate and the mall somewhat faster (usually and/or maybe).

Also I'm going to disagree about HT Mart. They do have a huge selection, but the place is always kind of dirty and gross when I've been there. Oh course something in a box is fine, but I wouldn't buy anything ready to eat there.
posted by sevenless at 8:05 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

So you do like yogurt, right? If you got really good at yogurt sauces, you could make a batch for the week, and then use them as a dip, a salad dressing, or a sauce for a pita sandwich.

Smoked Paprika-Garlic Yogurt Sauce This whole recipe is awesome, but the sauce totally stands on it's own; maybe cut back the garlic, and DEFINITELY cut down/out the olive oil since it turns kind of greasy.

Tzatziki You can go crazy on this one, but at it's most simple I grate a cucumber, squeeze the extra juice out, and throw it into a container of greek yogurt with half a lemon and a pinch of salt.

Greek Yogurt Ranch I absolutely love this ranch mix; it's all real ingredients that are just fine for you, no MSG like that Hidden Valley stuff. If you mix it with mayonnaise and sour cream obviously it's not going to be great for you, but if you mix it with greek yogurt it turns into an amazing healthy ranch dip. Thin it out with buttermilk to make a salad dressing.

Any of these would be great with carrot sticks, celery, pita, pita chips, naan, on a falafel sandwich, on a chicken pita sandwich, mixed into chicken salad instead of mayo, or anything else you can think of!
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for the ideas, and I looks like a Mr. Bento is the way to go! I can easily invest in one of those, and then recoup the costs with the homemade lunches.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:38 AM on December 20, 2013

Best answer: Went ahead and ordered the Mr. Bento. I think it'd meet my needs well, as I love to make soups and stews, and then eat with veggies and grains. My class schedule is also wonky where I have a class at noon....and then my other classes at 6pm. So I'd want to being both a lunch and a dinner with me.

I'm excited to try it out! Thank you all for the suggestion, I completely blanked that these devices even exist.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:24 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

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