Lunchbox Lunches
August 16, 2014 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I would like your suggestions for easy, portable lunches that meet the criteria below.

I'm bored of my usual lunch and looking for something new to fit my needs. What can I make and bring to work for lunch that ticks all these boxes:

Gluten free
Fits in one lunch box/baggie
Doesn't need to be heated
Not too many ingredients (ideally 5 or 6 max)
Quick and easy to make
Can be prepped in advance and keeps for 3 or more days

Bonus points for paleo or paleo-ish ideas and for lunches that provide a nice winter comfort food feeling despite being eaten cold.
posted by roolya_boolya to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Onigiri - Japanese rice balls. Not sure how long they can be stored, but rice is fairly easy to make in the mornings. I make rice salads for my son every morning and add a variety of vegetables plus some sushi vinegar mix to make it interesting.
posted by mukade at 4:24 PM on August 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

I've said this in about a dozen lunch threads, but I'll say it some more.

My default fast, healthy lunch is cooked quinoa (or couscous, in case you have GF-couscous) topped with chickpeas, veggies (fresh, frozen, or cooked in advance), maybe cheese, and dressing. The easiest variation on this is frozen spinach (no cooking needed) for the veg, but if you want to fancy it up, you can batch cook veg and quinoa on Sunday, and throw them into your lunch all week. You can also vary the beans--white beans + cooked broccoli + parmesan, or black beans + roasted peppers + cheddar + cumin, butter beans + artichoke hearts + roasted peppers + feta... Even when you have to cook veg, it rarely takes more than fifteen minutes total, and if you're using roasted peppers from a jar or frozen spinach or something, you can do it in about three.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I ate some variant of this probably every day for a year for lunch. Dress it ahead of time (before you leave the house) so that the beans will absorb the flavors. I usually used olive oil + citrus, sometimes with appropriate herbs or spices, as my dressing, but there's no reason you couldn't use purchased vinaigrettes or dressings.

It's good heated, but almost equally good, imo, at room temperature--just make sure that you've given the frozen vegetables time enough to thaw completely if you're not going to heat it.
posted by MeghanC at 6:06 PM on August 16, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yeah, quinoa is great and super versatile. Quinoa taboule. Quinoa with mint, pineapple and mango. Quinoa with avocado and tomato, cilantro and lime juice (and good canned tuna). Quinoa with just lettuce and various veggies (asparagus; green beans; broccoli; etc.) and maybe sliced steak or grilled chicken.

I also love lentil salads, and find them very comforting even in winter. I especially like the small beluga lentils, or the small green lentils. Lentils are also quite versatile - you can make a soup/stew that is good cold (with potatoes, carrots, garlic, wilted spinach, a dash of sesame seed oil); lentils with roasted beets and goat cheese; lentils with feta and walnuts; zucchini or summer squash stuffed with lentils and mushrooms and cheese (great cold).

Other beans are also great - a white bean salad with olive oil, bacon and fresh sage. A hearty black bean chili that you can eat at room temperature.

Once you figure out a good gluten-free grain or legume, you can cook a whole batch of it and then adapt it to whatever combination of sauce, veggies, protein, cheeses, nuts you want.

I also like cold tofu Asian salads (though I doubt that's very paleo - you can probably use chicken breast for many of these) - varying from simple rice vinegar-soy sauce dressings, to more complex carrot-ginger dressings. You can put any variety of vegetables you want in with that. Some overlooked tasty vegetables? Japanese eggplant, which you can cut into thick strips and steam and then plop into a salad with a nice soy-lime juice-sesame oil-siracha sauce. Snap peas if you can get them for cheap. Bok choy - saute a bunch of it in garlic and you can eat it in a cold Asian salad no problem. Watercress.... pea shoots... whatever is in season!

If I'm feeling lazy, I love just getting a good roast chicken and eating the meat cold with a sauce made of part mayo and part mustard. Quickly saute a large batch of spinach and use it as a cold side salad the next day, et voilĂ !
posted by microcarpetus at 7:03 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Frittata! It's a great medium for leftovers. You can reheat almost anything imaginable in a skillet, stir in 4-6 eggs, add your favorite cheese if you like, and let the whole thing set. When it's almost done, finish it under the broiler for a minute or two. I do this a lot, usually with sausage, kale and onions.

I also eat a lot of tuna fish for lunch, usually with avocado, and served over salad greens. Also easy to make and bring in one container.
posted by SobaFett at 7:13 PM on August 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I make a simple spinach salad most days for lunch. On the weekend I buy a rotisserie chicken at Costco, shred all the meat and put it in a large ziplock. I also buy one of those huge boxes of baby spinach, and some shredded cheese. Occasionally I will also buy some veggies like grape tomatoes and onion. Then, each day I refill my container with all of the above. I find that the chicken/cheese combo keeps me full, while the spinach/veggies provide some decent nutrition. I leave a bottle of salad dressing in my work fridge.

It only takes me about 2 minutes each day to re-make the next day's salad, and I just wash my one container at work after eating. I'm usually not a healthy eater but I find this salad delicious and filling.
posted by barnoley at 7:28 PM on August 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Most meats (especially chicken) are just fine eaten cold, so long as they are thin/shredded (gnawing through a thick cold porkchop is not so good.) Whether they need flavoring depends on how they were seasoned, but if you add them to some kind of salad setup (leaves and/or veggies of your choosing, plus a dressing) then you are all set.

I often use Worchestershire as a low-carb seasoning, but usually only on things I warm up.

If you are prepping days ahead of time, invest in small containers that all fit in one carrier. Sitting while combined for days will make things limp or soggy/greasy.

GF pasta is great for GF pasta salads. But not strictly paleo, I think. Still, it's a place to start.

Hardboiled eggs are a lowcarb mainstay. Be sure and pack a salt shaker. (I once wandered my entire office and found 8 million takeout packets of sugar and pepper, not one goddamn salt for my eggs. I learned!)

Your biggest challenge with cold things is bringing out the flavor; you are going to have to rely on dressings or sauces added before eating, because you can't rely on the meat and other flavors mingling during the heating process.

Bacon also tastes just fine cold and goes with many other things.

There are low-carb wraps you could also use to combine things; again, I wouldn't do this till you were ready to eat.

But there are also some really good GF breads out there now, which gives the option of sandwiches.
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find most simply-prepared proteins to be perfectly edible at lunchbag temperature. Roasted chicken breast or thighs, steak (sliced thin is best), pork loin or nice soft pulled pork or pot roast. Hamburger patties (regular or sort of Mediterranean style, regular or slider-size), meatballs, meatloaf (and lamb and pork versions of all of the above).

The veg is the annoying part, especially if you don't want to eat everything raw. I like extremely roasted broccoli (like until it is crispy) cold (because it reheats gross). Roasted cauliflower does not get crispy but has an almost roasted potato-like texture when cold. Roasted or stir-fried eggplant is its own thing cold, kind of creamy. I really like green beans cold, tossed in an asian-type dressing (I do a tamarind vinaigrette, but a soy-ginger-sesame would be good). Roasted mushrooms are pretty good.

A boiled egg or part of an avocado can round out a simple meal. My philosophy is basically "a meat and a green." Fancy is for dinner.

I pad my packed lunches with broccoli slaw instead of lettuce-y salad because it holds up. Cabbage slaw will too. Spinach will if you get it real dry.

Unfortunately, I find casserole-type stuff really gross without reheating, at least anything that's even vaguely paleo, which hobbles my make-ahead sensibility.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:02 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

A nice, big chopped salad with plenty of protein and fats.

Grilled chicken + walnuts + red onion + grapes + romaine + french vinaigrette
Carnitas + frozen roasted corn + red onion + pico de gallo + romaine + guacamole
Grilled chicken + walnuts + beets + pear + chevre + spinach + maple balsamic

To keep things from getting soggy, put the protein and heavier ingredients at the bottom of your tupperware, then pour on dressing (or guac) and top with greens. Shake it up before you eat.

I take a lot of shortcuts, too. The grilled chicken and carnitas are purchased in the prepared food section at trader joes, roasted corn is frozen, pico de gallo and guac are also TJ's.

Bonus - only 1 dish to wash when you get home from work!
posted by pintapicasso at 8:46 PM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love roasted veg( these last several days) such as butternut squash and red peppers. Drizzle with olive oil and then roast. Add to these walnut halves, feta cheese, loads of salad greens- rocket, baby spinach etc with just a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. you can add leftover chicken and/or avocado too for a bit of bulk. It actually holds up pretty well in tupperware if you keep salad greens separately and just add when needed.
posted by Mrs T at 2:47 AM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make spring/summer rolls. My cousin brought these to a potluck and they are amazingly easy to make. You take those rice "paper' wrappers and dip them in water on a plate, set them down on another plate and fill them with whatever you like. By the time you are done filling them the water has penetrated the "paper" and you can stretch it around the filling. We had little bowls of chicken, asparagus, cellophane noodles, avocado (dipped in lemon juice to keep it from turning brown), red pepper, green onion, shredded carrot and cucumber. I think you can buy the dipping sauce if you don't want to make it, but it's easy too.
Here is a Youtube video (the actual rolling of the roll is at 1:50).
Seriously, it's like making a burrito but easier. You will wonder why no one's told you before. Really, try it.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:08 AM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

What about getting some nice containers like these ones or these ones with multiple compartments? I love these sorts of lunches because you can fill the little compartments with all sorts of things, be guaranteed of a balanced and portion-controlled lunch, and anything you pack is protected and looks fantastic. And bonus, they only have a bottom and a lid to wash! Some of my favourite combinations (these use the four-compartment Lunchbots containers linked above)

- Starbucks Bistro Box. In one compartment, nice high-end crackers. In another, hard-boiled eggs, edamame, or some protein-rich food. In another, half an apple, sliced, with some grapes for garnish. In the last one, trail mix or a dip or something savoury. This is like the 'Protein Bistro Box' Starbucks sells.

- Cracker Dippers Box. In one compartment, a small leak-proof container with hummus, or bean dip topped with salsa and cheese shreds, or peanut butter mixed with greek yogurt and honey. In another, high-end crackers, or pretzel sticks, or pita chips, or a bagel cut into tiny rounds and tossed. In another, some carrot or bell pepper strips to use up the last of the dip. In the last one, some berries or fruit for desert.

- Japanese-Style Bistro Box. In two of them, sticky rice shaped using a sushi shaper into little onigiri triangles or animals or cubes or whatever. In another, a tiny dipper of soy sauce (or leftover packet from takeout food) and some shelled edamame, trail mix, granola balls or other protein-rich add-on (or a packet of instant Miso soup you can make with hot water at work). In the next one, orange slices or berries. In the last one, a treat of whatever else you want.

- DIY Wrap. I like making wraps fresh, not packing ahead, so what you do is pack the tortillas (GF ones are available) on the side in a Ziploc bag and use the container for your fixings and sides. I typically pack stir-fried peppers in one, some spinach or shredded lettuce in another, a dip container of salsa in the third and black beans in the fourth. If you want some desert, throw some tiny Chocolate Goldfish or another small cracker in the gaps around the dip container. It is leakproof (if you use the right kind) so they won't get wet.
posted by JoannaC at 11:23 AM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like to make lettuce wraps.

Take a slice or two of lunch meat; I use turkey. Spread a little mustard on the lettuce leaf, put the lunch meat on that, and wrap it up! It only takes a few to fill me up, you may be different.

I tend to use the one of the butterhead lettuce kinds. It ca be expensive, but the lettuce tastes really good.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:46 PM on August 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

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