Food ideas for gluten/dairy free lunches that don't have to stay cold?
January 26, 2015 4:39 PM   Subscribe

I need suggestions for lunches that I can take to college with me, in my backpack, that don't require an ice pack - I just don't have room. The lunch will be consumed within four hours or so.

I don't go out to eat, I make everything from scratch at home because I have food intolerances, allergies and I just don't eat certain things. I know this makes me a pain in the butt to feed when I go places, and at my school there's only a Subway with crappy $6 salads. Everything else is inedible for me.

Wheat/gluten (rashes/headaches/joint swelling) - this includes oats
Dairy (SVT)
Banana (severe throat swelling)
Apples/Pears/Melons (severe gastrointestinal upset)

I don't eat excessive salt or sugar, and only drink water. I've been this way a long time now and while it might seem pretty restrictive (it is), I'm happy with it.

I do make my own breads at home, I have several kinds - masa breads and rice/coconut flour breads. So anything that can be made with bread is fine.

I made BBQ chicken for my s/o to take to work with him for his lunches, but would that last four hours in a backpack and be safe to eat?

I have access to all kinds of meats, spreads, some fruits, and I regularly have broccoli and carrots in the house and can get most kinds of vegetables.

Any suggestions/ideas/recipes are greatly appreciated!
posted by DriftingLotus to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks to fad dieters (no, seriously, thanks!) there are a great variety of wet and dry GF pastas available. Tinkyada makes some dry brown rice pastas that are pretty decent — you can mix up spirals, say, with vegan basil pesto and tomato slices. You can make the pasta the night before and store it in a resealable plastic container. The next morning, mix it up with pesto and tomato and bring it to work. Four hours should be fine.

My only advice with GF pastas is that they are sticky during cooking. So be prepared to stand at the stovetop stirring constantly for 3 minutes (wet) or 10 minutes (dry). Test the pasta for doneness, and then strain and run under cold water to stop it from cooking further.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:53 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Do you have access to a microwave? I freeze soup in single-serving containers and it's only very slightly melted by lunchtime.
posted by mchorn at 4:57 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks a lungful of dragon, I'm not a huge pasta fan but non dairy pesto is delicious! I'll write that down on my lunch list.

One way I've found to not let the GF pasta stick is to drop a few tablespoons of olive oil in the water, then take your spaghetti utensil thingy and kinda press it between the noodles in different places and wriggle it around until you don't see any clumps. Then you can set it and forget it. Works for me every time! :)
posted by DriftingLotus at 4:57 PM on January 26, 2015

Depending on where you live, Manini's makes a brand of wet GF pasta that is pretty close in texture and taste to the "real" stuff. They also used to sell a GF pasta mix, if you have time and interest in making fresh pasta. Not sure if they still sell it, but they also have some other awesome GF flours.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 4:58 PM on January 26, 2015

Response by poster: Do you have access to a microwave? I freeze soup in single-serving containers and it's only very slightly melted by lunchtime.
posted by mchorn at 6:57 PM on January 26

Yes, I think there's a microwave there, I saw someone using one unless I'm totally crazy. Frozen soup is also a good idea! I'll only have time to eat that the first half of the semester though, the second half my classes are going to be squished a little closer together so I won't have the time I do right now to sit down and eat.
posted by DriftingLotus at 4:59 PM on January 26, 2015

Look into bento strategies, for example Lunch in a Box and Just Bento. Lunch in a Box in particular has resources on food safety for packed lunches.

As long as the chicken is well-seasoned and you don't have any immune issues, or if you're heating the chicken thoroughly before eating, I wouldn't think twice about eating it four hours after packing it.

Japanese-style bento foods are great too, as long as you use gluten-free soy sauce.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:03 PM on January 26, 2015 [5 favorites]

An insulated lunch bag with a cold drink packed in it opens up your options quite a bit.
posted by cecic at 5:37 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Quinoa is ok, right? Quinoa salad with edamame, dried cranberries, and almonds with a mustard vinaigrette is pretty easy, travels well and is delicious
posted by peppermind at 5:41 PM on January 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you'll have a microwave, and you're absolutely afraid of eating food that's been in the "unsafe zone" for maybe an hour or two longer than most city's health codes*, eat whatever you want to eat, but freeze the non-raw stuff overnight.

You can also make an ice pack out of a meal component that will be prone to thawing to pleasantish edibility without reheating - rice, frozen spinach or peas, even a baggie of fruit (or fruit puree, or smoothie, or just a frozen piece of your homemade bread with or without a spread of your liking) for a cold dessert. Freeze it pressed flat for best thawing.

I just eat it and take my chances, though. People have been packing lunch for as long as lunch has been a concept.

*Four hours. Already-cooked food for the most part does not go bad in such a way that "heating it through" again will reverse time. Surface bacteria on raw food can be killed by cooking, but most of what makes you sick with cooked food is going to do it no matter what you do.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:45 PM on January 26, 2015

(Oops - I think it's 2 hours over 40F, but my position stands: people aren't dying in droves from lunch.)
posted by Lyn Never at 5:49 PM on January 26, 2015

Asian salad - pasta with soy/peanut sauce and raw veggies? Cukes, scallions, radishes, peanuts and so forth? You can put the veggies in a separate container if you want them to stay crunchier.

Peanut butter and honey on your gf bread? Other nut butters - almond, sunflower work for you?

Room temp refried beans with salsa, add veggies like avocado, grape tomatoes that you've paced in a separate container, maybe some corn tortillas or chips for crunch?

Lots of gf salad options - add meat, canned fish, tofu or beans for protein.
posted by leslies at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding freezing fruit/ smoothies. I used to make smoothies, freeze it in a Tupperware container, and eat it with a spoon because it wouldn't be thawed all the way by lunch time (only about 3 hours though.)
posted by missriss89 at 6:42 PM on January 26, 2015

There's about a thousand variations on beans and rice with various vegetables or other seasoning from multiple cultures - Mexican and Indian styles should be a good place to start.

If you want middle eastern or Moroccan style, it's easy to swap out rice or quinoa for anything with couscous.

There's also cold salad with beans, dolmades, falafel, roasted chickpeas, roasted root veggies, soups. I often make dal and rice for lunches, and shepherd's pie is another favorite.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:50 PM on January 26, 2015

Response by poster: I'm loving all the suggestions, keep 'em coming!

Just to clarify: What I really need is something easy to eat, preferably hand held. I do like the pasta ideas but I don't eat much pasta because I don't find it very filling, so looking for like, wrap, sandwich, finger food type ideas.
posted by DriftingLotus at 7:18 PM on January 26, 2015

looking for like, wrap, sandwich, finger food type ideas

The only real rule of thumb for any of those formats is "not too drippy". Like, your BBQ chicken can be a wrap, sandwich, finger food with grapes and carrots and romaine leaves - as long as it's not runny. Blot with a paper towel if you have to.

Most of my packed lunches are a cut-up protein (cubes of the chicken I cook on sundays, see my posting history for my constant posting of the procedure, or roast or pork chops or you can even do fish, if you're not going to reheat), one green veg (I prefer cooked but don't mind eating room temp-ish, like super-roasted broccoli or sauteed greens or green beans) and one raw veg or salad or - kind of as a treat because I watch my carbs - slices or cubes of roasted potato/sweet potato or butternut/acorn squash, or roasted portobellos or eggplant. I use a fork, but you could use your fingers or a toothpick or chopsticks. I'm okay without much sauce - I'll give it a sprinkle of hot sauce or lemon juice or soy and leave it at that.

Romaine leaves, or other pretty firm lettucey leaves, pack up pretty good in either a Gladware-type box or a baggie with some air in it so it doesn't crush. Use it as a wrap or taco shell or cracker for anything you like on/in any of those things.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:43 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hummus sandwich and stuff it with whatever you've got - shredded carrots, chicken, lentils, olives, pickles.
posted by bunderful at 7:44 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Massaged kale salad will keep, unrefrigerated, in a lunch bag for hours without getting un-tasty. As long as you take a little care with anything that might turn brown from oxygen (f'rex, if you want chunks of apple or avocado, dunk them in lemon juice or acidulated water before you add them to the salad) you'll be good.

One of my favorite versions is massaged kale salad with roasted Delicata squash chunks (toss the squash with some harissa or baharat powder before roasting for extra goodness), maybe some beans, and pomegranate arils or pieces of orange or something to add a hit of tartness. Toss some nuts or toasted seeds on top for crunch if you like.
posted by Lexica at 8:24 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I needed lunches for long days (10 hours)and I discovered edamame salad. It's dense, delicious, filling, doesn't need heating. I bought the edamame salad, but it was basically edamame (green soy beans) with shredded carrot, and a seasoned oil & vinegar dressing.

Since they are cheaper, I made bean salad based on it: chick peas, red & white kidney beans, black eyed peas, with seasoned dressing (olive oil, vinegar, sriracha sauce, soy sauce, bit of paprika or other herbs & spices). Again, it was filling and proteinful - and I wasn't starving at the end of the day as when I was eating pasta.

But edamame salad and mixed bean salad are vegan and gluten-free - and you don't have to deal with GF pasta (shudder). And both would be excellent made with pesto as the seasoned dressing.
posted by jb at 9:02 PM on January 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Unfortunately I try to keep my soy intake to a minimum. It gives me hot flashes and makes me cranky, lol. So the only soy I consume is totally fermented soy product.
posted by DriftingLotus at 9:27 PM on January 26, 2015

I've never done it, but I expect that you can replace edamame with fava beans (AKA broad beans), or green chickpeas for variety, if you can find them, in practically any recipe.

I wonder, which fermented soy products are "fully fermented"? Do salted/fermented black beans count? Fermented tofu (fu yu/nam yu)? Miso and similar products? Just soy sauce? What about natto?

There are so many others that have such varying flavors and uses, I'd love to give recommendations for portable foods to use them with. They're salty enough that they'll help preserve your food through the day, especially if they still have active cultures in them.
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:09 PM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: All of those you listed sound good to me, as long as it's not too salty. I inherited that weird taste thing from my mother where I like to eat strange foods - liver, sauerkraut, etc. If it's smelly to most people, I'll probably binge it. I would totally try everything on that list you linked!
posted by DriftingLotus at 11:15 PM on January 26, 2015

Lentils? Curries, salads, stews. Filling, goes with all proteins. Season them however you please. Make something lentil ish for dinner then wrap leftovers in a gf lavash/tortilla the next day, jazz it up with some avocado or salad things (grated carrot etc.). Mmmm, lentils. Wash them thoroughly before cooking. Avoid chicken or seafood if you can't refrigerate it. Would avoid rice, gets dicey left out of fridge for a while. Invest in a gel ice pack for your lunchbox.

Have you considered making your own gf/df granola bars? Super easy, great for snacking. Not a lunch meal but you could load them with quinoa and nuts, be great for the backpack.
posted by BeeJiddy at 11:54 PM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have thought about it but I didn't know it could be done. I guess I never googled for recipes! I have GF/DF granola bars from Walmart but they taste awful. I'll google some recipes! Do you have any favs in mind?
posted by DriftingLotus at 12:05 AM on January 27, 2015

Mod note: Hey there, DriftingLotus, moderator here. It's okay to answer questions or clear up misunderstandings, but Ask Mefi isn't really meant to be a back-and-forth conversation, so it's fine to just take in all the suggestions and choose for yourself what works for you (not every single idea will be perfect for your needs, but that's okay).
posted by taz (staff) at 1:01 AM on January 27, 2015

The Collegiate Vegan blog has a lot of recipes that would probably work for you. Especially look at 5 and Under.
posted by JanetLand at 5:07 AM on January 27, 2015

Lunch Box Blues has a lot of ideas for lunches that can be taken and eaten without cold packs. The blog doesn't address allergies and intolerences, so you'll have to keep substitutes in mind, but I've found that many of the entries spark ideas that that work with my intolerance and dislikes with simple substitutions (for example, where he uses cream cheese I could use hummus).
posted by telophase at 8:38 AM on January 27, 2015

Get a small container and a spork for all those salad (in the loosest sense) suggestions. They can be eaten one handed whilst reading or whatever you're trying to multitask. Also, homemade hummus and assorted veg sticks to dip. I've been known to simply take a tub of hummus and a bag of sugar snap peas into work and eat that for lunch.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:20 AM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I routinely carry a fork in my bag, and with microwave access eat stuff like burgers, spaghetti, rice, taco salad, steak, etc, that has been sitting in an air conditioned room for 4-6 hours. I've always been ok so far. I use 'locking' boxes to store stuff, there is a billion different brands. It works really well.

So, basically, I think you can eat whatever you normally eat at home at school.
posted by Jacen at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2015

bring whatever you want. no food will spoil in 4 hours at room temperature.
posted by scose at 10:38 PM on January 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify: I live in Texas, and it gets very hot here, food can spoil in 4 hours in Texas heat.
posted by DriftingLotus at 4:52 PM on January 30, 2015

If you are working outside all morning with your bag laying in the sun, that might be an issue. But I was a working adult in Texas for 20 years (and a child in Texas back before ice packs or insulated bags were ever a thing, with mayo on my sandwich every day in my Snoopy lunchbox) and being in an air conditioned room was always sufficient to keep my lunch from spoiling.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:40 AM on January 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Looking for the crème de la crème of international...   |   Selling without title transfer. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.