So do you walk to school or bring your lunch?
May 24, 2008 4:56 PM   Subscribe

What do you take for lunch everyday?

I'm trying to stop buying my lunch everyday. It's hard on the wallet and generally not too healthy. So I want to start bringing a lunch. I'm looking for ideas of things to bring that are somewhat healthy, easy to prepare, or possibly frozen in advance. So what do you like for lunch?

Also, what do you bring your lunch in? I'm looking for something slightly more attractive (and environmentally friendly) than reusing plastic bags.

posted by heavenstobetsy to Food & Drink (35 answers total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
Leftovers. Not very exciting, I know. I cook whatever I like from Cooking Light magazine or my America's Test Kitchen cookbook on Sundays and Wednesdays, and eat the leftovers at work for lunch every day of the week.

For a while I ate lots of raw veg (carrots, grape tomatoes, snap peas, black olives, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.) with bottled salad dressing I left at work---that was by far the best for my waistline but somehow I didn't keep up with it even though I really liked the taste.

I use pretty non-environmentally-friendly Gladware-style tupperwares. I carry the tupperware every day along with a diet coke and my gym clothes in a random clothes-store shopping bag, the kind you get from Banana Republic or Anthropologie or what have you. I don't see what's wrong with reusing plastic bags though...
posted by slenderloris at 5:11 PM on May 24, 2008

I usually bring leftovers from dinner the night before. I also sometimes make big batches of things like home made burritos and freeze those as a grab and go type thing. You could make big batches of soup and freeze that in portion sizes as well. You could also take salads.

Get some of those reusable plastic containers with the snap on lids. I think Glad makes some. They're cheap and can be used over and over and over again.
posted by at 5:13 PM on May 24, 2008

I go with reuseable tupperware, and fill it with some bread, a tomato, a cucumber, a hunk of cheese and some sliced meat. Throw it all together and you've got a pretty basic but still tasty sandwich.
posted by twirlypen at 5:14 PM on May 24, 2008

As far as frozen foods go, Amy's Kitchen has a lot of healthful vegetarian meals, although they're a little more expensive than most frozen foods.
posted by jennyesq at 5:30 PM on May 24, 2008

Soup and chili is easy to make, and it generally freezes quite well, so you can make a big batch of it and freeze it in single-serving Tupperware containers. They can be quite healthy, but watch the sodium, especially in stock-based soups. Add some crackers or a hunk of whole-grain bread, with some mustard or cheese, and maybe a pickle or some olives (just keep a jar of 'em in the fridge at work), and you've got a decent lunch.

Fresh fruit is always good. Ditto for plain, unsweetened, low-fat yogurt; I like it straight out of the tub, but you can add a little honey or some berries if you like. Strained Greek yogurt is my favorite.

For snacks and commute-time breakfast, I'm partial to Clif bars—they're probably the healthiest and tastiest protein bars on the market. They are a little dry, so make sure to grab a beverage.

The Amy's brand has this frozen vegetable enchilada meal with rice and beans that's quite good, and quite healthy (for a TV dinner). It's not quite enough to fill you up, though, so round it out with some fruit or something.

If you like unsweetened iced tea, brew some up at home, put it in an old milk jug, and keep it in the fridge at work. Much healthier than soda, and cheaper, too.

For those times when you must eat out, you can save a little money by taking out instead of eating in (no tip) and drinking water (which is good for you anyway).
posted by greenie2600 at 5:44 PM on May 24, 2008

i like getting croissants from the grocery store and making sandwiches out of them - a bit less boring and a little more tasty. la croix sparkling water rather than sodas. cherries are a good + portable fruit. finally, sweet potatoes.
posted by ncc1701d at 5:55 PM on May 24, 2008

If you're really serious about making your own lunch every day, I'd invest in a Mr. Bento. It's an awesome temperature-controlled lunchbox with different stacking compartments for different foods... one for rice, one for soup, one for crackers, etc. I own the (presumably daintier) Miss Bento, and I love it.
posted by arianell at 6:02 PM on May 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nthing leftovers. That way you don't have to shop for a special class of lunch food and don't have to spend any time preparing it. Dinner goes in the tupperware and comes out in the morning into your lunch bag. I just always found myself to be too lazy to keep up with keeping lunch foods stocked. And then I'd stay up too late on this damn computer and not want to make lunch before bed. Then I'd wake up late because I stayed up too late and not have time to make it in the morning. Leftovers!

Otherwise a few non-leftover ideas might be:
-cottage cheese and fruit - strawberries, blueberries, peaches, bananas
-soup frozen in individual portions
-pasta salad with chopped veggies
-pitas stuffed with hummus and whatever cooked veggies you've got
-celery with peanut butter spread into the troughs (as a side with something else)
-beans n rice with diced onions, peppers, and cilantro (maked tons and freeze in portions)
-sweet potato that you microwaved for 4-6 min the night before, cut in half, opened up, put some crosshatch slices in, and put something on. Oddly, chopped broccoli works nicely. Touch of butter.
posted by Askr at 6:03 PM on May 24, 2008

burritos! you can pretty much make the filling to your fancy - it is very easy to make a bunch of them on the weekend & toss them in the freezer - a clean dishtowel wrapped around one makes a handy container - also, mason jars can be very handy for the transporting
posted by jammy at 6:04 PM on May 24, 2008

You can bring anything you like, as long as you carry it in a laptop lunchbox. Its bento-ish style encourages you to bring a variety of food, it's easy to rinse out and reuse each night, and if you get the "system" with the carrying case and drink bottle you can really get a nice complete lunch in an attractive and easy to carry package.
posted by donnagirl at 6:05 PM on May 24, 2008

I have access to a kitchenette so these lunches may not be appropriate for you situation. I usually go to the store on Sundays and buy food for the week and keep it in the office fridge versus packing it every morning/night. Here are a few of my favorite recipes/combos:

Cheese (two different types), crackers, a couple of fruits (pears, apples, oranges, grapes or whatever is in season) and a vegetable (tomatoes and cucumbers work well).

Whole wheat wraps, spinach, a flavorful cheese, precut mushrooms, onions, and a cream salad dressing. Heat up the spinach, wrap, mushrooms, and cheese in the microwave for a minute and then add the dressing. Sometimes I also add some fried chicken.

Fruit, plain yogurt, and granola. This can also double as breakfast.

Asian soup base, some sort of Asian noodles, tofu, and an appropriate vegetable (mushrooms, sprouts, peas, etc). You can find many kinds of soup base at an Asian grocer. I recommend Vietnamese pho bo / pho ga soup base.

Good ramen plus frozen won-tons, dumplings, or other frozen Asian treats. I usually keep this around as a backup.

Leftover carnitas (pork taco meat), avocado, cheese, salsa, and lime on a corn tortilla.

Hummus, labna, tabouli, zaatar, and a couple of pitas

A head of lettuce cut into quarters, tomato, cucumber, fried chicken, and blue cheese dressing (get the good stuff).

If I had more time I might make a few Japanese bento boxes

I store everything in disposable glad lock containers or recycled containers because sometimes things can get left for the weekend or longer. This way I don't feel as bad if I periodically toss one out, or if the cleaning lady empties the fridge. If you have to pack a lunch I might opt for sturdier containers and a really good insulated thermos. might also have some good products to help you pack your lunch.
posted by kscottz at 6:22 PM on May 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I often bring leftovers, and I will make an extra portion when cooking dinner to make sure I have enough to bring to work. My favorite leftovers and things that microwave well include: pasta, stir-fry, taco meat, pizza (homemade or ordered out), casseroles or lasagna, and soups/chili. Make a big batch of soup and you can eat on it all week -- my faves include pasta e fagioli (Italian pasta and beans -- I've made a combo Rachel Ray/Giada De Laurentis version), some sort of chicken tortilla soup, and any sort of chili (vegetarian or otherwise) is usually really exceptional in the microwave. This ceramic mug with lid is very handy for storing individual portions of soups and going straight from the fridge to the microwave.

The same goes for a casserole or lasagna -- you could make a big batch of that on the weekend and freeze individual portions for reheating later on.

When I don't have leftovers, I often bring a salad. I recently got this double decker salad keeper and I really like it. The amount of salad you can fit in the bottom is usually enough for me, although it may seem small. If I have any leftover chicken, taco meat, mac'n'cheese, etc. I put it in the top layer and it can be reheated separate from the salad. It also has the little cup for salad dressing, and sometimes I'll bring pita/hummus. If you are trying to eat more veggies, this is a great way for a simple healthy lunch. I usually make a big batch of salad at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge in my salad spinner and dole out portions for lunch or dinner throughout the week. I buy bagged salad if it is on sale, otherwise my grocery store has some "mixed greens" in bulk that are usually cheaper, or just cut up a big head of romaine or another tasty lettuce + whatever veggies you fancy. (I find romaine keeps longer than iceberg, also it is better for you.) Hard veggies (peppers, carrots, etc) keep longer, you may want to wait until the day of to add cucumbers or tomatoes.

I have a fridge at work so that is convenient to keep salad dressing/condiments in. I just keep a bottle at work so I don't have to fill the little cup every time. Also I keep soup crackers and croutons in an extra desk drawer.
posted by sararah at 6:25 PM on May 24, 2008

I do the budget version of the laptop lunchbox -- I use an assortment of small containers that cost maybe $5 at Walmart, and mix and match them depending on what I am bringing that day. I think of it as a "tapas" lunch every day (even though most of the food has nothing to do with what I think of as tapas) -- small portions of foods with different textures and flavors. I grab bits and pieces of leftovers, a bit of fruit, some vegies or salad, perhaps some leftover soup, or a small container of olives, or a piece of nice cheese. If I am short on leftovers, or I want a change, I make a half-sandwich (one piece of bread, cut in half) to supplement all the other things I'm bringing. There's no boredom, because the food is different every day, and there is almost no prep time, because I am mostly just drawing on stuff that is already in the fridge. And if time was really short, you could package it all up ahead of time.

This only works if your fridge routinely has lots of good stuff in it, and you have access to a fridge at work. I deliberately cook to have leftovers, and I also shop for small things that are nice tapas treats. Olives, nuts, whatever just looks good, isn't too expensive, and will be a nice lunch addition. Having a bunch of really little containers (the smallest I have is about the size of a film cannister, the largest is maybe the size of a sandwich) keeps portion sizes under control, and ensures that there is always a lot of variety. Each thing I take is individually quite small -- much less than a standard portion -- but I take a bunch of different things, so it's satisfying to eat.
posted by Forktine at 6:28 PM on May 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Leftovers, too. But, when I don't remember, I keep some Amy's soups. They make a lot of low sodium varieties if that's a concern, and are all full of veggies. Or I pick up a Kashi frozen meal. They are not cheap for a frozen meal, but still cheaper than eating out, really tasty, and a lot better for you. The chicken pasta pomodoro is my favorite.
posted by fructose at 6:32 PM on May 24, 2008

nthing leftovers.

I spent last summer eating frozen meals, then discovered to my great surprise that one frozen meal didn't even fill up my little thermos!!!! which would explain why I felt hungry most of last summer (very physically exerting job)

Anyways, I'm currently living very well off 50$ canadian per week for food, for one very hungry and active young woman. My typical lunch is something either in tupperware or heated in a thermos, usually some form of asian stir-fry type thing or chili or pasta, but always containing meat of some sort. I also sometimes bring an extra container of salad. Also, a granola bar and a fruit snacks packet, and finally a piece of fruit.

yum yum!
posted by Planet F at 6:33 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I usually bring some kind of frozen meal. I recently discovered the Kashi variety, and am quite a fan.
posted by radioamy at 7:01 PM on May 24, 2008

I bring a big salad to work almost every day. I'm on a baby spinach kick right now, but if not that I buy the plastic clamshell containers of spring mix. I supplement with an assortment of chopped veggies (peppers, cucumber, tomato, celery, baby carrots, radishes etc.; mixing it up a bit for variety) and top it with either chicken, turkey or tuna. This is pretty healthy as long as I don't go too crazy on the dressing, filling, and I feel virtuous eating such a big portion of veggies. The downside is that it gets pretty tedious eating it day after day, which is why it's important to throw in some new veggie additions from time to time (chickpeas, chopped dried apricots, snowpeas, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.). I try to throw it together the night before, but if I forget it's pretty quick to assemble in the morning if the veggies are prechopped.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:21 PM on May 24, 2008

The lunch I pack for work as I've been dieting is as follows:

500 ml Bottle of Lipton diet green tea
1 liter bottle of water refilled daily
3 flatbread sandwiches (Take a tortilla or Potato Lefse, put cheese and deli meat on, microwave it for 20 seconds, add condiments such as mustard, then roll it up. Tastes great cold or reheated at work.)
2 granny smith apples. (I usually only eat one of them, but it's vital to keep some food in reserve)

I put this all in Tupperware containers and carry it in a large lunchbox, which doesn't look at all conspicuous since I work in the building trades. Sometimes when I'm too lazy to prepare the sandwiches I'll just heat up some soup and dump it in a thermos. This lunch could easily also be supplemented with chips or some dessert for those not so concerned with health. I find that varying the ingredients you put in the sandwiches keeps them from ever getting too boring.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:32 PM on May 24, 2008

I actually keep my lunch components at work and assemble them right before I eat. Usually it's:

-Big hunk o' ham (you can get these in the deli section, cheaper than individual cold cuts)
-brick of sharp cheddar
-bag o' bagels or rolls ( I keep this in my filing cabinet so as not to clutter things up)

I usually put these things together and stick them in the toaster oven- delightful.
posted by ®@ at 7:47 PM on May 24, 2008

I'm a big fan of picnic lunches. Today's lunch (I work Saturdays) was:

Maytag bleu
Local sharp cheddar
A few kalamata olives
A whole tomato, quartered
A small croissant and a handful of Stoned Wheat Things
Two slices of local prosciutto

I carry it to work in a tiffin tin.
posted by workerant at 8:02 PM on May 24, 2008

1 head lettuce
1 box cherry tomatoes
1 onion
1 package ham
1 "loaf" bread (8 slices does not a loaf make, but it is what it is)

Always at work:
balsamic vinegar
olive oil
plate, bowl, fork, knife
some sorta cheese (parmesan, cheddar)

In 5 minutes, every day you have a fresh sandwich or salad. You're not eating the same thing you had for dinner last night or eating prepared foods. You can mix it up by changing from ham to other meats, or avocados, etc.
posted by whatzit at 9:33 PM on May 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

2 slices of bread with nutella in between. Everyday. And more recently I've added those snack bars with a yogurt coating. Takes <1min to make.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 10:59 PM on May 24, 2008

Greatest Sammich Ever (ok its just a BMT but its so good)

-Sub Roll
-Honey Mustard Mayo
or whatever other toppings you want!
posted by Sgt.Grumbless at 11:10 PM on May 24, 2008

Leftovers. Or more interesting, leftovers on a sandwich. Most of the meat we make the night before goes well on a sandwich/bread roll with some sort of salad in it, and is great cold. Yum.
posted by cholly at 11:33 PM on May 24, 2008

The absolute best-tasting protein bars I've eaten. Actually the only good-tasting and textured bar I've eaten...15 grams of protein/190 calories. They're available online but the cheapest place by far is at Costco where you can buy 24 bars, 8 each of chocolate, peanut butter and vanilla for $19.99. I'm generally a chocolate lover but Twisted bars are spectacular in the vanilla flavor.

They're more like a Snickers bar than a typical protein bar. The "Twisted" part refers to the two crunchy, salty "Twisted" pretzels on top. You may want them everyday (although I do, 'most every day) and it's a cheap lunch. Buying them from Costco, you'd spend about $1.67 per day for two bars for lunch.
posted by mumstheword at 1:08 AM on May 25, 2008

I've recently decided that fancy lunches each day are a bit over the top for me... 90% of the time I just want some food, and I don't really care what it is. If I want a fancy lunch, then I'll take my wife out for something glorious on the weekend, not try and put it together for work!

With this in mind, my lunches tend to be of the Sonic_Madison variety, a simple two-slice sandwhich with something in between like peanut butter or nutella. I supplement this with other stuff that changes each day, like chips, fruit rollup type bars, and whatever little bits and pieces we find at the supermarket each week!

Similarly, my breakfast most days is just a simple fruit bar type thing (you know, it has pureed fruit in the middle with a grainy-type coating on the outside.. no idea what they're called).

Kind of boring, but like I said, I recently discovered that I'm just as happy with a boring lunch then with trying to find something out in the big bad world everyday (and if I'm really hanging for Hungry Jacks (Burger King for you Americans), I can always skip the homemade lunch and go and get it!). As you note, this also makes things much cheaper, as I discovered I was spending $30 a week on lunch, and didn't really care anyway.
posted by ranglin at 4:13 AM on May 25, 2008

For my 18 (on average) hour days I bring:

- brita fill & go water bottle
- 3 individual serve containers astro yoghurt, plain
- 227ml container of hummus - usually lemon dill flavour
- small jar of ajvar
- 4 small whole wheat tortilla wraps (i'll spread hummus or ajvar on them)
- bag of raisins & nut
- bag of baby carrots & sliced cucumber
- 1 each apple, banana, clementine

All in an insulated lunch bag, except the water bottle which doesn't fit in. I absolutely have to bring my own food for the day or I'd have to use craft services on set, and if I ate craft services I'd be 3 times my weight within a year :p
posted by zarah at 5:44 AM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might want to check all the threads with the lunch and the lunchbag or lunchbox tag - both your questions have been asked before and there are some really good answers in those threads.

I will second (I got a couple cotton lunchsacks from them that I use every day) but I would not recommend the Laptop Lunchbox. It's small (I don't know how people fit sandwiches in that one container) and even worse, it's not leakproof. If you have anything that is even the slightest bit wet (think cut up fruit), it will leak right out of the box. I got one several months ago, tried using it about four times, and it's been collecting dust ever since. (Yes, I know there's one container with a lid in there, but that's the only airtight one I get? Please.)

Much easier to use several tupperware containers, and you'll have so many options for what you want to bring and how you want to carry it. If you don't want to invest in tupperware, just reuse the plastic containers that come with things like pre-sliced lunch meat and store-bought soups.
posted by bibbit at 6:46 AM on May 25, 2008

Perhaps because we are both small mammals, slenderloris and I have similar lunch habits.

Not everyone can eat the same thing several days in a row, however. If you can, it's really really cheap.

And on the same thing several days in a row, I love love love oatmeal, so I always have packets in my desk, along with cups of apple-berry sauce and kashi bars and random snacks. A back-up plan like that will cover you on those days when both cats gacked up hairballs and you were running late and rushed out without your lunch.

On a perfect day, I have either some Kashi Lean Crunch dry or oatmeal around 10 and then homemade soup at 2 and then the rest of my soup at 4.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:13 AM on May 25, 2008

I'm not vegetarian but I've recently had good success with this chili and this casserole. The chili I've made a number of times. Cheap, easly, healthy, super tasty.

Also, I gotta say, I'm frequently very surprised at how good some Lean Cuisines are. Like seriously surprised. Especially their terribly named "Spa Cuisine" (ugh) line, and especially especially this salmon with basil. A lot of them are preservative-free, too.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 1:51 PM on May 25, 2008

Almost every day i have:

- cottage cheese + fruit (mostly pear or mango, chopped in the morning or evening before)
- 1 pita
- hummus
- some kind of somewhat healthy chip/cracker

I've been eating this for roughly 6 months and it's still not old. But then again my dad ate the same thing for lunch for years so perhaps it's in my genes not to care. I also have some granola bars at the office just in case i get hungry in the afternoon.
posted by escher at 11:15 PM on May 25, 2008

I usually prepare and eat a tuna fish and lentil curry every day.

1/2 Cup lentils
1 Can tuna fish
1/2 Cup vegetable juice
1/2 Cup water
3 Tbsp low fat plain yogurt
1 Tbsp Patak's mixed pickles
1 Tbsp Patak's curry paste
1 Tsp Dijon mustard

Optional healthy additions:
flaxseed, oats, curry powder, olive oil, your favorite hot sauce

Mix it all together and heat it in the microwave for 3.5-4 minutes. It's healthy and pretty delicious if you like curries and spicy foods. Eat it with a couple of whole wheat crackers for texture.

Preparation time: <10 minutes (including cooking time).
posted by syzygy at 12:51 AM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

A 6-oz can of tuna in olive oil, a couple of tomatoes, a Lebanese cucumber, red onion, parsley, arugula and a lemon. It all goes into a bowl to make what I call "Big-Arsed Tuna Salad". As in:

"What's in the bowl, Obiwan?"
"A Big-Arsed Tuna Salad."

An 8-oz plastic container of passionfruit yoghurt and an organic Pink Lady apple.

Sachets of instant oatmeal.

A bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Leftover chicken and microwaved veges - zucchini, mushrooms, pumpkin.

Cruskits, cheese, an orange.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:17 AM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I forgot boiled eggs and blueberries. Don't ask - I don't know either.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:21 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Most of my lunches are leftover pasta, Simply Asia bowls (usually the Roasted Peanut kind), and salads.
posted by Cricket at 3:27 PM on May 26, 2008

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