Box Lunch Ideas
Ideas and tips for box lunches to take to school or work.
Your lunch options will be wider if you have access to a refrigerator to keep perishable items fresh until lunchtime. While these are usually not available for schoolchildren, most workplaces have a fridge for your lunch. If you pack a lunch frequently, consider investing in a lunch bag from the Container Store or a similar place. They are much more durable than brown paper bags, are water resistant, contain leaks better, and don’t generate as much trash. They’re pretty cheap, too.
Leftovers. You know you’ll bring these. Remember to bring spoon, fork, knife. Don’t forget to bring home the container, if it’s reusable. If there’s a microwave around, you can heat up almost anything you eat at home. Bring it in a microwave-safe container. If it’s savory (lots of spices) then even better, because it will smell good as you heat it, refreshing you and making all nearby co-workers jealous! Soups are always good to bring, as long as the container is spillproof.
If you’re bringing a salad and want dressing, bring the dressing in a separate container. Leaving it on the salad during the hours between morning and lunch will make the salad wilted and unappetizing. Leaves especially will suffer if kept smothered under dressing for that long.
Bringing your own drinks from home is a lot cheaper than getting one from a vending machine. Try juices instead of sodas. You’ll get the same energy rush from the sugar but without the caffeine roller-coaster, and the vitamins in juice are good for you. If it’s cold in your office, sipping tea can help overcome the chill, and you can warm your fingers on the mug. Tea won’t dehydrate you the way coffee will.
Use common sense with foods. If a child is taking a lunch to school, it will most likely be at room temperature for a few hours. People with outdoor jobs may also end up having to leave lunch in a warm place. For this reason, avoid foods that are extremely perishable, such as mayonnaise (i.e. chicken salad sandwiches) etc. unless you can put an ice pack or two into the lunch as well.
There are numerous pre-packaged lunch items available in supermarkets that can go without refrigeration for a couple of hours. Many, such as Lunchables, are geared towards school-age lunch packers. However, these are relatively expensive, and are often high in salt and fat, so reserve them as a special treat.
Vary the kinds of food you pack, especially if you’re packing for a child. If a kid finds the same thing over and over, he’ll likely trade with someone else. In addition, varying lunch items provides a better nutritional base. So don’t pack PBJ every day. Try a sandwich with a favorite sliced deli meat (maybe with some added lettuce and/or tomato), or sliced hard-boiled egg, or sliced bananas, or sliced tomatoes.
Using pita instead of regular bread adds variety, too, and makes it possible to make a sandwich with diced items that would fall out of a regular sandwich. Or, try varying the bread; consider getting a loaf of crusty European bread as a change from plain white bread.
Bananas are convenient to pack, but take care to avoid crushing them. Other good fruits to pack are apples, pears, and oranges, or you can put smaller fruits (strawberries, grapes) or fruit pieces (cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya, mango) into a lightweight container. All fruits – with the exception of bananas – benefit from refrigeration. Try different varieties of fruits. Gala apples, for example, are slightly smaller than most apples (good for small children) and are exceptionally sweet.
Vary the tastes and textures of your lunch. If you have a sweet, soft fluffer-nutter (peanut butter and marshmallow sandwich) balance it with some crunchy crackers or celery. Pita filled with chicken and tomato can be complimented by yogurt or pudding.
Pack a small dessert. It gives you something to look forward to, makes the meal seem more complete, and can be saved for that mid-afternoon energy slump.