Some folks buy lunch at a cafeteria or restaurant five days per week. They don’t cook, or they don’t have time to pack lunches, or they just aren’t concerned about the financial or nutritional affects of dining out that often. That’s cool, but that’s not me.
I like to eat lunch out about once per week — it gives me an opportunity to try new restaurants, which provides fodder for my blog and columns. On those other days, I’m standing in front of the refrigerator scratching my head just like a lot of other people. Lately, I’ve been pretty good about packing big lunch salads with leafy greens, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, any other vegetable I have on hand, kidney or garbanzo beans, and some cheese. Another great summer option is the good old tomato sandwich – I had one of those yesterday, washed down with some cucumber water.
But even those gorgeous salads will get a bit old if I try to force myself to eat one 4 days per week, and the fresh tomatoes will not last forever, alas. I imagine if I had to pack lunches for children every day, as well, and my head explodes.
I’ve been wandering around Pinterest and some other sites lately and I’ve seen a few ideas I thought I’d share:
* Easy Lunchboxes – This is a site designed primarily to sell you reusable, three-compartment lunch containers. But if you click on “Neat ideas” and then “Yummy lunch gallery,” you’ll find that there are some 150+ pictures of packed lunches submitted by users.
A couple of my favorites: Cold grilled chicken strips (finger-friendly!); egg salad wrapped in a lettuce leaf; a yogurt “sundae” topped with fresh or dried fruit; a few chocolate chips and a few mini-marshmallows; cold pasta salad; meatballs; and mini muffin quiche.
A great hint from this site: Use silicone muffin cups as reusable ramekins to corral stuff like goldfish crackers, cheese cubes or Jell-O.
* The lunch gallery at Lunchbox Limbo offers moms some different options for frugal organic lunches. She’s good about cutting fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and breads into shapes to make lunch more fun for the kiddos.
* The woman who writes the Lunch in a Box blog offers lots of ideas for packing Japanese-style bento box lunches. There is some unusual food in her lunch boxes (Tuscan squid, anyone?) but it might be a fun place to pick up some ideas that range far beyond bologna sandwiches and chips. Bentolunch.net is a similar blog.
* Try a Mason jar salad by dumping all of the ingredients you like in a big Mason jar. It’s easy to carry to work or school, can be popped in the fridge or chilled in a lunch box, and then dumped on a plate or eaten straight out of the jar.
* Make a “lunch loaf.” You don’t have to use this recipe, just pick the ingredients your whole family likes on a sandwich and stuff it in a crusty bread loaf. Slice off pieces to suit the size of the eater’s appetite.
* One of my favorite food sites, Chow, has a thread about packed lunches for grown-ups. There are no pretty pictures, but there are some good ideas here. For example: antipasta lunch; make a big batch of fajitas one night and use leftovers for wraps, mix with beans or rice; bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon; baked potatoes with any topping you like; lentil or grain salads; slices of leftover quiche or frittata.
* Finally, this is a small one but I’ve started to bring cold cereal to work for breakfast, and some people like to eat cereal for lunch or dinner, too. I wanted to find a special container for bringing cold milk and cereal to work, but here’s what I did instead: I had a couple of those short, fat canning jars with lids sitting around. I washed them out well and now I fill one about halfway with cold milk and screw down the lid. I bring my cereal in a plastic baggie or reusable plastic container and dump the cereal in the jar with the milk when I get to work. Take jar home, clean and repeat.
Do you have any favorite packed meals, even if they are just sandwiches dressed up with unusual toppings? Know of a lunch idea blog or site I didn’t mention?