What do you pack for lunch?

Guest post by Alissa
Unicorn Universal Neoprene Sleeve Lunch Bag
Unicorn Universal Neoprene Sleeve Lunch Bag
At the grand old age of 35 I’m still figuring out how to be an adult, and I think I’m learning that all of adulthood is probably faking it…

One thing I wish someone had warned me of is that one of the hardest parts will be feeding yourself. Plan food, buy food, cook food, eat food, clean up after food, and repeat over and over forever.

A challenge I’ve had for years is… I just don’t know what to pack for lunch at the office. I struggle to get going in the morning, and some things, if packed the night before, get soggy. I often end up throwing a yogurt in my bag along with a scoop of this soup recipe in tupperware. Then I keep a box of dry cereal under my desk for if I’m still hungry. PBJ and an apple work their way in there from time to time as well.

Homies, what do you pack for lunch?

Share your lunch bag with us in the comments!

Comments on What do you pack for lunch?

  1. Personally Amy’s frozen dinners are the staple at my house. If that’s not your deal mason jar salads, hummus wraps, most leftovers, binto style lunches are all great.

  2. When I used to pack, I would make an entire loaf of PBJs and freeze them. If you’re not into semi-soggy bread, put PB on both slices then jelly on the PB. Wrap in foil & toss in to freezer.

    • PBJs bring back the childhood nostalgia, and they also remind me why so many kids eat them: they’re easy to make and delicious and not totally awful on the nutrition side of things, too. Add a bag of potato chips and an apple and my kindergarten stereotype throwback is complete. Maybe a pudding cup too. 🙂

    • Our family variation on this (especially for hiking) is the triple layer PB-and-honey sandwich. PB on the outer slices, honey on the “inside” slice (one or both sides of it depending on how sweet you like it). By the time lunch rolls around, the middle slice has turned into honey-crystal goodness.

  3. I aim (and often succeed) to make enough food on Sunday evenings to have bento style lunches 4 days out of 5. This gives me variety at the meal (since there are two meals in between) but you can pack all of them Sunday night so it’s grab and go.

    • This. Exactly. I can’t imagine doing all the extra prep for a separate lunch. Lunch is made by packing up dinner. Bam.

    • I’ll be honest: I’m not a leftover fan. I don’t like how the texture of some foods changes after a day or after re-heating in a microwave. Things that were crispy get soggy, things that were soft develop a crust, meat gets chewy.

      There are some leftovers that I’m good to go with – like cold chicken salads or soup. But most leftovers I only eat out of a desire to not waste food, and I don’t really enjoy them. 🙁

      • You need to find what leftovers actually get better as the flavors meld — like sauces, stews, & soups. Many things that are richly spiced will develop more complex & interesting flavors after 24 hours. And don’t over-cook to begin with, then carefully reheat (don’t nuke it forever; reheat in short bursts, stir, check, & heat some more) so textures won’t become inedible. Like everything worth doing, it takes practice.

        • Also braised sturdy vegetables like kale reheat well, or roasted foods like sweet potato, chicken…

          Or you can take cold chicken, boiled eggs, veggies – pack them in separate containers and combine them into a salad at lunch.

      • I feel you. I’ve managed to make it work with a little outside-the-box thinking. Some dishes actually work the next day as a sandwich or wrapped up in a tortilla with a thin layer of condiment(s). Veggies I like to stir into a bowl of rice (with cheese or seasoning) or fresh mac’n’cheese. If it’s something I know I’m experimenting with I bring along treats I know I like so I can reward myself either for a brilliant idea or a job well done getting it down. Maybe not the strongest plan but I’m perpetually broke so eating up my leftovers means eating every day so it has to do.

  4. I’m a fan of bringing leftovers to work, although I’ve also learned to bring my own cutlery, as not all staff rooms are created equal.

    I also have a bento-box style lunch kit, which I like to use for what I call my “munch box”: cheese, hummus, crackers, raw veggies, fruit, kielbasa, cold chicken, etc. It provides a nice variety, and reminds me of when my mum would send me to school with a homemade lunchable instead of buying the pre-made kinds.

    I found that I was much more likely to pack a lunch after I bought nice storage containers. I’ve upgraded to stainless steel where I can, and have an abundance of cool packs in the freezer. My lunch bags are pretty nice and well-insulated. Eco-friendly stores tend to have great selections for lunch stuff. Shelling out a little bit extra on my lunch kit helped me save in the long run.

    Having nice lunch storage means I’m

    • “Munch box” is an awesome name! That’s also what I often do – bring small amounts of various things to snack on throughout the day rather than one mid-day meal. IKEA sells a small storage container set (green lids with clear containers) that includes SMALL containers that are perfect for a dollop of hummus or a few baby carrots. I bought two sets! Lunch changer for sure!

    • This totally sounds like my husbands lunches! He has a lunch box with a removable tray at the top so his sandwiches/wraps/salad box can go at the bottom and the tray sits on top. In the tray I put at least two kinds of raw veges (he loves carrots and red peppers), two kinds of dips (baba ganoush, hummus,pesto, aioli, etc) and some kind of chips (corn chips, pita bread chips, vege chips, etc). He also takes lots of fruit, and he has a vege omelette every morning that he wraps up in a tortilla and eats on his drive into the city. His range of what he eats is so much broader than mine and I have always been jealous of him for that. I am very VERY fussy and I struggle to put together nutritious, easy lunches for myself. Leftovers are generally my favourite options. I try to keep lots of baked chicken thighs in the fridge, as they are so easy to make a salad out of with a little rocket, red onion and avocado. I also am a big fan of protein balls that I can snack on during the day.

  5. I just looked at that lunch bag, it’s amazing. I also love the Halloween pumpkin one.

    I usually take sandwiches which I make the morning. Sometimes I will do an extra portion of rice or cous cous and then put cucumber, tomatoe, cheese or such with it. If my husband is out and I make mushroom rice I’ll take that or if we have leftovers at christmas then extra chicken or meat with salad stuff.

  6. I pack lunch for myself and my 3 kids. Confession: I hate packing lunch for myself and my 3 kids. I do. I really really do. Making sandwiches makes me weirdly bitter about life at 6am. So, I figured out, finally, that I need to make super simple/ no work lunches.

    Our go to family lunches are:

    1. Low brow charcuterie (slices of cheddar cheese, salami, and pepperoni. Maybe some olives and and an apple for good measure.)

    2. Pasta salad. (last nights left over pasta, drissle with olive oil, toss in some frozen peas and carrots).

    3. Jar of over night oats (oats, almond milk, chia seeds, scoop of peanut butter)

  7. This is a tough one! You’re right, food is so much of our lives.

    I tend to make large batches of food on Sunday and then eat it for lunches throughout the week.

    • I know, right?! I’m not a mom yet, but now I understand why sitcom moms are always stressed about dinner or where the woman-always-in-the-kitchen stereotype comes from. Food is a big friggin’ deal and it’s a lot of time and work (that often unfairly falls on women). If I was a bajillionaire and could hire one personal staff human it would be a cook. I’ll do the cleaning, the driving, the bills, the chores, the yardwork, but if someone could just put food in front of me that would be awesome. I’m so sorry I didn’t fully appreciate you, college dining hall!

  8. I’m terrible about packing lunches, but I do better when there’s something yummy I love in the freezer I can just grab in the morning. Favorites in my house are burritos- regular and breakfast. I’ll make up a pot of pinto beans or eggs, then blend them up with green chile, cheese, maybe a few potatos, maybe some spices, then make burritos, wrap each in wax paper (for later microwaving) and freeze them all in giant ziplocs. Then they’re ready to just grab in the morning and go.

  9. I find a cold soba noodle salad (the kitchn has a great make a basic recipe then tailor to your preferences, hate carrots – great! Don’t add ’em. You can even get fancy and put some bouillon in there and add hot water for delicious ramen. My trick is always use toasted sesame oil as a base, add tiny diced ginger [whether ramen or salad] and stretch out the work/money used by using both the soba noodles and some romaine lettuce cut into slivers. But in my opinion *always* add the ginger), sandwiches (it’s all about making it fresh in the morning and with the best bread you can get then toasting it!) and any leftovers I have (partner made food, awesome! Didn’t finish that pad thai? That’s the best)

    When all else fails and I’m in a rush packet of oatmeal, banana and a spoonful of peanut butter is my go to, otherwise I’ve been known to bring a packet of ramen in. I work at a tourist destination so going out for lunch is ALWAYS expensive.

  10. I will always pack a bag of baby carrots, an apple, and a yogurt as lunch accoutrements. Occasionally I’ll do a different fruit, but when I have 90 seconds to pack lunch in the morning routine is my friend. Then for main lunch, I’m happiest when I have leftovers from a dinner already in a lunch-size tupperware. I also make tons of soups and freeze them (but that only works if you have a microwave at work). If there’s no leftovers or soup, pb&j (with pb on both sides to avoid the sog.) It’s all about making it as easy for yourself as possible.

    Side note — I used to buy lunch, and when I switched to bringing, I really missed the consumerist rush of spending money on my lunch hour. I had to really consciously stop myself from going out to buy coffee or dessert or a pair of shoes just because. Spending money is addictive!

  11. If you have storage space in your office, I suggest packing away some easy build-on-it options like quick oats, crackers, bagels and/or tortillas. That way, you’re just responsible for bringing stuff you could combine with those bases. A handful of fruit for the oats or some of Keren’s “low brow charcuterie” (ha!), hummus, beans and rice, leftover protein from dinner… whatever.
    If you love packing sandwiches for work the night before, but hate the sogginess, my advice is to DECONSTRUCT. Layer together your protein, cheese and veg, wrap it in plastic wrap/chuck it in a container, then put it in the fridge, sans bread. If you’re super groggy in the morning, it will help to go ahead and get out your bread and put it in a zipper bag on the counter, then set out a packet of your favorite condiment (or make your own by putting a dollop in a little plastic container). Assemble it all at work, zero sog.

    • Yes, I do this and it’s awesome! I keep a container of oatmeal in the cabinet along with jars of PB and J — just need to bring in the bread. 🙂

    • This is what I do. If we have leftovers from grilling (burgers, brats, chicken, whatever) I’ll bag up some for lunch and wrap the bun/tortilla separately. If I am REALLY on top of it the night before I will toss all the dry goods (buns, chips, etc) in my lunch bag and then in the morning all I have to do is toss in the cold stuff (meat, sparkling water, hummus).

      I also like to get frozen meals sometimes. They are never enough lunch on their own, and some are God awful, but they are a good base. I live in Colorado and like to go to Safeway and get the Safeway Select generic frozen meals. They actually have some really good ones. I was pleasantly surprised.

  12. This used to be a big issue for me. I often defaulted to something like a lean cuisine or canned soup.

    I’ve recently read Always Hungry? by Dr. David Ludwig which has really changed some of my attitudes towards food and food prep, but most related to what you’re asking is lunches! Almost every night, there are purposefully leftovers that play into the next day’s lunch. Ranchero Chicken at dinner becomes left over chicken over romaine lettuce and other veggies with the sauce as salad dressing. Curries become Lettuce Wraps. Casseroles don’t need any help to be great next day left overs.

    When leftovers aren’t in the cards, the other tactic is to make up a batch of some sort of salad that you can eat as lettuce rolls, or as a salad, (or sandwich if you’re a bread person). Supplement with fruit and cheese, or whatever else you fancy. I’ve found it really satisfying, and easier then expected.

    Also, big batches of soup, frozen in individual servings, totally save my life.

  13. I always do leftovers along with some fruit and maybe like, Laughing Cow cheese and crackers or something. As a teacher, I always ate more at lunch than I did at dinner because I was so hungry from running around all day. I usually ate one of my “sides” as a snack earlier in the day. Figure out what your needs are, energy and time-wise, and go from there.

    Several of my co-workers did the “bring salad ingredients for a week” plan. Like, they brought a box of pre-washed greens, some veggies to go on top, protein like shredded chicken or chickpeas, whatever else sounded good. They had enough for the week (or at least several days) without having to remember to pack a lunch every morning.

    You can also always make your own stash of freezer burritos: http://www.budgetbytes.com/2010/10/freezer-burritos/

    • I eat more for lunch too. Even more for breakfast. Fuel for the activity of the day! It’s all about loading up when you need it and taking it down a notch when you don’t.

  14. Tuna salad! I’ll pick up one of the giant cans of tuna from Costco and make a huge batch, then split it into 20 small containers and fill a shelf in the fridge. Packing lunch is one of those, plus putting a few pickle slices/spears into another container, and grabbing two cheeses from the cheese drawer. Cheese drawer contains three different cheeses: mozz string, colby jack sticks, and babybel wheels. That’s two weeks of lunch for my husband and me.

    Other things we’ll do: a billion different types of soup/chili, an egg bake made on Sunday cut into 10 servings, or some kind of chicken or hamburger bake that, again, makes 10 servings.

    • Yummmm, I’m personally not a fan of tuna but you reminded me that I can do this with chicken salad and I *love* chicken salad!

      • I have no idea, but even so, you could put half in the freezer and do just one week at a time that way. Tuna, at least without toppings, freezes quite nicely. I’ve done that before. And tuna salad is an awesome way to stealth veggie for me. If I grate carrot, and have the celery sliced really, really fine (thank you, mandolin!), then I just get vegetable crunch which is awesome. Also convenient, because I think celery is gross. This way it hides it, and I get even more veg. We’ve done batches that are basically half tuna, half veg, and while it gets a little more liquid-y than normal, it’s awesome and tasty and convenient.

    • Just a heads up, Mercury is a concern if you are eating that much tuna. Research your type to see where it’s sourced from. Usually it’s only mentioned relative to pregnancy but if you eat it every day, it could be an issue. It’s so subtle, it wouldn’t be easily diagnosed by your dr.

  15. My last few jobs have had a sink, fridge & microwave in the break room. I made space in my office to keep a few kinds of soup, half a loaf of bread, small jars of peanut butter & jam, a couple apples or bananas along with a microwavable bowl, a lunch plate, water glass, and a set of utensils. I kept it all in a small dishpan hidden in a cabinet so it was easy to carry to the break room. I’d sometimes hard boil a couple eggs, make up a small amount of tuna salad or bring some yogurt and stash it in the fridge. This allowed for enough variety that I didn’t eat the same thing every day. Each Friday, I would check the supplies and start my grocery list for the week and on Monday morning I’d go in a little early to replenish the supply. If I knew it was going to be a stressful week, I would also add a few treats like nuts & chocolate. I found this to be simpler than planning every single day what to take. For me, the few minutes it took to make my lunch at work and then wash my dishes after were less stressful than trying to get out the door in the morning with a prepared lunch. In summer, about once a week, I’d meet up with friends working downtown for a brown bag lunch at a nearby park. I kept a small tote bag for this purpose. I found it essential when eating lunch at work to get out for a 15 to 30 minute walk every day, even in winter. Getting out of the office and getting some fresh air made me more alert and better prepared for the afternoon.

  16. I used to always bring salad for lunch with the dressing in a separate container (and I made it the night before.) They never got soggy or anything. After I started meal planning, I found that I had leftovers frequently, so that’s what I usually eat now. I’ll plan bigger meals early in the week purposefully now so that I have leftovers, so stuff like pastas, enchilada casserole, chili, etc. Stuff that heats up well.

    • Salad with a separate container of dressing is my new favorite thing! The only thing I have to add to my normal grocery list is grape tomatoes, which keep better overnight than sliced Roma tomatoes. Cheese sticks and yogurt, and I’m set.

  17. I bought a set of small oven & microwave safe dishes with leak proof lids so I could make quiches in them. If you don’t make a crust, they freeze really well. I like to whip up the quiche base and then divide into my 6 bowls… Then I can put different mix ins into each one if I want. Chicken & broccoli leftovers in those 2, lunch meat & carrots for that 1, the rest of my fajita filling for another… Easy! They bake really nicely together, and each one is different enough to not feel like I’m in a rut. The bowls are also really great for freezing individual portions of chili/soups, or really anything. Last Thanksgiving I put some leftovers into a few, putting the mashed potatoes on top and deemed it “Shepard’s Turkey Day Pie.”

  18. I feel your pain when it comes to realizing that adulting is hard… For me, it’s about keeping the house clean. I’m lucky that food is easy to me. So here’s what i pack for lunch. I have access to a fridge, microwave and toaster at work, but if you don’t mind cold food most suggestions could still apply.
    I only cook for myself and often make enough for a few portions as a standard (i don’t really consider them leftovers since i plan for them, it’s extra food), so things like rice and vegetables, soups, stuffed vegetables, eggplant parmigiana, pasta, chicken and vegetables, etc. that i cook for dinner (or on Sundays when i have more time) can double as lunch for the day after. I freeze some of these things in portions if i don’t get the chance to eat them in the few days after making them, then it’s just a matter of grabbing them in the morning. I love having something ready on hand, for the times i really don’t feel like cooking but would like some food nonetheless!
    If i want a sandwich I’ll pack the ingredients separately and put it together at lunch time.
    If i want a salad, same thing, and dressing comes in a tiny separate container. I also pack yoghurt and fruit for snacks, most days, and/or a piece of cake, and keep in one of my desk drawers emergency cookies and crackers.

  19. I don’t really have time for a sit-down lunch, and I hate soggy sandwiches, so I pack foods for grazing throughout the day. These are some of the things I like to bring:
    hummus with pretzels or crackers
    cheese and crackers
    almonds
    raisins
    carrots
    granola bar for when there’s really no time
    occasionally a drinkable yogurt (I have a child’s palate) 🙂

    These are all easy to pack too. very little preparation involved.

    • occasionally a drinkable yogurt (I have a child’s palate)

      Don’t judge, but earlier this week I brought a serving of Lucky Charms in a tupperware as a snack.

      I said don’t judge!!!

      • Alissa – definitely not judging. my sweet tooth is terrible! My friend told me the other day that she ate an abnormal amount of Lucky Charms, got a stomachache, and then felt the need to google, “stomachache from lucky charms.” I’m more of a Cinnamon Toast Crunch girl myself. 🙂

      • I’m judging you… positively! Nothing like a handful of cereal to get us through, especially on those days when you really don’t stop moving (body or brain wise).

  20. I don’t eat breakfast, so lunch is an important meal to me. I usually make it from dinner leftovers in a smaller amount (2 cup tupperware container) and then throw in a piece of fruit and bada-bing.

    If I don’t have enough dinner for leftovers and not enough deli meat for a simple sandwich, my last-minute-lunch typically includes (along with a tupperware container):
    -1 lazy tea egg (which I typically have continually stocked, recipe here: http://justbento.com/handbook/johbisai/lazy-easy-tea-eggs)
    -1 packet ramen
    -1/2 cup? mentsuyu sauce (tsuyu sauce or soy sauce, I prefer mentsuyu)
    -2-3 tsp of fueru wakame (this type of seaweed magically expands)
    -1-2 tbsp furikake (I prefer nori komi) or sesame seeds
    -a few slices / chunks deli meat: carving board chicken is my go-to or deli ham
    Slice tea egg in half. In tupperware container, mix together all the dry ingredients (ramen, wakame, furikake, deli meat) and then add hot water and some mentsuyu sauce to taste. Cover, and let sit until ramen is cooked. If preferred, add more furikake, mentsuyu, or the sauce packet that came with the ramen. Once cooked, add your two slices of tea egg to the bowl. Slurp your noodles.

    I have also added raw egg at the end instead of boiled or lazy tea egg if I’m in a real hurry and have some fresh eggs. That tastes pretty delicious too.

    • I do something similar and call it my “sushi bowl”. I take all my favorite sushi roll fillings, or whatever I have on hand, and some rice, and make a bowl for lunch. Often this is white rice with a dash of soy sauce, hard boiled egg, avocado slices, seaweed salad. But I’ve been known to add chick peas, cheese, other veggies, or whatever else is on hand.

  21. PB&J and two pieces of fruit — one for lunch and one for a mid-afternoon snack. Every day. I’m a creature of habit.

    When I couldn’t chew for several months on account of orthodontia, lunch was one cup of pureed or stewed fruit, one cup of yogurt on top of that, and half a cup of oats atop all. Assemble the night before, and by lunchtime the oats will have absorbed enough moisture from the other ingredients. Mix just before eating. Looks a mess, but tastes good and is nutritionally solid. Now that I can chew again, I’d probably add some nuts and/or swap in some dried fruit for the pureed stuff.

  22. As a teacher, I only get about 20 minutes to eat, so I tend to eat like a kid. My typical lunch includes baby carrots (or some other fresh veggie), goldfish crackers, and peanut m&ms. Granola bars and trail mix have been popular items as well, along with fruit cups and string cheese. Sadly, I don’t have time to heat up food, and then wait for it to cool down enough to eat it. Assuming you do have that kind of time, try making like two boxes of pasta on Sunday night. Have pasta for dinner, and put the leftovers into meal sized containers. I like to do this separate from the sauce (stored in another large container), so you can sauce your pasta with whatever suits your fancy that morning. This could probably be easily done with rice or some other type of grain.

  23. I don’t mind eating the same thing every day and I like cold meat, so when I was packing for work we planned Sunday’s dinner to make four days worth of leftovers for me (one day I had takeout.) Until it gets too cold, that usually means something grilled (or my sweetie would grill a small flank steak just for my lunches.) One of my favorites is Korean-style grilled beef called kalbi. Yum yum yum. I added carrots or sliced peppers or some salad and yogurt, and then usually put in a piece of fruit and some cut-up cheese for afternoon snacking. I don’t mind making lunch in the morning, but all of this could be done the night before if you wanted to.

    Now I’m a work-from-home gal and lunch is more likely to be store-bought chicken salad…

  24. I keep a jar of peanut butter and one of honey in my desk drawer and then I bring a couple of slices of bread with me to work each day. I’ll mix up what else I bring – maybe a small salad. Sometimes I stick some udon noodles in the bottom of an 8oz wide-mouth mason jar with a spoonful of the fake chicken better than bouillon and a handful of frozen mixed veggies. The kitchen in our staff lounge has one of those hot water faucets, so I get a little in that, screw on the lid, and in a few minutes I have a yummy, healthier version of ramen noodles.

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