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This e-book features over one hundred recipes and suggestions for packing healthy, interesting lunches. I find that when I have something attractive and intriguing in my bag, I am less tempted by the junk-food lure of the food court :) I also have a family history of late-developing food allergies and weird stomach things, and I feel safer bringing my own food with me. This is by no means a comprehensive cookbook, as it is subjective to my tastes and interests: it does not feature any recipes which, while good, I find difficult or tedious or time-consuming to prepare. It has a vegetarian bias as well, although that may change in the future. It also omits foods to which I have allergies or sensitivities: corn, certain raw fruits, dairy, tree nuts and loaf breads (although I do eat tortilla-based wraps). Feel free to modify or substitute to your tastes. I highly recommend investing in a decent set of containers, an attractive case or bag, and a good-quality thermos. I use an inexpensive lunch kit, a laptop lunchbox or a container/thermos combo I found in Chinatown, depending on what I am packing: the laptop lunchbox can only accommodate one wet item, for example. If you would like to see for yourself just how impressive packed lunches can be, check out these Flickr Groups: Laptop Lunches, Vegan Bento, Bento Boxes and Mr. Bento Porn. I have arbitrarily separated non-entree items into 'side dishes' or 'snacks and treats' depending on my preference (it if feels substantial enough to me to eat on its own, I called it a snack, not a side dish) but feel free to mix and match them to your tastes. Most of this stuff does not require re-heating. It can be nice in some cases, if you do have access to a microwave. But with the exception of the thermos items, I have eaten all of this stuff cold, and lived to tell the tale.
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Main Dishes Side Dishes Snacks and Treats Thermos Lunches
Crackers and Wraps
Egg Salad Wrap: Mash a hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise or salad dressing, and wrap in a tortilla. Cut the roll into sections for easy packing, or lay it flat in your container. You can vary the taste significantly by using different flavours of salad dressing. Peanut Butter Wrap: Spread peanut butter on a tortilla and wrap it up. Cut the roll into sections for easy packing, or lay it flat in your container. If your workplace is nut-free, you can substitute soy nut butter instead. Fruity Nut Wrap: Same as the Peanut Butter Wrap, except with toppings: peeled, sliced apple or a whole banana. Do not cut or mash the banana, or your wrap will turn soggy. Just peel it and lay it on the peanut-buttered tortilla, then roll around it. Bean Dip Wrap: Spread the tortilla with bean dip. You can top it with a bit of mayonnaise for kick, or with shredded cheese or soy cheese, sliced avocado or whatever. Again, lay it flat or chop the roll into sections for easy packing. Indian Wrap: I love these! I buy them prepared, but it's easy enough to make yourself: some cooked diced vegetables and mashed sweet potato and spices make a really filling wrap. Cream Cheese Wrap: I use Tofutti 'cream cheese' but if you can handle the real stuff, use it. Bell peppers, cucumber or shredded carrot make nice toppings if you are so inclined, but pat them dry before you roll the wrap. Avocado Wrap: Line the tortilla with mashed avocado and top with shredded carrots, lettuce, soy cheese or other garnishes. Roll up and slice into pinwheels, or lay flat in lunch box or container. Deli Slice Wrap: You can use fake meat slices, or real meat if you want to. Top it with lettuce, shredded carrot or zucchini, sprouts or some combination for a yummy, filling lunch. Deli Lettuce Wrap: As above, but use a large piece of lettuce as your 'wrap' instead of the tortilla. Many people swear by spreading cream cheese on the deli slice as an added tweak in this variation, but I have always found that icky. Veggie Dog Wrap: Cook the veggie dog, let it cool, then lay it on the tortilla and roll up. Pack some ketchup on the side. I have found the inner plastic container which holds the toy in Kinder Eggs to be a wonderful watertight dip container. Crackers and Dip: Your choice of cracker (rice cracker, melba, wheat thins etc.) packed with a small container of hummus, guacamole, bean dip, cheese dip, red pepper spread, cream cheese etc.
Triscuit and Bean Dip: As above, except that I have found bean dip and Triscuit crackers (especially the new triangular thins) to be an especially appealing combination.
Mini-Meatloaf and Side Dish: Cook your favourite meatloaf or faux meatloaf recipe in muffin tins and freeze. Pack them straight from the freezer with a side dish, they will thaw by lunchtime. Meatballs and Side Dish: As above, but make them in balls instead of muffin cups. Or, buy frozen pre-cooked meatballs and reheat them the night before. Fish sticks and Side Dish: Cook a serving of frozen fish sticks the night before and let them cool. Pack with a side dish and enjoy cold or reheated for lunch. Pack a dip container of ketchup or dressing with it. Veggie Nuggets and Side Dish: Faux 'chicken' nuggets are widely available and microwave in two minutes or less. Do that before your shower, and it will be cool enough to pack when you come out. Veggie Burger and Side Dish: As with the nuggets. Nuke your favourite one first thing in the morning and it will be ready to go. Forgo the side dish if you plan to pack a bun, or eat it solo with vegetables or garnishes. Falafel and Side Dish: Either make ahead and freeze it, or buy pre-made freezer ones. I found a frozen one I like, and my favourite way to reheat it mess-free is on the Foreman grill. I usually pack hummus or some other dip with these. Frozen Dinner: Take your favourite "lean cuisine" or frozen packaged dinner, heat it at home and pack it into your lunch containers. You would be surprised at what you can enjoy cold! Or, zap it for 30 seconds to re-warm it at lunchtime, if you have access to a microwave. Kugel Squares and Side Dish: Make your favourite kugel (noodle pudding) recipe and freeze it in squares. Pop into lunchbox and it will thaw by lunch. Or, mix an egg, seasoning and some leftover cooked noodles and microwave in silicone muffin tin for 2 minutes or so.
Cook and Pack
Rice Balls and Side Dish: Prepare some Japanese sticky rice as directed on the package. Wet your hands and form the rice into balls (or use molds, if you are lucky enough to find them). Decorate with a strip of nori seaweed for extra authenticity.
Mini-Quiche and Side Dish: Toss some egg whites with 1 tsp soy sauce or salad dressing, and some tiny chopped meat or vegetables, bits of cooked rice or potato etc. Microwave 1-2 minutes in one of those silicone muffin tin things. Regular or Soy Cheese Pizza: I don't have this often, as breads with yeast don't generally agree with me. But it is an occasional treat. I have it for dinner and reserve two pieces for lunch the next day. Pizza Wedges: Spread thin layer of pizza sauce on a tortilla, top with thin strips of pepper, thin slices of pepperoni or veggie pepperoni and dairy or vegan cheese. Broil until cheese melts, fold in half and slice into wedges. Stuffed Pasta Shells: Get those extra-large jumbo shells, cook them and pack the insides with egg salad, chicken salad or something like that. Eat 'em like dumplings. Pasta and Beans: Toss a handful of cooked pasta with a handful of cooked or canned beans and a little bit of salad dressing. Some prep work to get the pasta cooked, but if you have leftovers, this is especially easy to throw together. Big Salad: I take the two large containers out of my laptop lunchbox for this. Lettuce, whatever chopped vegetables I have, a dip container of dressing, and soy slices (or processed cheese slices) cut into little shapes with mini cookie cutters. Potato Salad: Half a leftover baked potato (or about four mini potatoes, microwaved until cooked) cut into pieces and tossed with salad dressing and frozen mixed vegetables. Pasta Salad: As above, except substitute a handful of cooked pasta for the potato. Easy Potato Protein Loaf: Mash together one baked potato, half a can beans of your choice, one egg or substitute and a few teaspoons barbecue sauce, ketchup, salad dressing etc. Form into mini-loaves, pan-fry, or microwave 3-4 minutes. Easy Ramen Stir-Fry: This is more like a recipe. Rehydrate half a package of ramen noodles, then stir-fry it with a cup or so of frozen mixed vegetables. Stir in a raw egg and some soy sauce and stir-fry until cooked through. I get two lunches out of this one. Lunchbox Rice Bowl: Throw together a cup of water, a cup of Minute rice and 1/4 cup tvp. Boil and let sit for five minutes. Toss with frozen mixed vegetables and bottled stirfry sauce. Again, this is a bit of work, but it gives you two lunches. Stuffed Potato: Bake a potato, then scoop out the insides, leaving a shell. Mash the insides and mix them with veggie ground round or cooked mince, and whatever vegetables you have handy, and some sauce. Stuff the mixture back into the potato shell. Yum!
Yogurt with Cereal: Depending on what kind of cereal you pick, this can be quite a filling lunch. Use two equal-sized containers. Fill one three-quarters full with yogurt. Fill the other with dry cereal. At lunch, combine them and dig in.
Sliced Fruit: Anything goes. My favourites are strawberries, watermelon, grapefruit and oranges. Finger Fruit: Grapes, cherries, mini-banana, clementines, all manner of berries... Canned Fruit: Buy the snack packs, or pack it from larger cans. I like pineapple and peaches best. Homemade Fruit Salad: Here's a trick, bananas will not turn brown if packed with pineapple. Mix and match your favourite fruits. Applesauce: There are so many flavoured blends now. Apple-Raspberry and Wildberry are my favourites.
Frozen Mixed Vegetables: Many types available. I can't have corn, so I mostly use the peas and carrots blend for lunchboxes. I also like the diced squash, but it's better mashed. Cole Slaw Mix and Dressing: There are numerous cole slaw blends available in the salad section. Just add dressing. If you add it just before you leave, the salad will still be crunchy at lunch. Or, you can pack the dressing in your dip container. Sliced Vegetables: Cucumber, bell pepper, cauliflower, broccoli and carrots all pack well and make great side dishes. Toss a few of them together and take a dip too if so inclined. Celery and Spread: Cut the celery into logs and spread with nut butter, soy butter, apple butter, cream cheese, tofu cream cheese or other spread-type item. Or, pack with dip container of salad dressing or dip.
Mashed Potato: For a low-fat version, use broth or salad dressing instead of butter or margarine. Just cook the potato, let it cool, peel it and mash it together with the liquid of your choice.
Squashed Potato: As above, except mash the potato with equal parts well-cooked butternut squash. I like the frozen kind. Two or three minutes in the microwave, and they are good to mash. Mini-Potatoes: Also called new potatoes. You can buy them and boil them, or buy them already frozen. The bag I saw specified four minutes in the microwave to restore to edible capacity. Dim Sum: If you are lucky enough to live near an Asian neighbourhood like me, you can find frozen dumplings, spring rolls, steamed buns and other dim sum goodies. Stock up and you'll have bento goodness ready to go.
Snacks and Treats
Mini-Crackers: Goldfish, Ritz Bits, Teddy Grahams, animal crackers, baby food cookies or any of the numerous 100-calorie snack pack things would fit the bill here. I love how the containers in my laptop lunchbox help me control portion size. Pretzels: Rods, sticks, twists and novelty shapes are all readily available. I get mine at a bulk food store to save money, and make storage easier. Commercial packages of pretzels never seem to fit into my containers. Dry Cereal: I like dry cereal for snacks because I can have something sweet that doesn't cost a lot of calories. This area has been harder since the discovery of my corn allergy, but I have found more than a few cereals I can still enjoy. Trail Mix: Any combination of the above tossed with a spoonful of soy nuts (or other nuts if this is an option) for protein makes a great mid-morning refuel or afternoon pick-meup. It's a great way to use up bits and pieces too. Rice Crackers or Rice Cakes: There are so many flavours of these available! If you are going for the mini ones, make sure you measure out your portion sizes. And if you are like me with the corn problems, you may need to go to a health food store for corn-free ones. Rice Crispy Treats: Buy pre-made, or make your own according to box directions. If you want to make single servings, Rachael Ray recommends four marshmallows and half a cup cereal. Granola: Make it yourself, or buy a granola cereal. I find these too calorie-dense for breakfast, but a half serving fits perfectly in my snack container and keeps me satisfied. Baked Chips: Baked tortillas, rice crisps, soy crisps and pita chips are all easy snack options. Again, use your containers to help you manage portion size.
Snack Bar: Protein bars, granola bars, cereal bars and diet bars are some of the choices. Buy a variety and keep on hand for days when you don't feel like packing anything complicated. Snack Cup: Pudding, yogurt, fruit gel, fruit salad and applesauce in many flavours are all available in pre-packaged on the go containers. Or, you can try mixing and matching: applesauce in yogurt, pudding in fruit... Fruit Leather or Fruit Roll-Ups: I prefer fruit leather to fruit roll-ups because they are available in organic varieties that don't have corn syrup (which, even if you are not allergic, is still not great for you). In any case, numerous flavours and novelty shapes are available.
Make it Yourself
Edamame: This is a good snack to take along for a protein boost, especially if you are in a nut-free workplace. It can be bought fresh or frozen and reheats in a microwave in a minute or two. Hard-Boiled Eggs: Plain, or formed into shapes using Japanese egg molds, available online. Just peel a freshly hard-boiled egg, press it into the mold and immerse in cold water for ten minutes. Yogurt with Frozen Berries: Buy plain yogurt and frozen or fresh berries. Combine them in a small container. Frozen berries will thaw by lunchtime. Much heartier and healthier than flavoured yogurt! Chocolate-Banana Parfait: Prepare one package chocolate pudding as directed, or make your own. Fill container with it halfway. Slice half a banana on top, then pour more pudding over it. Yum! Chocolate-Banana Pudding: Prepare one package of pudding mix. Puree with two bananas and store in small containers. One box of pudding will give you four servings. Fruit Smoothie Pudding: This will make two servings. Blend a banana, snack-size yogurt and handful of thawed frozen berries. Pour into two containers. If you hate runny yogurt, you will love this. The bananas really thicken it up! Strawberry & Banana Log: Slice the strawberries. Slice the bananas. Pack them into your container as tightly as possible, alternating a banana piece with a strawberry piece. The strawberry helps keep the banana fresh, and it looks so pretty! Peanut Butter Balls: Melt 2 tbsp nut/soy butter in microwave, stir with 1 tsp honey or chocolate chips, toss with 1/4 cup rolled oats and form into balls with wet hands. They will firm up to granola bar consistency by lunchtime. I love these for snacks!
A Few Quick Notes
Many types of thermos bottles are available. For lunches, you will want a wide-mouthed food jar. Some, like Mr. Bento or my Korean knock-off have containers for side-dishes built in. For the regular plain old thermos, you'll have to make your own arrangements. Pre-heating the thermos helps keep things hot. Just fill it with boiling water and let it sit for ten minutes before you fill it, and make sure all packed items are hot when they go in. Rice, pasta and barley in homemade soups will absorb liquid, and thicken after packing. You may want to leave space to top up the liquid with hot tap water when you are ready to eat. It really doesn't take extra time to pack a thermos meal. Just pour in some boiling before your morning shower to preheat it, and warm up the food while you eat breakfast. Before you leave the house, pout out the water, pour in your food and go! You can thaw frozen mixed vegetables or frozen single servings of veggie ground round or cooked meat equivalent by running them under hot tap water for a minute or so. A mini-strainer makes this really easy.
Ramen and Vegetables: Combine half a package uncooked ramen with 1/4 cup tvp, 1/4 cup thawed frozen vegetables, and 2 tbsp powdered soup. Pour boiling water overtop to fill thermos, seal and go. Canned Soup: Heat your favourite variety of canned soup for 3-5 minutes over mediumhigh heat, until heated through. Pour into pre-heated thermos, seal and go. Mac and Cheese: 1 frozen macaroni and cheese microwave meal e.g. lean cuisine type, cooked and tossed with half a can flaked tuna, chicken, turkey, ham or chicken and 1/4 cup thawed frozen peas. Easy Cheezy Pasta: A handful of cooked pasta, reheated and then tossed with 1 tsp of melted margarine and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. Stir well and pack into thermos while hot. Meatballs and Rice: Prepare some couscous or Minute rice in the microwave. Meanwhile, put some frozen meatballs (meat or veggie version) in small pot with stir-fry sauce to half-cover. Simmer five minutes. Pack rice or couscous into thermos and top with hot meatballs. Beans and Rice: As above, except use canned beans instead of meatballs.
Quick Chili: In small pot, toss 2 cups tomato sauce with 1/4 cup cooked ground meat or veggie ground round, 1/4 cup canned or cooked beans and 1/2 cup frozen hash brown potatoes. Simmer five minutes.
Note: I have multiple food allergies, and developed these recipes as a 'convenience' alternative to canned soups. If you have a stocked freezer, these really do take five minutes to throw together. The recipes rely on having certain dry, frozen or canned ingredients ready to go: I always keep frozen vegetables, and small containers of shredded cooked chicken, cooked ground meat or meat substitute, and canned or cooked beans in my freezer.. To make each of these recipes, just toss all the ingredients into a pot, bring to a quick boil and them simmer gently for 3-5 minutes. Ingredient amounts are approximate.. You'll get 2-3 servings depending on the size of your thermos. Use 2-3 cups of broth, depending on how soupy you like it. I use the small condensed cans, with an equal amount of water. If you are using dry stock powder, use 2 spoonfuls per cup of water. Beef Vegetable Soup: Simmer tomato soup, 1 cup frozen peas and carrots, 1/4 cup minute rice and 1/2 cup cooked ground meat or veggie ground equivalent. Chicken Noodle Soup: Simmer chicken stock, 1 cup frozen stir-fry vegetables, 1/2 package ramen noodles and 1/2 cup cooked chicken, cubed or shredded. Chicken Vegetable Soup: Simmer chicken stock, 1/2 cup frozen mixed vegetables, 1/2 cup frozen hash brown potatoes and 1/2 cup cooked chicken, cubed or shredded. Tuscan Chickpea Soup: Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1/4 cup couscous, 1/4 cup canned spinach (diced) and 4 tsp lemon juice. Italian Wedding Soup: Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, 10 frozen meatballs or vegetarian 'meatballs', 1/4 cup couscous and 1/4 cup canned spinach. Easy Lentil Stew: Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, 1/2 cup canned or cooked lentils, 1/2 cup frozen hash brown potatoes and 1/4 cup canned or frozen diced vegetables. Hearty Tomato Stew: Simmer Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, 1/2 cup canned or cooked lentils, 1/2 cup frozen hash brown potatoes and 1/2 can diced tomatoes. Pasta Fagioli Stew: Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, handful of frozen tortellini or ravioli or other filled pasta, 1/2 cup cooked or canned beans and 1/4 cup tomato sauce.
Sweet Potato Soup: Simmer chicken or vegetable stock, 1 cooked and mashed sweet potato, 1 cup cooked or canned carrots or butternut squash. Puree with immersion blender before pouring into thermos.
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