Can you Recommend Some Cold Lunch Ideas?

by Melanie Edwards on September 1, 2008 · 33 comments

in life

I received my first ever blog post request. That is, I got a question from a reader (and friend) to answer via a post.

Here is her question:

I am trying to find some creative meals to give to my husband when he goes to work. We are trying to save money and buying lunch each day is obviously way too much [money]. Right now we are getting some rolls, sandwich meat and cheese. Which is okay and we shake it up by getting some different types of meats but I am sure he is getting bored of those. You see with his job he doesn’t have access to a microwave so we can’t provide stuff that we can just heat up.

Now, I’m neither a nutrition expert nor a chef (not technically anyway). I’m just wearing one of the many hats I wear as a wife and mother.

I wish I could say that I happily pack my husband and myself a lunch each day we go to work. The truth is that I don’t. If we do take lunch from home, usually it’s either leftovers from dinner, or (for myself) a frozen South Beach meal. But, both of us have access to a microwave at work.

My friend pointed out two very important aspects of her situation.

  1. They are trying to save money.
  2. Her husband can’t access a microwave.

Keeping that in mind, here are my cold lunch ideas. (Using the term “cold” loosely since some are actually warm choices, but the point is that no microwave is required.) Some are not the healthiest choices, but they sure are cost-effective.

Sandwiches

Fun Sandwich Lunch

She mentions that they’re already doing the standard sandwich, but here are some other types of sandwiches they could make. These mainly vary the “bread” used, but any of them could vary in content as well.

  • Peanut butter & jelly: Try using different kinds of jelly (grape, strawberry, etc.) or even jam which has a different texture. If you also spice up the bread used, like using multigrain, nutty bread, it could really take the standard PB&J up a notch.
  • Pita pocket: Tuna salad or chicken salad can easily be stuffed in a pita. To avoid it spoiling, if a fridge is not available either, a portable cooler or insulated lunch bag can be used. The salad could be packaged in a separate container and stuffed in the pita when ready to eat.
  • Bagel: Bagels make great sandwich “bread”. There are also the square bagels that make for great sandwiches.
  • Wraps: Take a traditional ham & cheese and wrap it instead of using bread. Obviously, you can create endless types of wraps and can use either whole wheat, tomato, or spinach tortillas when the plain flour tortilla tires out.
  • Croissant: I’m sure you’ve heard of the CroissanWich from Burger King. Why not make your own? Again, many types of sandwiches can be created using a croissant as the “bread”.

Hot Lunches

Using a thermos, you can keep food warm. Try some of these ideas to get away from a sandwich.

  • Soup: Pack up last night’s leftover soup or try the canned variety.
  • Chili: You can make a batch of chili early in the week that will last a few days. There are also plenty of canned chilis out there.
  • Chef Boyardee: Not the healthiest, I know, but it is rather cheap and can make for a quick meal every so often. Spaghetti will probably work best, but you can try many of their choices.
  • Pork & Beans: Also not the best choice in my opinion, but some folks love it.

Salads

Of course salads can easily replace a traditional sandwich, but they normally need to keep cool. If no fridge is accessible, you could (as mentioned earlier) use a portable cooler or insulated lunch bag. Packing the dressing separately is always a good idea. But, the rest could easily be pre-tossed together.

There are endless salad choices available. A personal favorite for lunch in our house is green leaf lettuce, black olives, shredded carrots, shredded cheese, craisins, and cut up chicken. My husband also likes to add sunflower seed kernels. For the chicken, you could buy the pre-cut grilled chicken strips for convenience.

Other Ideas

  • Hot Dogs: We’ve done this on many beach trips. Boil the hot dogs in the morning and pack in a plastic container. They do well at room-temperature and can easily be assembled with the bread, cheese, etc., when it’s time for lunch.
  • Leftovers: There is plenty of food that if you heat up real well in the morning before leaving the house, keeps well and can be eaten at room-temperature by lunch time. Rice comes to mind.

What Others are Saying

Now it’s your turn.

Do you have any more ideas for cold lunches? What do you recommend she pack for her husband’s lunch?

I look forward to reading your comments about lunch ideas you’ve tried in the past or think will work.

Photo by Pieter Dirkx

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Hazel September 1, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Search for Japanese Bento Boxes – you’ll find hundreds of great ideas for boxed lunches.

Noodles and rice balls are fine cold, can be made in advance and kept in the fridge, and are pretty cheap. If you have any sort of meat-and-sauce dish the night before leftovers will probably go with it.
A lot of pastas and pasta salads can be edible cold too.

Stuffing (the stuff you get in boxes and mix yourself) is really cheap and can replace cheese with a lot of sandwich meats.

Hope that helps – as a student I’m always on a tight budget, though I’ve been staying close enough to my uni this year not to have to pack my lunch in advance.

Reply

Modern Mami September 2, 2008 at 7:24 am

Great ideas Hazel! I’ll have to look into the bento boxes.

Reply

Sandie Law September 3, 2008 at 1:46 pm

I have a couple of posts on school lunches (http://www.macaroniandpeas.com/2008/08/school-lunches-hot-or-cold/ and http://www.macaroniandpeas.com/2008/08/school-lunches-hot-or-cold-part-2/).

I’m a big fan of keeping it simple and fun. I try to make sure the meal fits the kid too. Some kids like finger foods, others prefer a “real” meal.

For finger foods try carrots, cherry tomatoes, and pita wedges with hummus or sliced fruits and grapes with yogurt.

For the heartier meal lover, try sandwiches with a side and a drink. I am a big fan of the classic peanut butter and jelly(http://www.macaroniandpeas.com/2008/08/peanut-butter-panic/ and http://www.macaroniandpeas.com/2008/08/bread-white-or-wheat/). I use all fruit jams because they’re not as sickly sweet and they’re not artificially sweetened. To me, they taste better. As for sides, a piece of fruit, yogurt, a 100 calorie pack of your kid’s choice, or raw veggies are all great options.

Shoot me an email if you’re interested in hearing more ideas. :)

Reply

Modern Mami September 3, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Thanks Sandie for the great ideas and links to your site. Will pass on to my friend. :)

Reply

Carla Pullum September 5, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Wow this is really up my alley! Love all the ideas! I pack lunches daily and these ideas are great!

Reply

Philippa September 7, 2008 at 11:33 pm

These are great ideas. I think we are going to try them all over the next few weeks. See how it goes.

Reply

Modern Mami September 9, 2008 at 7:16 am

Carla & Philippa: Glad you like the ideas. Would love to hear back on how they work out. :)

Reply

Philippa September 11, 2008 at 7:15 am

So we got the thermos and we have had soup and Chef Boyardee this week. So far it had been good. He loved the idea. The thermos we purchased wasn’t as deep as we hoped so we still pack one sandwich (usually eats two) but adding the warm soup certainly did spice it up a bit.

Going to add a salad to the soup next week … ooooh aaaahh.

Reply

Modern Mami September 11, 2008 at 7:23 am

Awesome! I’m glad it’s working out and that he’s liking it. :)

Reply

Ms. Rancier September 24, 2008 at 8:04 am

One lunch idea i had, that my son loved, was tortellini. The great thing is you can serve it hot or cold. I buy the ones they sell in the refrigerated aisle (near hot dogs etc) and fix them with a little butter and parmesan cheese.

So far no complaints. I still need more ideas, cause to date all i got is tortellini and sandwiches…=)

Reply

Modern Mami September 24, 2008 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for that idea Ms. Rancier. One more to add to the list.

Reply

Nancy Dunn March 23, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I’m a fan of cold pasta salad with tuna, sandwiches, a cold bean salad perhaps? cheese and crackers, fruit or veggies with some dressing, muffins or fruit squares like these: http://wanderingnancy.blogspot.com/2009/03/spring-forward.html

Reply

Melanie (Modern Mami) March 23, 2009 at 11:10 pm

All great ideas Nancy! I love cold pasta salad myself.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 5:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won't mind bringing it anywhere you go, it's portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

Ara February 20, 2010 at 11:08 am

You can also try using an insulated tiffin bag so that you can keep the right temperature of your food. Plus, its design is fantastic so you won’t mind bringing it anywhere you go, it’s portable and eco-friendly too.

Reply

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