The same sandwich can get boring. Being creative with packed lunches can help provide good nutrition and enjoyment. This guide is about packed lunch tips and tricks.
Read and rate the best solutions below by giving them a "thumbs up".
Why spend money on ice keepers for your lunchbox when you have a plastic lemon squeeze bottle that does the trick. Fill your lemon squeeze bottle 3/4ths with water and freeze. The bright color stands out in your freezer and you can have your kids pack their own lunches easily too. The lid stays tight and you're on your way.
By Louella from Billings, MT
Recently, at my work, I have been on a committee that is looking at strategic planning for the next year, 5 years, and 10 years into the future. One of the issues we have been looking at is sustainability. I have brought my lunch in a reusable lunch bag at least 4 days a week for years now and will continue to do that. I also bring a mug of hot tea with me as I walk to work on very cold mornings to keep me warm. We also recycle printing paper, newspaper, cardboard, and plastic bottles.
Anyway, I had a lot of trouble coming up with how I could further contribute to sustainability in my workplace. Then, one day I was sitting and eating my lunch and looked at the plastic spoon I was using. We had plastic spoons on hand for eating our lunch, stirring our morning coffee, etc. I realized that if every single day, I were to bring my own spoon or fork for eating lunch with me to work, we could actually save money in our department's budget. If enough people in the department did it, we could save some serious money over a year. So, the next day, I started doing just that. Then, someone noticed and commented on it. I told them why I was bringing my own flatware. They thought it was such a good idea and started doing it, too. As far as I know, there are at least 4 people besides myself doing this now. I think it's a terrific idea.
By crazyliblady from Pittsburg, KS
My daughter has an old-fashioned type lunch box with a thermos. Putting in one of those hard ice substitutes took up too much room, so instead I use frozen bread to make her sandwich. The bread thaws in time for lunch while keeping the lunch meat cold enough to prevent bacteria from forming. Now I have room to pack a dessert and my daughter is thrilled!
By Karen in NH
To save paper and money, I take my lunch to work every day in a cloth tote bag that I bought at the Dollar Store. It is about 10x10 inch square and has a nice handle. When I come home, I just put my lunch bag in the fridge so I can find it fast in the morning. I never run out of paper bags, I save money, and it's a good way to reduce waste. By Laurie from Portland, OR
I put plastic cutlery in my husband's lunches for work. After him losing a couple of my "good" forks on the job site, he's gotten plastic ever since. Those I don't care if he loses.
By Terri H.
If you have a thermos, you have a very thrifty money-saver at your fingertips! Instead of spending money by eating at restaurants during trips, take your meals with you! Since we discovered this, we have invested in four thermos jars and almost always take hot meals with us on trips. We make frequent day trips (birding), and this has saved us a great deal of money because we are seldom tempted to eat out if we have a meal already waiting for us in our thermos jar.
A good quality, well-insulated thermos can keep food hot for hours. For use with food, you will need a thermos with a wider mouth than those which are used just for coffee. These are often sold in the sporting goods section of department stores as "insulated food jars" and they commonly come in two sizes, a small size which is perfect for an individual meal and a larger size which can hold a very ample meal for two or more people. Some popular and commonly available brands cost between $15 and $30 or so, but they will quickly pay for themselves if used even a small number of times. The cap doubles as a serving bowl, and one popular brand of small food jar comes with a nifty folding spoon which fits in the lid. A cheap plastic thermos is fine for holding food for a few hours, but for an extended trip the metal ones are best and they are also easiest to clean and less prone to leak. Pre-heating your thermos by adding hot water for several minutes before you add your food will extend its holding time considerably, as will adding your food while it is very hot.
Often, when people think of a thermos, they think of soup. Yes, soup works perfectly in a thermos and I often take soup with us on outings, as well as chili or stew. But they are not just for soup! Consider using your thermos to carry a hot sandwich filling such as shredded barbecue meat or sloppy joes... bring along a pack of buns and you have your meal. Try using a thermos for hotdogs... either boiled hotdogs kept hot in their cooking water or cooked hotdogs suspended in hot chili. We have also used our thermos jars for spaghetti, ravioli, chicken and dumplings, Swedish meatballs, thin-sliced roast beef in au jus, skilled pasta meals such as Hamburger Helper, gumbo with rice, baked beans, small meat patties in gravy, little smokies in barbecue sauce and more. If the food has any sort of spoonable consistency to it, I will put it in a thermos jar.
Once a week, my child and I attend a homeschool co-op group. We always bring our lunch, and we often bring it in our own individual thermos. But again, not just soup. I have taken some unusual things, such as beef ravioli in homemade alfredo sauce. Last week I brought blackened tilapia fish in cheesy grits. Even these meals which can often be tricky to keep at a proper consistency tend to do well in a good thermos. I will often use a thermos at home for keeping those 'tricky' foods like alfredo sauce or cheese dip at a just-right temperature until it is time to serve them, and I have also brought such foods to family gatherings in a thermos. Once, we were asked to bring a dish to a family breakfast and I came with the sausage milk gravy, ready to serve. Everyone was surprised when I set a thermos on the counter beside the biscuits!
When we go tent camping, I will often cook meals in a Dutch oven. Leftovers go into a thermos while they're still very hot, and we can eat them later. Two of our large thermos jars will keep food steaming hot from supper time until lunch (or even later) the next day. This is great when your only other way to make a meal is to kindle a fire or charcoal! Cook once, eat twice, even when away from home.
Now that we have been using our insulated food jars in this way for several years, I can't imagine going back to just a baggie with a cold lunchmeat sandwich. And I also can't imagine what it would be like to spend money on fast food every trip!
Source: My own experimentation in an attempt to eat well and save money!
By Shawna from TN, USA
Put tomatoes and lettuce in a separate container and place in your sandwich later to avoid mushy bread. Also, keep your mustard, etc. in the lounge kitchen (also to avoid mushy bread).
To save time in the mornings, make sandwiches and freeze them on the weekend. The sandwich turns out best if you start with frozen bread. Make the sandwich on the frozen bread, then pop it back into the freezer again. It's a good idea to label the outside of the containers, so you don't have to guess. Make a variety! I've frozen PB & J (make sure you spread the peanut butter on both sides of the bread before applying Jelly, or the jelly will make it soggy), Tuna with Miracle Whip, turkey, ham, bologna, cheeses, with either Miracle Whip, mustard, ketchup, salad dressing, or jelly. Usually by lunch time it's ready to go. This has helped my busy mornings! Try it for yourself.
By Robin G.
This is a tip that will help anyone who packs lunches! These days, we all need to tighten our belts and packing lunches is an excellent way to not only save money, but also to eat healthier! Now, if you're like me you've torn more than one sandwich up when you are trying to spread on soft bread. The tip? Keep your bread in the freezer. This will keep you from tearing up your bread when you fix your sandwiches. When you finish making your sandwich, put it in a baggie and into your lunch carrier or bag. Not only will the frozen bread help to keep the sandwich contents cool, but it will thaw out in time for lunch! Happy packing! :)
Source: Husband's idea. :)
By Gooby from Straughn, IN
I buy canned fruit & spoon into small bowls with lids (allow room for the food expanding when freezing) for my husband's lunches. Frozen cups of canned fruits and frozen sandwiches will be thawed in time for my husband's lunches. He works construction.
By Terri H.
Tips on school lunches from a pre-K teacher:
By Linda from Fort Smith, AR
The prices of school lunches, like most other things, are rising. Yet, parents need to question whether these lunches are providing their children with healthy lunch options and whether or not the lunches are worth the money. Some schools pack the trays with healthy a la carte items that are financially friendly as well as healthy. Meanwhile, others are charging $2.25 or more for peanut butter sandwiches, milk, and a celery stick.
A solution is to pack healthy and fun alternatives that will have kids anxiously opening their lunch packs. It will save money and allow you to better keep track of your child's eating habits. The only cost is a little bit of your time, but by inviting your children to help pack the lunches the night before it will become a family affair. Don't forget to pack the same for Mom and Dad, and save all around.
Tortillas are also helpful when leftover chicken, turkey, or beef is in the fridge.
Add slices of cold roast beef or poultry to a tortilla, add shredded cheese, some red peppers, spinach, and a dollop of ranch dressing and you have a sandwich with zest.
Of course, the traditional chicken or beef with some salsa, sour creme, and shredded cheese is a welcome option, too.
My husband puts my 6 or 8 oz. yogurt cup in a coolie cup which is normally used for cans or bottles. It fits right into the cup, and makes a handy way to keep it chilled until lunch.
By springmaid5 from Fairfield, OH
Making lunch or dinner at home instead of "grabbing a quick bite" at work, can easily save you $20 or more each week. Take your lunch to work every day and you'll find your $1,000.00 richer at the end of the year.
If you do go out for lunch or dinner, always ask for a doggie bag/box and save leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. Any food left on the table is money wasted.
By Faylee from Kingsport, TN
Save Naked or Odwalla juice bottles and fill with water and freeze. These are just the right size for a child's lunch box. When they thaw, you can have cold water to drink. These are also useful for placing in a larger cooler.
By Monica from Cortez, CO
I am always looking for ideas for my kids lunches since they don't like to eat at school. When I go to various restaurants (ie, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendys to name a few) to eat we usually have leftover "ranch" of any dipping containers. I take them home and use them to put in my kids lunches for dipping carrots and other veggies. They love it!
Add salad dressing to the bottom of your jar. Then add layers of lettuce and whatever else you want in your salad. Put on the lid and take it in your lunch. The salad will not be wilted by lunch.
Source: I found this great tip in a magazine. Can't remember which one.
By coville123 from Brockville, Ontario
"Hot Lunch to Go" These will stay "warm and delicious for hours." (quotes from Parents magazine, Sept.'07)
Many people already enjoy this food tip, I hope you will too! Some foods you can heat up and insulate in a Thermos (besides soup). I added more ideas to the magazine I found this in:
Be sure to pack a utensil!
Note: Little did I know, now available are neat "vacuum insulated food jars" in pretty stainless steel designs and some with a folding spoon! Wow! Designs at: www.thermos.com
Source: Parents magazine, page 262 from September 2007 (I clipped this and still have this magazine page!)
By Erin from Seffner, FL
Figure it up; if you spend $5 per day for 5 days, you are spending $25 per week for lunches. This amounts up to $100 a month! When you put your leftovers in the refrigerator, or you don't really have enough leftovers for a full meal, don't throw them out, use them for lunch.
For one dollar at the Dollar Store or Famly Dollar or Walmart, you can purchase a three piece plastic place setting that comes with a plastic glass that has a top on it. Carry this for lunch. You already bought the food at the grocery, use it.
REMEMBER: machine soft drinks add up too. If you buy sodas at the grocery store, grab one or two and put it in your lunch tote. Don't forget to grab the snack food you already bought also. Chips can fit in a baggie and an English muffin can too. Happy breakfast, snacks, and lunches!
By Jane from Paducah, KY
Avoid Juice Box mix-ups by placing a different sticker on each child's juice box or juice bag. Everyone can pick their favorite sticker and no leftover juices!
To better organize our mornings, we decided that it would be best to have the kids pre-plan their lunches for the week. I bought a dry erase board that had the days of the week on it. Since we have two kids, I decided to use different colored stickers for each of them. I put a matching sticker at the bottom next to their names, so we would know who was who.
Each weekend we ask the kids what the want for lunches that week. We list what they want, that way its not an argument in the mornings when everyone is tired. Plus they can't complain about what they get because it was their choice. :)
I live too far away from work to go home to eat and I can't afford $3-$4 per day that it takes to go to fast food restaurants. Since I live alone, I only cook 1 day a week, usually on Sunday afternoons. I may make red or black beans and rice, a hamburger helper dish, homemade soup, or some other inexpensive, healthy casserole. This I divide into 4-6 plastic containers. Next I divide a jar of applesause or a carton of cottage cheese into additional plastic containers. Often I will make 4-5 containers of jello.
I love salads and will divide those into containers as well. Cutting up fruit (melon, strawberries, etc.) is good when in season. I buy the baby carrots and divide into several zippered bags along with cauliflower, broccoli, celery, pepper sticks, or whatever sounds good. If I make biscuits or muffins, I bag them individually and freeze. I then pull my choices for the day from the smorgasbord in my refrigerator. No day's lunch is the same. This also helps to regulate my portion sizes. This would work for anyone who has access to a microwave oven at lunch.
By Sue H
When I pack lunch for my school age children, I pack one for my younger child as well that way he gets a kick out of using his lunch box and we have lunch prepared if we are on the go at lunchtime. This is a healthier and less expensive alternative to fast food.
My DH brown bags his lunch. To make his sandwiches more interesting and to save time, I took three large frozen chicken tenders, greased them top and bottom with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkled each heavily with a different seasoning (pesto, cajun, mexican) and baked all three in the same baking pan at the same time.
His chicken sandwiches, although daily, will be dissimilar and make for a more interesting lunch.
By Holly from Richardson, TX
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Here are questions related to Packed Lunch Tips and Tricks.
I am looking for receipes for cold salads, such as pasta, egg salad, and such.
My husband travels for his work and he takes a cooler and I am running out of ideas for cold salads for him to take along.
Any resources would be greatly appreciated.
Easy Italian Pasta Salad
1 box any pasta product-cooked according to directions-al dente
one pkg pepperoni slices-cut smaller
1/2 onion chopped,optional
1 celery stalk optional
1 medium container Italian dressing (I use 7 seas)
salt and pepper to taste
mix all in large covered bowl (I use lock and lock)
better after sitting in fridge overnight but great as soon as its done!
keeps 5 days
I am looking for lunch ideas for hubby working on forestry gang. I have a tight budget, and he is sick of sandwiches. Any thoughts? Thank you.
This is a variation of a sandwich, but my hubby likes it, toasted frozen waffles, spread with peanut butter. Dot one side with raisins, and put apple slices in the middle. He also likes homemade tuna or chicken salad, and I send big leaves of lettuce, then he makes a 'wrap' with the lettuce leaves.
Does anyone have any suggestions on what to pack for my ten kids' lunches? Two of them can't have anything with added sugar or food dyes and one of them can't drink normal milk and has to drink soy or almond and my oldest is allergic to mushrooms. What can I do? My kids are sick of the same old tuna fish sandwiches, with an apple, and a low fat sugar free juice and maybe some crackers. Suggestions?
By mc4lifes from Sydney, NSW
I get bored with lunch, I need thrifty ideas and variety.
Lucy from West Covina
Here you go:
Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.
At the office, many of my colleagues buy their lunch at the local take-out, spending $4-6 a day! I remind myself that I would rather eat lunch out on vacation with the money I save by brown bagging it--I'd rather have lunch in Venice, Italy than at the takeout in town!
Does anyone have any ideas for lunches that do not require heating. My husband works outdoors and away from home all day and has a habit of constantly grabbing fast food. This can get really expensive! We do make sandwiches occasionally, but he eventually gets tired of eating the same thing. Thanks for the input!
Juls from Edmond, OK
Fluffernutters (Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff)
cheese and crackers (real stuff--not the packaged ones)
"regular" sandwiches (you know, the ordinary ones)
pepperoni sticks paired with mozzarella sticks
fruit/nut bread with cream cheese
bagels with cream cheese
hummus with cut pita bread
Tortillas are a great vehicle to be creative with, as are pitas.
If he doesn't have access to refrigerators, freeze a water bottle, then wrap it in a paper towel (prevents the condensation from wetting everything, and put it in a cooler or cooler bag. (Or use the purchased freeze packs--but have a few spares, as they invariably don't get put back into the freezer on time).
I do purchase the small bags of chips at the warehouse store--if there is an open bag of chips at home, it either gets eaten too soon, or goes stale! (06/24/2006)
Now the Meat portion which every man has to have to show his face. Leftover Meatloaf. Friend Chicken, Turkey, Maybe a Spaghetti Salad. Some men like me enjoy Sardines right out of the tin with a few regular crackers.
You know you can just put hot water in his Thermos so he can make instant coffee and also have a Cup of soup. If the truth be known your homemade lunches by far will outshine any fast food restaurant. In fact when other of his co workers see his different menu everyday they will get their wives to do the same.
One important thing. Your Man needs a Lunch box. The little cooler type so he looks like he has a six pack cooler. His Thermos at least a quart even Half gallon. His coffee that you can get a small jar first then keep filling it up from a larger jar.
While you are at it you might stick a few emergency Tums a couple and a couple of aspirin. Hey ever try to by them at a convenience store.
Happy Dining To Your Hubby From Mr. Thrifty (06/25/2006)
By Mr. Thrifty
Bagel sandwiches are a big hit. Toast the bagel, allow to cool. Then add turkey, ham, lettuce, etc. I save condiment packets from restaurants and send those with the sandwich. If you put them on the sandwich the night before the bread/bagel/bun gets soggy. If you don't have packets, put the condiment in a tiny container or baggie.
Pizza wraps: spread the middle of a tortilla with pizza or spaghetti sauce or tomato sauce with some Italian seasoning, layer on pepperoni and shredded cheese. Eat cold or hot. Bean wraps: spread the middle of a tortilla with refried beans, layer on olives, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped onions, guacamole, etc. Eat hot or cold.
Nacho cheese and tortilla chips make an easy "ballpark-style" lunch or snack. Add some fruit and used baked chips to make it healthier. "Man Salad": a salad made with sturdy greens such as romaine, red leaf and spinach. Add other veggies as desired, such as grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, shredded carrot, etc. In separate containers/baggies pack chopped ham/turkey/roast beef, shredded cheese, croutons, bacon bits, and dressing. (06/25/2006)
I make iced tea, juice, etc, and pour into plastic bottles and put those in the cooler too. They are much more refreshing than overly sweetened pop. By the way, you can fill these up part way, put lids on LOOSELY, and freeze them. In the morning, finish filling and use in place of the ice packs. They'll keep the food cold, defrost by lunchtime, and provide a nice cold drink.
Pack crackers, sliced or chunks of cheese, pieces of meat (ham, pepperoni, etc). Goes great with iced tea and grapes.
My husband loves homemade trail mixes for his daily snacks. I mix a variety of nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips (or MandMs that I get on clearance after holidays), and sometimes some cereal or sesame sticks in a large lidded container. I put this into reusable small plastic food containers.
He also likes raw vegetable sticks with a small container of ranch or any type of dip.
Make your own peanut butter/almond butter crackers at home for a snack.
Get a wide-mouth thermos, fill with boiling water, set aside for at least 10 minutes to warm, drain, then fill with something hot during cold months. By warming the container first, it'll keep the food warmer longer--but don't put this into his cooler with an ice-pack.
And yes, the insulated cooler with ice packs is a must. My husband's still using his after 20+ years. It was a great investment. And won't his co-workers be jealous when he takes strawberry shortcake from his lunchbox for dessert. (06/27/2006)
By carla bledsoe
The boys would come home from school, put a bowl of their choice in the microwave, run upstairs to change to work clothes, pour a glass of milk and butter a slice or 2 of bread and they had a complete meal before going out to work. Then I didn't have to worry about them being hungry and they could have a snack when they got home. It worked very well for us for many years. Economical and tasty! (06/27/2006)
I've made hamburger with jack cheese and green peppers, ham with bell peppers and cheese, leftover roast beef with potatoes and freshly ground pepper. In other words, clean out the refrigerator. Right now we've got beet greens, and if you haven't tried greens, you're missing a lot. Have fun! (06/27/2006)
My hubby likes them cold too. make a pizza crust and do the same thing, but put pizza stuff in it, or ham and cheese. you could put Alfredo sauce, diced chicken, bacon, tomatoes, and mozzarella to create a chicken Alfredo pocket. these are hardy and filling. my hubby works 50-60 hours a week and needs something that will fill him.
I did get a few ideas from you other ladies. Thanks for the tips. Whatever I can do to make his week go smoother I will. I am very thankful for all he does for our family. (12/14/2009)
Also: I love to make lunches/dinner for my hard-working husband. It's just one little way I can help him out and show him how much I love him. That's what a partnership is all about.... (01/15/2010)
Although I do like to send him off with a nice packed lunch for his benefit, I don't think I would go through all that trouble if he sat in his car and ate alone. Everyday he gets home and thanks me for his lunch I ask if anyone was jealous of it. Just my little goal for the day. (02/18/2010)
Each morning, I take one water and one lemonade and fill them the rest of the way up and place them in the bottom of his lunch cooler to keep everything fresh. Each weekend, I make at least 3 different deserts, usually brownies, an apple pie, and cookies of some sort. I pack individual packets and keep them in the freezer and just choose a different one each day. By the time he eats them, they have defrosted but are still nice and fresh.
I make all different kinds of sandwiches on different kinds of breads and buns each day. I rarely buy lunch meat, but I have a deli slicer, so i like to take leftover pot roast, pork, or chicken breast and slice it a couple hours after dinner (after I have chilled the leftovers in the fridge). It's way healthier and tastier than deli versions according to my hubby. I always pack a tiny ziplock with a couple advils because he does back breaking work all day, and I know he is going to need them at least once or twice a week.
For sides, I usually cut up fresh fruit (his favorites are watermelon, grapes, strawberries, and clementine tangerines) and put them in little plastic containers. He also like carrot sticks with ranch dressing for dipping. One of his favorite treats his homemade salsa and multigrain tostitos, so I try to give him that once or twice a week.
I also like to tuck little notes or cards into his lunchbox to let him know I am thinking about him. (Not everyday of course because then it wouldn't be as meaningful, but any time there is a holiday, a special event coming up, or just to remind him that I am looking forward to our golf trip or camping trip or whatever is current). I think it is extremely important to make hubby's lunch (and dinner) extra special every day. It works for me, he treats me like a princess in return. :o) (07/13/2010)
Usually when I make him food, I will pack sandwiches in different pieces, trying to put "fun" sauces containers to make things interesting. I also make pasta salad, chicken salad, macaroni salad, or tuna salad for on or off sandwiches. When I'm able to keep the food warm, casseroles work decently in his thermos (depends on the casserole). Also, I will put pepperoncinis or pickles in a container for a more grownup vegetable. For dessert, I have a pan that makes mini bread loaves. I'll make a set of banana nut, zucchini, or orange bread and freeze them. I'll defrost them the night before and put them in. He has been complimented on these.
For the woman who has a problem with others fixing their husbands lunch, I would recommend you let people handle their own marriages. I'm sure most of the women here have husbands who work hard and that it is part of our job to support them in what they do. I personally enjoy the opportunity to make his day a little easier and to have him think of me when he opens his cooler. It's the least I can do for his 70+ hours a week of back breaking work that allows me to go to school. (10/03/2010)
Way to go, ladies, for being precious, wives! Incidentally, I actually work 30 hours/week, and when things get really crazy around our happy house, my hubby will make everyone's lunches without being asked. I just usually make all the lunches because I like to do it for him and for our baby boy! (03/14/2011)