What Do You Think, Sis?- Frugal Packed Lunches for All Seasons

Dear Erin,

I’ve been having this problem lately. You see… I really like to bring my own lunch to work. But you know how it is. I’m always rushing around first thing in the morning with barely a sip of tea in me. And I work in a kitchen so I’m not necessarily stoked on coming home to whip up and pre pack something clever for the next day. I’ve got a little roster of foods that I tend to take with me, but it seems like I could use a never-ending list of ideas!

And I mean sure, I don’t pack a lunch all the time. But I really prefer it. I feel more like myself when I eat my own food. I feel more confident in that I won’t have to run around looking for something palatable during my ever-so-short lunch break. I can just kick back for a minute and enjoy food that I made myself with love. Not to mention saving my cash for something more exciting than a slice of pizza.

What do you think, sis?




Dear Silvi,

Well, I have some thoughts about this!  I also prefer to pack my lunch.  Many of the neighborhoods that I teach in do not have any great lunch options (especially gluten-free ones) so I pack my lunch almost every day!  Okay, I did have a bit of an addiction to getting huevos rancheros  from the cafe near my favourite school last year.  But I have that under control now.  It is just too expensive to eat out every day!

You and I cook very differently.  You are a vegetarian and I am an omnivorous non gluten eater.  You are an improviser and experimenter where as I follow and then tweak recipes and record all of my measurements.  You take care of your self by eating whole grains and vegetables and I take care of myself by eating foods that I find comforting, which usually involves adding some butter or duck fat.  BUT  we do have these two things in common….We eat seasonally and we are frugal.

Here are a few general tips….

  1. I like to cook a lot of food on my day off.  I always cook at least one or two things that can keep all week and be packed for lunch.  It is time well spent on future happiness!
  2. I find that it is helpful to have a lunch bag that you like.  This may sound silly but, I feel like enough of a bag lady carrying art supplies around the city.  Acquiring a good-looking lunch bag with a zipper on top and a little bit of heat insulation has really helped.  My mother sends me these awesome insulated lunch bags that they sell for just a few bucks at the  grocery stores near her house in Hawaii.
  3. I also like to have containers with compartments. I pack a lot of salads, and most salad greens wilt if they sit around with their toppings for a few hours.   A Tupperware with two compartments will do just fine, but I really love my tiffin.  I put salad topping in the one with three compartments, greens in the middle and a container of dressing, a towel and a fork in the bottom!  Then I stack it all up. I got this one from mod cloth and its all cool and Jetsons looking, but a classic metal tiffin from one of the Indian stores near your house might be a good investment.
  4. Get yourself a little, tightly sealing jar for salad dressing.
  5. In the winter I take mason jars of soup to work in addition to salad.   In general, I do not use microwaves but a nice warm jar of soup for lunch really takes the edge off on the days that I have a long cold commute.  For a fairly comprehensive list of soups click here.
  6. Most food really does not need to be refrigerated if you are going to eat it within 5 hours.  Us modern folks tend to be needlessly obsessive about refrigeration.  Actually Silvi,  your mother taught me that when I used to come and visit her and our dad when I was a teenager.  She said that when she lived in Italy, people didn’t refrigerate their food so much….so you probably already know that!
  7. Get some cheap silverware that you don’t mind loosing.  Plastic forks are depressing.

Here is a list of recipes from our blog that make fabulous packed lunches, organized by season!  All of these recipes are fine without refrigeration or reheating, in my opinion.





10 Comments Add yours

  1. Rima Fand says:

    I love this post. And I love both of these sisters very much! xo

  2. Katherine says:

    This is a question I have been obsessed with, both for myself and, more recently, for my kindergartener (who refuses to eat school lunch – and who can blame her, really?!) When Eliza started school, I had a feverish (literally) obsession with making bento box lunches for her. (See my blog post about it here: http://endyfamily.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-am-proud-of-this.html). That was pretty successful for a few weeks, then Eliza tired of her lunch options (which she came up with) and I tired of getting creative, only to find my carrot-sticks-and-dip returned at the end of the day, untouched. (Interesting cultural tidbit: remember those cheese-and-cracker packs with the little red stick for spreading the “cheese”? Well, they make similarly packaged organic carrot sticks-and-ranch-dressing and I thought that was clever, so I packed it in Eliza’s lunch one day. She came home and said she did not want to eat it BECAUSE it resembled the cheese-and-crackers snack that another child had. A poor kid. Yep, really. So I repacked the carrots in her fancy bento lunchbox…and she still didn’t eat them.)

    Anyway, getting to the point, related to Erin’s comment about the lunch containers: I finally invested in a Laptop Lunches bento-style lunch box for Eliza. It was expensive. But Eliza’s teacher told me a few weeks ago that it still “brings her great pleasure” (even if half her lunch comes back uneaten. Different problem.) I use a ho-hum BUILT lunch bag. I covet a tiffin. I meant to ask for one for my birthday. (Remember when we used to pack our lunches in plastic ziplock containers and then put them in the microwave?? Eek.) I bring leftover whatever-we-had-for-dinner or sometimes a hummus and cheese sandwich. I can’t think of what else I do when whatever-we-had-for-dinner is quesadillas or cereal. I will start consulting this list!

  3. Katherine,

    I remember the bento box genius! You are one seriously clever girl.

    I have to admit that I still use tupperware…although I do not put them it in microwaves anymore. I also still use yogurt containers (which STILL cannot be recycled in NYC) to freeze soup stock and store gluten-free flours. I am sure that I am gradually poisoning myself…but what can I say…except, they are free.


  4. I am obsessed with this post. Food is so expensive and fatty where i work, and I am trying to health myself up as i batten down the hatches and dissertate (yes that is a word).

    I’ll be coming back to this again and again as I stock up my inherited classic thermos containers and bento boxes (and glass jars and yogurt containers) in my adorbs lunch bag.

    Also, saw this recipe and though of Erin!


  5. Sabrina!
    I know that you can rock a fashionable packed lunch…in fact I kinda want a photo…maybe the next time I post about packed lunches I can include photos of my adorable, thrifty friends….hmmm.

    The next time I go home to Hawaii I am going to get myself a good Bento Box. All things Japanese are available for a better price and with more choices in Hawaii. A good old fashioned thermos would be the bomb too…

    Oh my word…that shortbread recipe is EVERYTHING. I am so in love with cardamom.
    Also that blog is fantastic! Its like you smooshed Silvi (vegetarian gardener) and me (gluten free and Indian food obsessed) together and made us a mom. I love the photos of her kids’ chubby hands holding the cookies! So sweet! I will subscribe!


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