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Lunch Solutions

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Health and Safety

Pizzas to Go
Filling Ideas
egg salad
apple pie sandwiches
soy butter and banana
guacamole mexican mush

Lovely Leftovers Grated Beet Salad
Lentil Salad
Vegetarian Chili
Baked Beans
Mom's Mac & Cheese
Barley Casserole
Pita Pizzas

Odds and Ends to Add
Cereal Snack Mix
Apple Pie Sandwiches
Cheesy Vegetable Dip
Ants on a Log
Healthy Energy Cookie Recipe
Natural Peanut Butter Cookies
More Kid-Friendly Recipes
Edible Science Experiments
Dehydrating Food
Birthday Cake Ideas
Dog Treats You Can Make Yourself
Wizard Themed Recipes
Medieval Themed Food Ideas
Halloween Themed Food Ideas
Camping Food Ideas

Non-Edible Recipes



Packing and Packaging

Packing a litterless lunch makes sense on many levels: it reduces waste, saves money, and many schools and workplaces now require it. A litterless lunch kit will vary depending on your food preferences and needs, but should contain as a minimum: a well-insulated container, a reusable ice pack, and a beverage container (best is unlined stainless steel). Messy meals will require a reusable cloth napkin and/or washcloth. Sandwich containers, small leakproof containers and cutlery are also good additions. When packing cutlery for school meals, be sure to review their "no tolerance" policies regarding cutlery. Sometimes even metal forks or bread knives can be banned.

Consider re-using packaging for your food containers to cut down on costs. Plastic tubs (from yogurt, margarine, cottage cheese, etc.) and small glass bottles can be re-used. Be careful about heating plastic though, and hand-wash rather than put your plastics in the dishwasher to reduce the possibility of leaching of BPA, phthalates or other nasties.

When making litterless lunch kit purchases consider the following:

  • Will you have access to appliances to refrigerate or heat your food? Do you need it to be freezer, oven and/or microwave safe? How will you be washing your containers? Most schools do not provide refrigerators, ovens or microwaves for student use.
  • How food-safe its the material? BPA and phthalates are only some of the concerns here; keep yourself informed. If you will be heating your food, choose your containers appropriately.
  • How easy is it to maintain? If you can easily wash it for the next day, it will get used, if not, there's little point! We've had some insulated lunch bags self-destruct when machine-washed.
  • How much does it cost? We all lose things every now and then!
  • How user-friendly is it? Will the foods you eat fit well with the containers you choose?
  • How well do the pieces work together? Do the lids work with other bottoms? Does it all fit into your larger bag or box?
  • Does the user prefer hot lunches? If so, an easily washed insulated thermos is a must.
Also be sure to label your belongings so if they are lost, you have a chance at seeing them again.
Check out this link for more container ideas (not just for lunches!).

School Lunches

School lunches provide additional challenges. Students will need a way to keep their lunches cool to avoid food spoilage. This means you will need an insulated lunch bag and a reusable ice pack. In my experience, freezing water or juice often doesn't work. Usually the beverage does not fully thaw in time for lunch. If you do this, be sure that the container you use is designed for such use, or it could rupture when frozen and make quite a mess as it thaws.

More and more schools are adopting a "peanut-free" policy, or even a "nut-free" policy. You will need to decide on food items accordingly. In some areas, allergic kids may be sent to specific schools in order to both manage the environment better and also allow non-allergic kids more freedom. Many parents who can't send peanut butter feel forced to send luncheon meat with their kids to ensure they get a source of protein. Cold cuts tend to have many ingredients that are unhealthy, especially for growing kids. There are many sources of protein besides meat and peanuts (eggs, cheese, yogurt, a mixture of grains, seeds, beans, etc.). Check out some of the recipes in the index on the left of this page for ideas.

Nutrition First

With the amount of junk food being pedalled to families and especially kids, it can be hard to ensure your child gets healthy food during the day. It is still not unheard of for schools to have soft drink vending machines and hot dog days. Processed foods, corn syrup (aka "fructose-glucose"), hydrogenated oils, white flour, and many more items fill the ingredient lists of "convenience" lunch foods. Granola bars and cereal bars are among many items that pretend to be healthy. A quick read through an ingredient list (with your kids) is well advised.
Lunches don't need desserts. If your child's peers eat a lunchtime dessert, consider sending fruit, yogurt or homemade muffins as a substitute. If you send dried fruit, ask your child to eat that first so the sticky residue has a chance to wear off teeth as they eat the rest of their food.
Since the pressure to eat junk remains high, you may find it helpful to take your kids along when shopping to discover their own preferences and discuss what is acceptable. Occasional tastes of unhealthy items aren't so bad, but eating them on a regular basis is not a good idea. Allowing kids to play an active role in their food choices is one way to minimize waste and to help battle the junk food craze.
If your child enjoys applesauce, yogurt or other similar food, purchase a large container and decant into smaller lunch-sized ones. This saves both money and packaging.
Don't forget that your child can bring along a hot lunch in an insulated thermos. Soups, casseroles, chili, pasta etc. can all be kept hot for several hours this way.
It's easy to get into a lunchtime rut! I've included ideas and recipes for our favourite "take along" snacks and lunches, as well as casseroles and salads that lend themselves to "leftover lunches". Check out the links on the left for some new ideas.

Workplace Lunches

Most workplaces offer a refrigerator and microwave, and this section will assume you have access to those things. If not, see "school lunches" above.
An easy way to ensure you have a good, healthy and easy to pack and prepare lunch is to plan ahead. When you make a casserole, lasagne, etc., make extra portions and freeze them in lunch-sized portions. Simply move them to the refrigerator the night before, store in the refrigerator at work (or with freezer pack in an insulated lunch container) then heat and eat.
These recipes: barley casserole, vegetarian chili, baked beans and Mom's mac and cheese especially lend themselves to lunches.
Leftovers are also a good way to go. Be sure to follow food safety guidelines when handling your leftovers.

Consider bringing along a salad, such as a greek salad, tossed salad, potato, pasta, or lentil salad or create your own salad masterpeice. Combine various greens, chopped fresh vegetables, cheeses, seeds, sprouts, olives, pickles, sundried tomatoes, nuts, fresh berries and other fruit, etc. Bring along a small bottle of your favourite dressing and enjoy. Be sure to refrigerate your salad throughout the morning to keep it fresh.

Tip: Remember to remove your food items from the refrigeration at the end of each week and also if you will be away for more than a day.
Label the items you place in the refrigerator so you will know which is yours if others share your preferences.

Some employers offer food plans. One employer I know uses a caterer who uses only reusable packaging, and food from local sources. Employees may order for specific days, or on an ongoing basis. If you are an employer, you may wish to consider such an option. A well-fed workforce stays focused.

Food Safety

I can take no responsibility for the way you handle your food, but try these links for some safe food handling guidelines:
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Food Safety Basics

Grab-n-Go Veggies

Keep a stash of fresh vegetables ready to go. To make things easier, purchase vegetables that require little cutting, such as baby carrots, snow peas, green and wax beans, grape tomatoes and fresh mushrooms. Broccoli and cauliflower also keep well once cut. Cut them up ahead and store them in your refrigerator (except for the tomatoes, which should never be refrigerated) for up to 4-5 days so you can just grab a scoop and fill a container, or pre-pack them into lunch-sized helpings. Consider adding a few olives or chunks of fresh fruit and berries to your veggies as well.
You can also make a dip for these, such as our cheesy vegetable dip and hummus and pre-package this as well.

Fresh Fruit

Fruit is the ultimate in easy lunch food. Much of it even comes in its own biodegradable wrapping. Keep on hand a selection of locally grown seasonal fruit whenever possible. If your school or workplace doesn't compost, be prepared to bring home the skins and cores to compost yourself.
Fruit salads keep fairly well throughout the day. To keep cut fruit from browning, sprinkle with a 1:1 mixture of water and lemon juice. Choose fruits that you enjoy, and consider mixing in a few veggies now and then. In the winter months, use some dried fruit along with the fresh. Don't be shy about adding seeds, nuts (if permitted), and chunks of cheese to your salad. Or pack along some spinach or romaine leaves and make it a California-style salad.
Canned peaches and/or pineapple go nicely with cottage cheese during winter months when local fruit is out of season. Fruit leather and dried fruit make great candy subsitutes and fill the gap when fresh local fruit is scarce. Check out our recipes for drying fruit and fruit leather recipes.

Deluxe Cheese and Crackers

Cheese and crackers form the basis for many commercially pre-packed lunches. You can do the same, for less money, less waste and with better ingredients.
To package a cheese and cracker kit, we like to use a divided container. You can also use a "bento box" style setup, or simply use a different container for each item.
The crackers you choose will depend on your taste preferences. Be sure to read the ingredient lists as you shop, and avoid white flours (aka "enriched wheat flour") and shortenings, lard, hydrogenated oils and especially partially hydrogenated oils. Choose a variety of types to make your lunch more interesting.
Cheeses come in many forms. Look for a variety of types and try and avoid excess packaging. You can save money and packaging by slicing and/or grating your own cheese. Prepare a few days worth and store it in a sealed container so it will be ready to go when you need it.
Don't limit yourself: consider adding spreads such as salsa, hummus, tzaziki, baba ganoush, guacamole, or tapinades, as well as olives, sundried tomatoes, cucumber slices, sprouts, etc. to your cracker kit.

Pizza to Go

Leftover pizza makes a great lunch, or try pita pizzas.
On a whole grain pita, spread your choice of sauce, or bring your sauce separately and add it during your lunch. We prefer to use tomato paste with a little basil sprinkled on top, but you can also use any tomato sauce, pesto, barbeque sauce, etc.
If you will be able to heat this before eating, add grated cheese and your choice of toppings to the pita. If not, use a sectioned container to store the toppings. If you will not be able to heat the pizza, it is best to avoid using meat for toppings.
Some toppings to consider (from most to least conventional):

  • mushrooms
  • green pepper
  • sundried tomatoes
  • olives
  • pineapple tidbits
  • baby spinach leaves
  • broccoli
  • zucchini (raw slices or roasted)
  • roasted garlic
  • asparagus tips
  • pumpkin seeds (raw)
  • raisins and other dried fruit
Unheated: sprinkle on the toppings at lunch time, then roll the pita, toppings inward, to help hold the toppings on. Eat this as a rolled sandwich--kind of like a panzerotti (well, sort of!). Alternatively, if you have pitas with pockets, just pour your toppings inside and eat.
Heated: You can add all of your toppings at home, then broil or microwave just long enough to melt the cheese. Eat as you would any other pizza.

Roll It

If you make your own or have access to good tortillas or pitas, this may soon become your favourite lunch option. "Pita Pit" and "Pita Factory" have helped provide healthy fast food alternatives that are easy to copy yourself.
Simply choose a variety of veggies, salads, or other fillings (see below for some more ideas), add a spread, sauce or dressing or two, roll it all up and enjoy. This is a great way to eat salads and also leftovers without the need for cutlery. It also packs well.

Stuff It

From sandwich pitas to celery sticks, there are many foods that lend themselves well to stuffing. This can make food easier to pack and carry. Try some of our fillings below, or use your own ideas to fill any of the following items: small sweet peppers, seeded; celery sticks (try ants on a log for kid appeal), tomatoes, egg roll wraps, mammoth olives, whole-grain hot dog buns, and large-leafed greens.
If you like to bake, consider making turnover-style items, in which you add a filling before baking. For a pizza bite, spread your dough with tomato sauce, cheese and a topping or two then press closed around the edges and bake. Refrigetate, then reheat at your workplace. Try your own variations based on your personal tastes. Make your own dough or buy a commercial one.


Egg Salad

Before taking along any mayonnaise-based salads, be sure to check your refrigeration to ensure your food remains safe. If you use a freezer pack in an insulated bag, you are likely safe if your experience tells you the pack remains frozen well after your normal meal time. To be extra safe, add an extra freezer pack.
Basic egg salad:
5 eggs, hard-boiled, cooled, peeled, rinsed and chopped
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
plain yogurt, enough to bring the mixture to desired consistency
1/2 teaspoon honey-dijon mustard, or similar
3 Tablespoons chopped green or sweet onion
optional: 3 Tablespoons finely chopped celery
optional: a few drops of worcestershire sauce
Paprika, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, mixing well and adjusting ingredients to taste, Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Apple Pie Sandwiches

Soy Butter and Banana

This is a great substitute for peanut butter in places where peanuts are banned, but you may need to do some explaining before it is allowed as soy butter looks remarkably like peanut butter. To add to the problem, one brand label calls it "soynut butter", possibly in a misguided effort to show the similarity of the product. Soy is a bean, not a nut, but it may take a bit to convince the powers that be of this fact! Soy butter can be found in the health food section of most larger grocery stores. Be sure to look for an organic brand for this or any soy product.
Sandwiches are perhaps the easiest way to pack fresh bananas. Spread a slice of bread with soynut butter, then arrange sliced bananas evenly over top and top with another slice of bread. Cut into desired shapes (for young kids, try using cookie cutters to make interesting sandwich shapes).
Of course, you can always serve your soybutter with jam as well!


a ripe avacado, or 1 small bunch of steamed asparagus
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon salsa
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 small clove garlic, crushed or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)

Wash the avacado and cut in half, separating at the pit. Use a spoon to scrape the pulp into a bowl and mash it. If you are using asparagus, chop and mash it. Add the lemon and mash it more, then add the remaining ingredients. Stir until smooth. Kids who like guacamole may enjoy tormenting their peers with its strange green appearance.

Mexican Mush

"Mexican mush" refers to the desire in our house to mix Mexican-styled dips and ingredients. Possible ingredients include:
plain yogurt or sour cream
refried beans
grated cheese
sweet peppers
jalapeno peppers
grated carrots
grated cheese

Combine ingredients, or layer as desired.


1 can chick peas (aka garbanzo beans), drained, or equivalent dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked until soft
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, lightly roasted (you can cheat and microwave them on medium for ~30 seconds)
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1-2 drops hot pepper sauce

Add beans, juice and oil to a blender and blend until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Sundried Tomato Hummus: soak 6 slices of chopped sundried tomatoes in the olive oil overnight and add to mixture.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: Slice a sweet red pepper and brush with olive oil. Broil until slightly softened then add to above hummus recipe and omit the pepper sauce.


Use these alone, or add a favourite sauce, spread, dressing or dip. Veggies that travel well as sandwich, wrap and pita fillings include: grape tomatoes (slice once to keep from rolling), sliced tomatoes, lettuces, leafy greens, sliced cucumbers, grated carrots, grated beets, pickled beets, sweet pepper slices, celery, chopped sweet, red or green onion, sprouts, radish slices, mushrooms, zucchini slices and sticks, broccoli, cauliflower, grilled zucchini, grilled eggplant, grilled sweet peppers, and snow peas.
Depending where you live, there may be additional local veggies available that also lend themselves to lunches. Also consider mixing fruits and veggies for added interest. It is worth a trip to your local farmer's market to see what is available. Local produce picked within 24 hours is fresher and often more nutritious than produce that has travelled far.

Odds and Ends to Add

More easy-travel food items to add to your lunch:

    boiled eggs
    cereal snack mix
    bagel and creamed cheese
    fruit and cottage cheese
    fruit and yogurt
    homemade muffins
    trail mix (replacing nuts with seeds if necessary)
    pickles and olives
    cheddar cheese
    whole-grain breadsticks
    whole-grain pretzels