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Pack Your Own Lunch Box

It's cheaper and healthier

box lunch, sandwich and a pear in brown bag

Pack a nutritious lunch with leftovers, like this chicken sandwich. — Photo by: StockFood/Getty Images

Lunch boxes aren't just for the K-12 set anymore. Packing your own lunch for work, a hike or a day at an art class provides an ideal method to use up leftovers, conserve finances and stick to dietary goals.

See also: Cobblers, crumbles and crisps, oh my!

You can get more creative than packing a turkey sandwich or a Tupperware of cold pasta. Take inspiration from the bento boxes of Japanese cuisine, or bring a thermos of homemade soup. Even old standbys like peanut butter or tuna salad sandwiches take on new life when dressed up with unexpected ingredients like marmalade or pickled ginger. Explore and experiment. Packing quick, easy and nutritious lunches is well worth the minimal effort.

Be sure to stay aware of these safety tips when packing lunches:

  • Keep foods cold! Perishable foods including meat, fish, poultry, cooked vegetables and beans, rice, cheese, yogurt, tofu and eggs should be kept chilled.
  • Foods that can safely be stored at room temperature for 4-6 hours include nuts, peanut butter, bread, jam, honey, butter, dry cereals, raw whole fruits and vegetables and dry or hard cheeses.
  •  If you can't keep your lunch refrigerated, be sure to include frozen gel packs in an insulated lunch container.
  • Keep hot items, like soup, separate from cold items, and use insulated containers to make sure temperatures are where you want them to be!
  •  Avoid mayonnaise, which spoils quickly (besides, it's high in fat.) Try less perishable condiments like mustard instead.
  • Freezing beverages will help to keep other items cool.
  • Don't reuse plastic baggies or other packaging that may cause cross-contamination.
  • Cooked meats that will be used in sandwiches should be cooled immediately after being cooked and kept refrigerated until you're ready to assemble the sandwiches.
  •  Use cured meats like salami and ham.

Black Bean Soup by Christopher Idone: This inexpensive soup can be packed, boiling, in an insulated thermos; it will still be warm by lunchtime.

Tuna Fish Salad Sandwich With Scallion and Pickled Ginger by David Ricketts: Using eggless soy-based mayonnaise makes this grown-up version of the beloved classic a safer choice for a packed lunch.

Asian Chicken Wrap by Ellie Krieger: The scrumptious sauce on this wrap is the perfect balance of sweet, spicy, creamy and savory. Make sure to keep it chilled!

Rocco's How Low Can You Go Low-Fat Marinara Sauce by Rocco DiSpirito: Try this on everything from penne to chicken parm, in chili or vegetarian lasagna.

Deluxe Peanut Butter Sandwiches by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Brigitte Hafner: This twist on the old standby employs orange marmalade and banana on whole wheat toast.

Roast Beef, Roasted Red Pepper and Onion Wraps by Joe Piscatella: These easy-to-make wraps employ the classic flavor combo of roast beef, sweet onion, red pepper and horseradish.

Chocolate-Wrapped Ginger Biscotti by Barbara Selley: These pretty cookies are sturdy enough to transport well, so make a whole batch to share with the office!

Next: Pack and Asian-style Bento lunch box. >>

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