This is going to be a long post so get ready for some yummy recipes and the review of this amazing lunch box. Some links are affiliate links but your price is the same but the site makes a few pennies if you purchase using the links. PlanetBox made these lunch menus possible by providing me with a set for me to review.
If you are like me, leftover is your best friend when it comes to lunch. Who has time to cook lunch before leaving for work in the morning? Or if you work at home, do you stop everything and cook in the middle of the day for lunch? I don't. Hence, leftover is my favorite option for lunch.
But leftover doesn't have to be a mushy pasta or a dry roast beef sandwich. With a little bit of planning, you can have fresh and delicious new-ish lunch that will make your co-workers think you slaved over the stove at crack of dawn. So make extra for dinner and save some for lunch the next day. So in essence, the recipes below are perfect for dinners too!
Before you read these lunch packing tips, make sure to read food safety tips for packing lunch. You don't want to waste your lunch because you didn't take extra precautions. That would ruin my day.
How to Pack Lunch
- Don't overpack. Pack sensibly. Overeating at lunch will make you sluggish and you'll wonder why you're getting the "3 o'clock slump."
- What do pack. The ratio of food groups for lunch should be: 2 part protein, 1 part carb, 1 part fiber. And pack fruit as dessert. Green salad alone doesn't make a good lunch option since it won't keep you full. If you get hungry, you'll probably reach for something sweet, which will give you a quick energy but empty calories. Instead, pack protein-rich foods with that green salad and don't 'crash' when you need to be productive.
- Plan ahead. If you are having pasta for dinner, take a portion out when it's al dente - even harder than al dente - rinse in cold water and drain well. Refrigerate immediately. When packing for lunch the next day, put pasta and sauce in separate containers and reheat them together for lunch.
- Roast meat for the week. Using roasted meats for lunch is so much healthier and cheaper. Roast a chicken, turkey breast, beef, and even steak for the week's lunch. Meats tend to dry out or get 'well done' when you reheat so roast beef as "medium-rare" so when you reheat, it'll be cooked to your taste. On the other hand, poultry needs to be cooked thoroughly so use a meat thermometer when roasting a chicken or turkey and make sure the internal temperature is 165 °F before storing it. Cover poultry when reheating so it'll stay moist. Check out these chicken safety tips.
- Fermented and pickled veggies make perfect side dishes. They are full of probiotics - great for gut health - and adds so much flavor to a meal. So pack at least one fermented or pickled veggie with your lunch.
- Healthy liquids can add more nutrition to lunch so pack hot bone broths in thermos (Affil) or homemade kombucha in insulated water bottles. Why waste an opportunity to add more fuel to your body?
What to Pack Lunch In
I prefer stainless steel containers like PlanetBox for transporting food. Glass containers are heavy and can break. Plastic containers leach chemicals into food and you shouldn't microwave your food in plastic for the same reason. And while it is lighter, the surface can get scratched up and it can chip or break. It also doesn't insulate well. I actually created an infographic, comparing these three materials here. I prefer durable and yet light stainless steel for packing lunch.
At first, I thought PlanetBox was a little cumbersome since the lid is attached to the bottom and the whole thing seemed a little bit too big and clunky. But I started to like having all the food in separate compartments in an "All-In-One" container. It reduces having to use so many containers and keeping track of all the lids. (Oh the lids!!!!!!)
PlanetBox is made of high quality food grade stainless steel and the lid locks tightly to keep the food from leaking or co-mingling. See the picture above on the lower left corner? That's after I packed it and carried it in the case. Of course, I wouldn't put stews or watery sauces in it. Instead, I can use the small container with a lid that came with the box for sauces and thermos for soups and stews. The little container is perfect for dry snacks too! Currently, I'm storing herbs in it since it has a tight fitting silicone lined lid.
PlanetBox fits in the insulated bag nicely and if you want to, you can slide a small ice pack to keep food cold until you can store it in a refrigerator at work. Clean up is easy since it's dishwasher safe. What a life saver!
I highly recommend PlanetBox as it really makes packing lunch so much simpler in the morning. This "Launch" version is perfect for adult size meals but check out the variety of sizes for kids of all ages. I'm sure you'll find one that works best for your family. I'm not making a penny for saying this, by the way. I just love their lunchbox concept.
Now here are the recipes and menus for delicious and fresh lunches for a month or longer!
20+ Packable Lunch Menus
1. Flank Beef Strips in Korean BBQ Sauce
-- served with Seaweed salad and White Rice. You can substitute rice with cauliflower rice if you are avoiding grains.
Flank Beef Strips with Shiitake Mushrooms in Korean BBQ Sauce
- 1 lb of Flank Steak cut in strips across the grain
- 1 c of Shiitake Mushrooms Quartered
- 1 med onion quartered and sliced
- 3 cloves garlic coarsely minced
- 1 tablespoon Molasses or Honey
- 2 tablespoon White Wine
- 1 tablespoon tamari
- 1 tablespoon Avocado Oil
- 1 teaspoon Sesame Oil - divided
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds to garnish
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped scallions to garnish
- In a medium size bowl, mix garlic, molasses or honey, white wine and tamari.
- Add the meat and onions. Coat them well with hand.
- Add shiitake mushrooms, mix well, and pat everything down and cover.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or longer, preferably overnight.
- Heat frying pan on medium to high heat and add avocado oil.
- Add half of the meat and veggies until onions are limp and meat is cooked but don't overcook. This should take 5 minutes
- Add ½ teaspoon sesame oil and mix well.
- Take out the meat to a bowl or platter and cook the remaining half.
- Garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds before serving.
- Serve immediately.
2. Gimbap or California Roll
-- served with Kimchi, Cucumber Salad and Avocados.
Gimbap - Gim = Nori and Bap = rice - is made with Nori on the outside and rolled with white rice, meat and/or veggies inside. Cut veggies like carrots, cucumber, pickle, kimchi, or spinach in strips and refrigerate them until needed. You can make gimbap the night before and refrigerate. Or if you are adventurous, you can prepare all the ingredients the night before and roll them up in the morning for fresher sushi. Refrigerating Gimbap or sushi rolls can make the rice harder. See my instruction on how to make California Roll and use the similar method for making Gimbap. Just leave the Nori on the outside.
One note: I usually like to saute carrots and spinach very briefly or until limp in salt, black pepper, and garlic powder when using them in Gimbap.
From top: First row are meat, kimchi, eggs, cucumber and carrots; second row are all vegetables; third row are vegetables and meat; last row are vegetables and eggs.
--Sauerkraut, steamed Sugar Snaps, and apple slices.
Japchae is made with sweet potato noodles and it holds up really well as lunch. You can make it with any veggies or meat so it's very versatile. It's a perfect grain-free noodle dish.
4. Quinoa with Summer Squash and Shiitake
--served with pickles and grapes.
Quinoa is rich in protein and keeps you full without being too heavy. It cooks in less than 15 minutes and good cold or hot so it makes a perfect lunch. Cook Quinoa in water for about 15 minutes or until you see little curly tails emerge. Then, add veggies of your choice and saute in a hot skillet with heaps of butter or avocado oil. You don't even need a real recipe since you can add any veggies you want. I had a summer squash from the garden so I used it in this recipe. I also had leftover shiitake mushrooms from the Beef Strip dish above but you can add anything you want, really. Add salt and pepper to taste and you're good to go!
5. Sausage and Peppers
--farmers market olives and leftover Quinoa from above
I get it. You don't have time to make everything. Or the know-how. It's ok to use food from your favorite store when you know what ingredients are used. I buy olives without preservatives from my farmers market. I know they don't use citric acid or canola oil so they are much cleaner than the ones from the store. I buy sausages from my local Italian "Pork Store". I love their pork sausages with broccoli rabe and I make Sausage and Peppers occasionally with them. We used to make a huge Sausage and Peppers Hoagie but since we don't eat bread anymore, I cut the sausages in small pieces and saute them in peppers and onions with Italian Seasoning and eat them without bread. And the leftover makes a perfect lunch!
Here are more lunch ideas for the rest of the month!
6. Salmon Cake
7. Lobster Salad with homemade mayo
8. Cauliflower Wings (vegetarian)
9. Gyoza Bites (Paleo)
10. Creamy Quinoa Casserole (vegetarian)
11. Build your own burrito bowl (Vegetarian)
12. Paleo Takeout Burrito Bowl (Recipe at the bottom of the post)
13. Chicken or Turkey Pot Pie
14. White Chili (Use one of these Thermos) (Amazon Affiliate)
15. Kalbi - Korean BBQ Shortribs
16. Pajun - Korean Scallion Pancakes
17. Fried Rice - you can use cauliflower rice if avoiding grains
18. Veggie Burger
19. Crustless Quiche - (Paleo breakfast for lunch!)
20. Beet, Caramelized Onions and Walnut Sandwich - if not eating bread, you can use the ingredients with Quinoa salad.
PLUS one more as promised!
+++ Acorn Squash topped with Wild Rice - now is the perfect time of the year to make this for dinner and save one for lunch!
Annnnnd ....some more From my foodie friends...
6 Lunch Ideas even kids will love (The Organic Kitchen)
100+ Real Food Lunchbox Ideas (Recipes to Nourish)
School Lunch Ideas (Raising Generation Nourished) *even though these are geared towards kids, some are great for adult too!