Back to School Brown Bag Ideas

August 22, 2014 § 2 Comments


As much as I wish I could ignore this fact, summer is coming to an end. I just got my syllabi for my fall classes, and Labor Day is looming. Agh!


Whether or not you’re a student, I think the fall always feels like a new beginning. I’m using this coming weekend to stock my freezer full of lunch and dinner options I can bring to work and school, and figured I’d share some of my go-to brown bag lunch and dinner options (for my fellow evening students!) that are healthy, satisfying, and make the loss of summer just a little less painful.




Before we get into the recipes, a few notes on strategy. Yes, I have a strategy for my lunch and dinner packing, and yes, I recognize I’m a little crazy.

Figure out a meal template that you can use each day.

This template should include enough food to keep you going throughout your work day. With a template to rely on, it’s easier to plan and fill in the categories with new recipes you find. For me, my formula looks like:

  • Lunch: big salad + soup or leftovers + fruit + something sweet or crunchy
  • 3:00 pm-I’m-so-hungry-snack: protein + something sweet or crunchy
  • Dinner: big salad or hearty soup + a pocket (see below) or quiche + fruit

Make a packing list.

Before I pack up my meals for the next day, I write down everything that I need to bring. That way, I can be sure not to forget anything, and can separate the planning from the packing. Sometimes I make my list on my phone on my commute home (or, full disclosure, during class), so later on that night when I’m tired and dreading packing my lunch, I can go on auto-pilot and follow my list.

Keep staples at work.

I keep olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, hot sauce, these nuts (see something crunchy, above), and freeze dried fruit in my desk. I also keep a microwave-safe bowl and a fork, knife, and spoon in the office. I rinse them out in my work kitchen, and every once and a while bring them home and run them through the dishwasher.

Pack in bulk.

My go-to snack at work is Greek yogurt and freeze dried fruit, so I bring a big container of Greek yogurt on Monday and eat my way through it throughout the week.

Master the art of bringing a salad.

In case you can’t tell, salads are my goto. It might seem like a lot of work, but if you pack in bulk and figure out a formula, it’s easy! Here’s my salad-packing technique:

  • Pack greens separately in a large container that will be big enough to hold the rest of your salad ingredients once you add them at the office. I bring only enough greens for what I plan to eat the next day because I find they don’t stay fresh enough in my office mini-fridge. If I’m bringing a salad for lunch and dinner, I’ll pack the greens in two separate containers. This way, I can use the container as my salad vessel.
  • For ingredients that can hold up in the fridge, do all your chopping/prepping at the beginning of the week (slicing onions or dried fruit, roasting vegetables or tofu, draining a can of beans). So, if your salad has thinly sliced red onion, chop enough for as many salads as you think you’ll eat that week. Then, bring all that red onion with you to work on Monday, store it in the fridge, and dole it out into your bowl of greens when it’s lunch time.
  • For ingredients that won’t do well pre-sliced (tomatoes, avocados), bring enough to work on Monday to last you the week, but hold-off on prepping the amount you want to eat until lunch time.
  • Give up on salad dressing, and dress your salads with olive oil and the juice of a lemon. There’s no way to fully avoid salad dressing spillage, trust me, I’ve tried all options! Plus, it’s easier to just throw a lemon in your bag and keep a small bottle of olive oil at your desk, and it tastes delicious.

Get a good lunch box.

I have this one and absolutely love it, because it stretches to fit containers of all sizes and I can really stuff it!

Use your freezer.

I like to take a weekend day on occasion to make a big batch of soup, a quiche, or these pockets. It makes packing my meals easier, because I only have to make one item, like a salad, and the other part of my meal is ready to go.


And now, for the recipes!

To stock your freezer:


Zucchini Tarragon Soup

Split Pea Soup

Minestrone Soup

Lentil Soup

Tortilla Soup

Green Pea Soup (I’ve made this with frozen peas and it still came out delicious!)

Quiches & Tarts

Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust

Tomato, Corn, and Arugula Quiche

Zucchini Tomato Tart

Turnip Gallette

Kale Bites


Lentil, Sweet Potato, and Kale Pockets (I have also used this dough with the fillings for the recipes listed below)

Jamaican Veggie Patties

Greek Hand Pies

Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Zucchini Pockets

Freezer Burritos (could swap flour tortillas for whole wheat tortillas or a lavash)

Salads that Pack Well:

Lentils Folded into Yogurt & Spinach (I’ve successfully gotten my officemates and sister hooked on this one)

Kale Avocado Salad (You can mix this one up ahead of time, it only gets more delicious as the kale softens with the dressing)

Arugula and Italian Lettuces with Spicy Sweet Potatoes, Chickpeas, Dates, & Cashews (follow my salad packing tips above)

Quinoa, Apricot, & Arugula Salad (to bring to the office, just use lemon juice and olive oil for the dressing to simplify your life)

Kale, Cherry, & Cashew Salad (this salad started my love affair with cashews. Just like the kale avocado salad above, you can dress this one ahead of time, because the kale can take it!)

Go forth and pack lunch!

photo (5)

(Photos from vacation in the Vineyard, goodbye summer. And yes, I even mix up salads at the beach.)



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