12 Healthy Brown Bag Lunch Foods for the Fridgeless Workplace

Photo: hectorir

You’ve likely found that bringing a lunch far exceeds dining out (in the savings arena, anyway.) While the practice is a noble one, it can also be tempting to abandon from time to time — especially when the brown bag lunch can get monotonous. Add in the fact that many work environments have no place to practically store a cold lunch, and it may not be long before you give up entirely. Before you ditch your commitment to saving cash by packing your own, check out this generous list of lunch components that can stay fresh at room temp! (See also: 25 Quick, Cheap Lunch Ideas)

1. Nut Butters

Peanut butter doesn’t need to be cold, and with the wide assortment of nut butters available, you can now choose from a sun or almond butter to stash away for lunch. Buy pre-portioned, individual containers, or scoop a little in a tiny Tupperware for easy dipping and spreading.

2. Jerky

Not all jerkies are alike. Opt for a low-sodium, low fat, and all-natural turkey jerky for a protein pick-me-up that can stay fresh for (literally) years and won’t add unnecessary MSG to your diet.

3. Coconut

By tossing small bag of unsweetened, shredded coconut into your lunch sack, you’re prepped for a filling snack that won’t spike your blood sugar.

4. Dried Fruit

Packed with antioxidants and a satisfying substitution for candy, dried fruits can help round out any sack lunch. Look for unsweetened cranberries, raisins, or blueberries for a variety of flavors without the added calories. (And be sure to follow the serving size recommendations. Too many can really mess up your calorie counting!)

5. Chicken and Tuna

You can mess with the hassle of draining juice from a can, or just pack a “pouch” for easy operation. Bring your own bread and a single-serve mayo packet for instant tuna or chicken-salad sandwiches!

6. Hard Cheeses

Many cultures eat all of their cheeses at room temperature, but it is recommended that only harder cheeses be eaten when left out for over four hours. This includes Cheddar, Colby, Gouda, and Swiss. Don’t save cheese that isn’t eaten during your work day (eight or more hours.)

7. Whole Fruits and Veggies

Once you cut into that apple, browning will begin immediately. (While it won’t hurt you, no one really wants to eat brown apples.) Store whole produce (like bananas, apples, oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and melon) uncut and away from direct heat until you are ready to eat. Most will last much more than a day, depending on their ripeness.

8. Granola

Packaged granola bars aren’t usually the healthiest; they can be overloaded with sugar. Make your own granola for even more savings.

9. Yogurt

When eaten within four to six hours, yogurt is safe to be left at room temperature. (The active cultures help make it a good candidate for fridge-less storage.)

10. Oatmeal

Instant oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast! Keep a box of packets in your drawer, and use the hot water spout from your office coffee-maker to whip up a super-quick lunch! Add some of those dried blueberries you brought for a fresh flavor.

11. PB&J

This old standby has inspired almost a dozen variations, many of which can be kept at the desk through lunch.

13. Canned Goods

While not always the tastiest, I still recommend leaving a few of your favorite low fat and low-sodium canned soups, fruits, or veggies in your desk drawer at work. They can be your “back up” plan if you forget to pack a lunch.

Not in the Mood to Fend for Yourself?

Skip packing your own, and go with a commercial shelf-stable kit. While not always the most frugal, there are several brands of yummy, prepackaged lunches that can stay in your desk drawer until you’re ready to eat. GoPicnic, for example, offers a selection of lunches with salami, cheeses, crackers, nut butters, and dried fruits. If you buy them on sale, they easily rival the cost to eat out.

And remember, you can still go old school with a thermos of hot food, or an ice pack kept inside your insulated lunch box for items that need to be chilled!

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Guest's picture

Great read!!! I sometimes bring fruits to work because they are mess free!!

Guest's picture

You can pack anything in a sack. Use a frozen drink as your ice pack. By lunch time, the drink will be ready to drink, and your food kept cold.

Guest's picture

These are excellent suggestions for my kids. They do not want to carry a thermal lunch pack and I prefer to send them with lunch rather than spend a lot of money to buy junk food. I also get the yogurts in tubes and freeze it so it is still cold by the time they get to eat lunch. I found containers of apple sauce are good too. It is a healthier way to eat and saves big bucks over the course of a single school year.

Guest's picture

This article came right on time! I just started a seasonal job with UPS last week as a package handler and was looking for some food to take with me to munch on during the day. Great post!