Back To School – Brown Baggin’ It

Ah, the day after Labour Day. School is back in session across the country. Everyone has their new school clothes, new school supplies, and hopefully a fridge full of groceries to pack healthy school lunches. Whether you are starting off in kindergarten, in your final year of high school, or working on your second degree at university, it’s a special day for everyone.

Bringing my own lunch to school has been something I’ve done since those first days of kindergarten, and it has carried through with me into the work world, and now onto university again. The suburban school system I was brought up in did not have school lunches or cafeterias until we were in junior high school, so it was second nature before I was even exposed to the wonders of the school cafeteria (French Fry Friday? Hello!) My parents weren’t about to give us money to buy lunch either – it was definitely cheaper to make something at home, especially since we had all that good food already there. If I wanted anything, I was going to have to break into that hard earned allowance, and let’s be honest – the cafeteria food just wasn’t worth it that often. Although I would be a liar if I said I never ate there. It just wasn’t a regular occurrence.

University was the same thing, as was working. I just couldn’t fathom how people could afford to eat out for lunch every day! Back in my old office, I would often go for walks with everyone as they went to buy their lunch, even if I wasn’t buying anything, simply to be social and get outside.

Now I find myself heading out to university again, working on a student budget, so packing lunch is important. Especially when you factor in my extended commute time, I find myself with less time to prepare my lunches, as well as worrying about what I can take that will last for many hours until I actually eat it. I thought it would be good to pass on some back to school lunch packing tips for everyone, even those out in the working world who might be looking to save some money or eat a little healthier this year.

 

1. Get containers.

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Get yourself a variety of reusable containers. You want different shapes and sizes. What fits a sandwich may not work for a salad. Small ones are great for things like dips, dressings, nuts, or dried fruit. I have a lot of well used Ziploc containers, but you may want to invest in something sturdier or non-plastic.

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Also consider getting some insulated containers (such as these Thermos food jars). They are great for keeping cold things cold and hot things hot when you have no access to heating or cooling equipment for long periods of time. You know, say if you have a 1.5 hour commute to school and don’t eat lunch for another 3 hours? Welcome to my world. I love that this allows me to take soups and stews that are nice and hot on a cold rainy day. Also great for a yogurt parfait.

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And don’t forget your beverages. I don’t go anywhere without my Klean Kanteen for water, and a travel mug is great if you need that morning coffee or tea. Something new I’ve picked up is the Libre Tea Glass – it’s glass on the inside, and polycarbonate on the outside, with a small filter for loose leaf teas. I’m looking forward to trying this out on the first cold morning!

You may also want to consider an insulated lunch bag. I don’t use one, because it wouldn’t really fit in my backpack with all my books and laptop, and I hate carrying multiple bags with me on transit – I’m paranoid I’m going to leave something behind!

 

2. Stock your cupboards, fridge, and freezer.

If you have a well stocked kitchen, you’ll be able to create quick lunches to go every day. Fruits, veggies, yogurt, cheese, crackers, nuts, seeds, bars (like Larabars or Kind bars), meats, breads, dips (like hummus, guacamole, and salsa)…the list is endless. If you like to eat it, have it on hand. Anything can make a satisfying lunch.

 

3. Come up with some meals.

Now that you have the containers, and a kitchen full of ingredients, it’s time to put together some lunches! Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Leftovers from last night’s supper are easy to grab and go, especially if you pack them up the night before. Leftover stir fry or curry makes a great wrap filler.
  • Make big batches of soups (say, Grandpa’s Doukhobor Borscht or Stuffed Squash Soup?) and freeze them in individual portions (ziploc bags work great).
  • Sandwiches are always easy to make with whatever you have on hand. One of my favourite that requires no refrigeration is a hummus, avocado, and cheese sandwich on Silver Hills sprouted grain bread. Also consider pitas and tortillas instead of bread to mix things up.

  • You know those pre-packaged lunch kits, with the meat, cheese, and crackers, where you don’t know how long it’s been in there or how to pronounce half the ingredients? Why not pack your own up? Grab some cheese, whole grain crackers or pita wedges, hummus or guacamole, turkey pepperoni and veggies, throw in a piece of fruit, and you have yourself a great snacking lunch to go.
  • Everyone loves breakfast for dinner sometimes, so why not for lunch? I’ve taken leftover pancakes spread with nut butter (folded in half – I call them pancake tacos), or fill a thermos with low-fat yogurt, fruit, and nut butter, take a little container of granola, and build a yogurt parfait.
  • Salads are easy to make, even the night before. Just put your dressing in a separate container and wait until eating to add it.
  • Don’t forget snacks! Why not do some baking on the weekend, and eat it up throughout the week. May I suggest some Hungry Hiker Muffins or Banana Zucchini Oat Squares?

There really is no reason to not pack a healthy lunch almost every day of the year, is there? That is my goal for the upcoming school year – to avoid making meal or snack purchases on campus as much as possible. Yes, that even includes my beloved green tea latte from Starbucks – they aren’t exactly student budget friendly. I’m not saying I’ll never purchase any food on campus, because let’s be honest, that probably isn’t exactly feesable…say, when you sleep in really late and don’t even have time to grab breakfast? Not that I’ve ever done that. But sometimes I get stuck on campus past dinner time, and if I were to pack a dinner too, there would be no way to keep that fresh and tasty for 12+ hours.

  

Need some more school (or work) lunch inspiration? Check out this great eCookbook, compiled by Alisa at One Frugal Foodie:

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Smart School Time Recipes is a collection of 125 recipes from 52 bloggers, including yours truly! There is something for everyone in here, as well as tips on packing healthy lunches. Best of all – it’s free! So you really have no reason not to download it. 

And while we’re on the back to school theme, please head on over to What’s For Dinner?, where Mara is raising funds for her friend’s organization – A to Z Literacy Movement. The organization raised funds to send books to children in Zambia. Mara is donating all blog proceeds for the month of September to the organization, so please click on over to help out. If you would also like to donate to the organization, she has instructions on how to do so here – as well as a giveaway for a prize pack for those who donate.

Just when you thought I was done with the shout outs, I have one more, because it’s still school related. My favourite hockey lovin’ Texan Chocolate Covered Katie is giving away a whole whack of the new Larabar flavours. Larabars are a great grab and go snack to throw in your lunch bag, especially when you haven’t had time to do some baking, so winning those would make for some yummy lunches.

I hope everyone has a great first day at school!

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5 Comments on “Back To School – Brown Baggin’ It”

  1. September 7, 2010 at 5:05 am #

    oh man i definitely have those exact same little plastic containers. they’re so handy! yet somehow i always end up losing them.

    very creative post. and very creative lunches!

  2. September 7, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    No school I ever went to had a cafeteria! How sad is that? Not that my parents were about to give us money, either. To this day I pack my lunch and the kids, too. They get pizza day and hotdog day once a month and that is their treat….and the $$ gets put back into the school.

  3. September 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    I’ve always admired your packed meals–you’ve become quite the expert!

  4. September 7, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    This was such a great post!

    I may no longer be in school but if you want to lose of maintain weight you totally have to pack a lunch. It’s the onlyw ay youc an really control what you’re eating. Besides, most of the time it’s just yummier.

    But yes, it definitely requires some organization!

  5. September 14, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Great ideas! If you’d like to have nutrition info to go along with your posts, check out our spot on our site that gives you access to our database to calculate nutrition for your recipes. You can let us calculate for you or calculate your own – either way we’ll generate a nutrition badge that you can put on your site. Also, if you have some fun ideas (and I see you have many), we’d love to have you share them on lunchtaker.com. As part of your item, we’d link back to your blog. Here’s the direct link to the nutrition info: http://www.lunchtaker.com/nutrition.php

    🙂 Amy

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