If you’re anything like me, life is always on-the-go. That’s why we need lunches that are EASY and fast.
We, of course, don’t want food to be in the danger zone – bacteria grow quickly between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. We don’t want to leave food out at room temperature over 2 hours, but using an ice pack in your lunch can keep your food safe for ~5 hours.
Lunch Box Food Safety
We of course don’t want food to be in the danger zone – bacteria grow quickly between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. We don’t want to leave food out at room temperature over 2 hours, but using an ice pack in your lunch can keep your food safe for ~5 hours. You always have to make sure your lunch is safe to eat.
I generally recommend sticking with a low-carb approach for optimal nutrition and weight management. Strong research supports lower carb approaches for healthy, sustainable weight loss. Eating fewer carbs can: reduce appetite; aid in more weight loss (2 to 3 times as much in fact, compared to low-fat diets) – AND weight is typically lost around the abdomen, which is the most dangerous location of body fat; and lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides, and raise HDL (the good kind) and improve the pattern of LDL (the bad kind) cholesterol. In addition, many find eating fewer carbs: Improves mental clarity; reduces inflammation, decreases bloating, and improves skin complexion. You also want to keep the lid closed until lunchtime, to make sure it’s still safe to eat.
Ok back to no refrigeration lunches!
For lunches & dinners, I generally follow my “formula” – you might have seen this referred to as #thatformula on Instagram:
- 2 cups non-starchy vegetables (about 50 calories total)
- 1 “regular” serving of protein (about 150 calories total)
- 100-200 calories of fats
So many of the meals I’ll recommend below follow this low carb structure.
Foods That Require No Refrigeration
Let’s talk first generally about foods that don’t even need any refrigeration – I’ll go by food group instead of by food item in order to cover more foods.
Protein & Fats
- Nuts & seeds are the perfect food to keep in your lunch bag
- Nut butters – I love getting nut butter packets – you can buy them in 1-2 Tbsp amounts. Store bought packets are a great option, or you feel free to make your own.
- Baked cheese “crackers” – a relatively new food that I just love – all they’re made from is cheese so they’re a great low carb food. Store bought crackers are great – try the Trader Joe’s brand.
- Jerky is one of my all-time faves – so filling and lasts for months unopened
- Can of tuna – or a packet!
Fruits & Vegetables
- Veggie chips like beet chips and carrot chips are great. Most grocery stores carry these – ask the store clerk if you can’t find them.
- Try dried fruit like apricots, raisins, and apple rings
- Canned fruit like peaches or pineapples – try to get ones canned in their own juice (vs syrup).
- Also baby carrots, celery, and bell pepper slices last a while – but of course not as long as these other non-perishable foods.
- These are the easiest, long-lasting food to stock up on for your lunches. Think crackers, popcorn, pretzels, etc. Try to choose whole grains when you can.
Absolute-No Refrigeration Lunches
So here are some super easy lunches you can make with the above foods that you do NOT need to refrigerate. These are completely no-fridge-safe food choices.
Carrot Chips & Jerky
with 1/4 cup raisins, carrot chips, and a packet of jerky
Peaches & Crackers
Canned peaches, and 1 serving whole grain crackers with a 1 Tbsp peanut butter packet
Tuna & Beet Chips
Packet of tuna with beet chips and dried apple rings
No Fridge Lunches
Here are some super easy lunch ideas that can be kept at room temperature or kept in your lunch bags with an ice pack. Definitely the lunch bag + ice pack is preferable! These are good for a school lunch or any other type of lunch on the go.
Make a super-filling pasta salad with protein pasta (like chickpea, black bean, lentil pasta, or soba noodles), olives, green beans, feta, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, and some fresh basil if you have it. This is an amazing lunch for meal prepping and it’s also a great option for no fridge.
Try pita bread stuffed filled with lettuce, chickpeas, sunflower seeds (roasted & salted is fine!), red peppers (bell peppers), and tzatziki sauce. You can top it with red pepper flakes.
Wrap some turkey or ham deli meat around veggie slices and thin cheese strips like in the picture. You can get so creative with this!
Make a quick tabouli salad with quinoa, olive oil, feta, parsley, olives, and cherry or grape tomatoes. Another one of my faves for meal prepping.
PB Banana Roll Ups
Spread PB on a tortilla. Add a banana to one side, then roll it up. Slice it to make PB bites.
White Bean Salad
Mix white beans with arugula, vinaigrette dressing, feta, red onion slices, cucumber, parsley, and celery. Chickpea salad also works well here.
Peanut Butter Apples
I know this seems too easy – but it CAN be a full meal! 1 apple + 1/4 cup of peanut butter is 500 calories. That’s a good size meal for a lot of us!
Soba Noodles With Shrimp
Definitely keep this one in your lunch bag with an ice pack. Mix 1/2 cup soba noodles with stir fried shrimp and red peppers (bell peppers).
Make sure to use whole wheat bread or a role, then fill them with veggies and cheese. Bacon too if you’d like a BLT. Have some nuts on the side for some added, filling protein and fat. PB&J is always a great sandwich too!
Fruits & Nuts
YES! This can absolutely be a lunch all by itself. Nuts are a great source of both protein and fat, and you get filling fiber from the fruit.
Need A Meal Prep Container Or Cute Lunch Bag?
Here are my fave useful & sustainable lunch boxes and containers to use as food storage or for meal prepping. What do we want in containers?
- No leakage
- Limiting of plastic / any potential chemicals or compounds that can get into our food
- Ability to go from the freezer, to the fridge, to the microwave, etc.
- Dishwasher safe
- Oven & microwave safe
I really love and prefer glass containers with lock lids for the reasons listed above. However! They can be pretty heavy. If they’re too heavy for you to cart around – consider leaving some at work to transfer your food to so you can heat it up. And don’t put the lids in the microwave!
2-Compartment Lock-Lid Glass Containers – best for taking to work & school, especially goos if you don’t want any food to “cross contaminate” aka touch each other
I prefer 2-compartment so you don’t feel so stressed to fill up every section with a different food And I love the lock lids to prevent spilling. These aren’t perfect though – make sure they’re stacked vertically in your lunch bag and don’t carry at any kind of angle.
Meal Prep Containers
Large Glass Containers – Best for storing food at home
I think I have 10 of these I’m not joking. They are SO handy because they’re so big, they can go from the freezer to the fridge, they can go in the stove (without the lid), etc. My absolute favorite! At this point I don’t use any other storage containers besides these. These are amazing as glass meal prep containers.
3 oz Mini Containers – Best for small quantity foods
These aren’t 100% leak-proof, but they’re pretty good! Pack them in your insulated lunch bag. ALSO! These actually aren’t dishwasher safe so just wash them by hand.
16 oz Thermos – Best thermos
Thermoses are excellent for non-spillage and keeping foods hot – especially helpful if you’re somewhere without a microwave!
Cute Lunch Bags
The cutest purse, I mean insulated lunch bag from Modern Picnic – use the code FOOD15 for 15% off for a limited time!