Looking for Cold Lunch Ideas

Dear Home-Ec 101,

I just started a new job and I only have 30 mins for lunch. Since I have bathroom priorities and waiting in line for microwave can quickly use up that time. Do you have any suggestions for lunches that require no reheat. I need more variety than salad and a sandwich.


Fast and Furious

Heather says:

I don’t have to leave the house for lunch, but I certainly understand the appeal of a quick meal. Typically I feed 4 – 6 people 3 times a day. That adds up to quite a bit of food prep. I love lunch to require as little thought as possible.

There’s a lot more to salad than the lettuce and dressing varieties we tend to picture.

Consider any of the following:

Broccoli SaladBroccoli Salad

Pasta Salad

Greek Pasta Salad

Tuna Macaroni Salad

Potato Salad

Now isn’t that better than iceberg with carrot and cabbage shreds?

Get creative with your sandwiches, too.

There’s a whole world beyond deli meat and PBJ.

What about tuna salad or chicken salad sandwiches. (Lately I’ve been craving ham salad, someone explain that, please. I think I just miss my grandma a little -she died many years ago.)

Gazpacho, a cold vegetable soup is another option.

Some leftovers are amazing cold, even though it’s not an everyday kind of food I do have an unhealthy fondness for leftover fried chicken. Sliced pork tenderloin on a sandwich is lovely, too.

These are a just a few ideas to help get those lunchtime creative juices flowing.

What I really want to do is open the comments up to suggestions from Home-Ec 101 Readers. I know you have tons of ideas, let’s hear them.


Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.


  1. Debra on January 3, 2014 at 2:42 am

    I love wraps…people think they are just round sandwiches but you can put so much more in there. Tonight I made my husbands lunch for tomorrow…thin sliced turkey breast (I cooked a whole turkey last month and then split what we didn’t use into small sandwich sized baggies and froze them) crispy bacon, some slice onion and peppers and a little diced celery and sliced lettuce. Then I spread a wrap with dill philly cheese, piled on the topping along with a little shaved cheddar and wrapped it all tightly in first waxed paper and then tinfoil. My husband does not like mayonnaise (wet dressings) or tomatoes (or watery vegetables) so this has the philly for a spread and lots of crunchy veggies to make it satisfying. My children like a slightly less full version with turkey slices, lettuce and a dill philly spread wrap. But wraps can hold a lot more than a sandwich can. When I prepare for just myself I might use one filled with fried rice and spicy pepper sauce and lots of diced veggies. Or a fluffy egg with tomato, basil and a drizzle of olive oil. So many yummy ideas. OH, the browning apple thing? I slice my girls apples kind of thick for bag lunches then hold them in the apple shape and but them in a baggy and take out as much air as possible. It is not quite a good as paring them as you eat them (but no knives at school!) but keeping the sliced together keeps those sides from turning brown.
    (And I love a good thermos…pack soups, chilis, noodles and sauce….or a tall thin one is great for hot drinks too…the girls often carry this to school and it keeps it all very warm)

  2. HeatherSolos on June 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

    @EricaMueller @MaggieM hard boiled eggs are showing up more and more often in my lunches. It doesn’t hurt that my mom raises chickens and shares the abundance.

  3. aleriacarventus on June 28, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Ever heard of bentos? Check out http://justbento.com/ for many, many cold lunch ideas.

  4. EricaMueller on June 27, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    @MaggieM We like the homemade big-people lunchables too. 🙂 It’s more fun than a salad. I’ll do some veggie sticks, a cheese stick, and hard boiled egg for lunch any day, and later, a piece of fruit.

    I also like to have tuna or chicken salad on whole grain crackers. Yum!

  5. KeterMagick on June 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    @Bobbie Laughman @MaggieM Try diluting Liquid Vitamin C in some water and spraying it on your fruits and veggies. I find it imparts almost no taste and makes even uncut fruit, veggies, and greens stay fresh a lot longer. I keep a small spray bottle of this solution in the refrigerator.

  6. KeterMagick on June 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    For optimum health, breakfast and lunch should be your bigger, higher calorie meals for the day. Salad and sandwiches just don’t do it for me and I end up eating too much at dinner. If that sounds like you, do look into some other meal options beyond the lighter fare mentioned here.

    I’m not sure if this is an option for you, but where it was for me, I used a tiny crock pot to cook my lunches (and dinners if I got stuck in the office). I kept an insulated zip up lunch tote (the bigger size you can carry a 6-pack in) in the refrigerator. I never had to, but you could put a small combination lock on it to keep it closed to meal thieves. In this tote, I kept staples like cheese, eggs, fruit, tortillas, diced/sliced/shredded veggies, various meats, yogurt, jars of stock, milk, etc. In my desk I kept stuff that didn’t need refrigeration, like noodles, rice, grits, dried fruit, nuts, crackers, basic spices, canned stuff, and my dishes and utensils. I would assemble my lunch before starting work and set it to stew in the crock pot which lived on the corner of my desk when I had an office to myself, or in the break room at other jobs.

    Rice, canned red beans, and sliced up leftover sausage with a shake of red pepper and dehydrated onion = hot red beans and rice. Noodles, cheese, chicken stock and broccoli = hearty broccoli soup.

    The trick was to plan to reuse, package carefully, get in early enough to prep the meal before work, and clean up thoroughly after EVERY TIME. I kept a big plastic storage box under my desk, and if I didn’t have time to clean up, I threw everything in the box, closed it up to keep smells segregated, and pushed it under my desk to hide it away until I was done for the day, then I would clean up after hours. The storage box was a convenient tote to carry all the dirties to the break room for washing, and back to my desk when cleaned. Now that I’m out on my own freelancing, I cook in my office all the time, and I have my own little refrigerator for keeping my food cold.

    Believe it or not, someone makes a USB powered microwave for really desperate desk cooks. http://www.geekalerts.com/usb-microwave-oven/

  7. Bobbie Laughman on June 27, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    @MaggieM Oh, I know, but 1) I don’t like how it makes the apples taste and 2) I find it easier to cut them at lunch time. Works best for me. 🙂

  8. bookchick on June 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    @hhelmer Me too!

  9. bookchick on June 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I eat ‘off-cycle’ to avoid the microwave crowd up. At 11 AM my office turns into a ghost town becasue everyone is in the kitchen. I eat at 1 or 1:30 and no lines! However that only works if you have a flexible schedule.

    I also recently started a new job and discovered very quickly that putting food in the office fridge is like sticking a giant EAT ME sign on it. So I purchased an insulated lunch bag, a couple of small thermoses, and a lunch bag sized freezer pak. That way I can keep my lunch at my desk and the right temperature. NOt as hot or cold as fresh from the microwave but better than nothing.

    Most meat meals can be eaten cold, for example today I brought in leftover steak and then bought a small salad from the cafeteria. I don’t like cooked veggies eaten cold, but uncooked veggies are good too. Just put a little dressing in a tupperware container – stick that in a plastic bag with ice and it should stay cold. If you have access to a refrigerator at work you don’t even need the ice. Works for cheese also.

  10. MaggieM on June 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    You could get a squirt bottle of lemon juice to sprinkle on cut apples. Makes the slices a bit more tart but definitely prevents browning. @Bobbie Laughman

  11. clarinetpower on June 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I love to make simple lunches out of mini pitas or crackers, raw veggies, fruit and a protein– hummus, cottage cheese, hard boiled eggs, tuna, salmon, cold ham or chicken, cheese, etc. Bonus is that if you have a decent sized office fridge, you could bring in a larger amount and eat off it for several days. Very healthy, satisfying, and easy to make, too. Also, if you have a meeting with someone you don’t like, you can get the extra garlicky hummus. 😉

  12. hhelmer on June 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I really love cold pizza for lunch. So not healthy, buy way yummy!

  13. amyeaustin on June 27, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I agree with the thermos suggestion. Then you could add soup to the salad/sandwich menu, which would result in endless variety.

    Lately I’ve been eating Laughing Cow cheese on about 4 inches of French Bread for lunch with a piece of fruit. Yum.

  14. Bobbie Laughman on June 27, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    One of my favorite lunches is a cut up apple or pear and either muenster or colby cheese. Apple wedges with peanut butter is also pretty quick. I have trouble biting into an apple, but don’t want to cut them ahead of time and have them turn brown, so I pack a cheap paring knife (like you sometimes see at farmstands – bright plastic handle with a short, sharp blade)

    Not everyone will agree, but I think shredded chicken mixed with barbecue sauce is great cold, and have wrapped some up in a tortilla for an easy cold lunch.

    • Cindy on December 8, 2015 at 12:40 am

      A rinse in 7-Up or Sprite works great to keep fruit from browning!

  15. HeatherSolos on June 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

    @MaggieM We call those lunches “pinchy” lunches at our house. No utensils required. It’s from when the kids were little and just starting to feed themselves pinches of food.

    Making your own is definitely more economical.

  16. MaggieM on June 27, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Lately I’ve been enjoying cold lunches of cut vegetables, cheese, whole grain crackers, and low sodium tomato or vegetable juice (in the single serving cans for convenience). A handful of almonds and a whole piece of fruit are also nice additions. I have been avoiding lunch meats but you could pack up some pepperoni slices or a couple rolls of sliced turkey or ham for extra protein. This is quick to throw together and requires no microwave, though a cup with ice is nice for the vegetable juice. Basically it’s a grown-up lunchable.

  17. IllumeEltanin on June 27, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Please don’t limit yourself to thinking only “cold” for lunch. Invest in a couple of wide mouth thermoses and save time and money by filling them with dinner planned overs. Bring a kettle of water to boil and fill the wide mouth thermos with it, leaving room to screw the top (which should have the refrigerant gel inside it) on while filled with hot water. Seal the thermos and then reheat your meal. When the meal is hot, open the thermos and pour out the water, then put your hot food in.The meal will not be as hot as if you had the chance to microwave it, but it will still be at a safe and appetizing temperature to eat by lunch time.

    I first learned to do this with a regular beverage thermoses and a hot dog for my son when he was in grade school over a decade ago. I heated the hot dog and slipped it in to the warmed thermos, packing a bun separately. He was the envy of his class on those days. 😉

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