This year, due to various circumstances, which includes the lack of good food near work, and the rising prices of food, especially at the hawkers, I decided to make it a point to bring my lunches to work. I used to a while ago, but as with a lot of things, it didn’t last as long as it should.
But I’m going strong now, and I attribute it to Instagram, where I slot in pictures of my packed lunches in between my beauty updates, and I tag them #PBPacksLunch and you know what makes it fun? The interaction I get! 😀
And what makes it even more fun is that some people have told me that it’s inspired them to pack their own lunches, and that spawned a new hashtag #PBMadeMePackLunch. No, I don’t make packed lunches for people, but I try to inspire people to join me 😀
But what I’ve also been asked, is about the “equipment” I use to carry my lunches to work, especially hot lunches, because I enjoy eating hot food better than cold; and my process. So I promised I’d write a post on why packed lunches are a good thing and what you can use and here it is! 🙂
Naturally, if you too pack lunch to work, I’d love to hear your ideas! If you want to start, I hope this helps!
Why Pack your own lunch?
Why not? It takes a little more effort, because you do have to plan your meals a little, but it’s healthier, not because you eat salads, but because you know what goes into your food, and because you have portion control.
Previously, when I was packing my lunches, I found that it actually helped me lose and maintain my weight. Depending on the containers you use, you will find that it’s easy to control your portions, and eat a better variety of food. If you eat out, you may find yourself wolfing down a bowl of noodles only to realise that it’s 90% noodles, with just a few slivers of meat and vegetables. Make your own and you can reverse that, and that’s healthier and better for you and your weight.
But I don’t like eating my food cold!
You don’t have to. You can bring hot food in thermos containers that will keep your food hot, or at least warm until it’s time to dig in. It took me a while to get the concept but now I do, it’s a cinch!
I use a variety of containers to keep my food hot and here is a non-exhaustible list.
Thermos Lunch Box (Bento) Set
Packed lunch of rice, blanched greens, omelette (tamagoyaki) and nikujaga (beef with potatoes)
I don’t know how I ended up with 2 similar sets but I did! LOL It is basically a thermos jar that comes with 3 containers within. The containers look quite small but the trick is to pack them well, and you’d be surprised at how much fits in there. This is tailored for Japanese style bento lunches, so the concept is to use the largest container for rice, the screw top container for soup and the smallest container for your mains.
Because I don’t eat a lot of rice but a lot of protein and vegetables, I switch the portion sizes around. Just use it for whatever suits your eating style.
Thermos Food Jar
This is a new acquisition and I’m very pleased with this because I like to bring soups to work. It comes in stainless steel or even in colours and different designs but it’s a wide-mouthed jar with a cover that doubles up as a small bowl. I saw my baby nephew’s food kept in it and that’s how I knew it would work. I use this for soups, porridge (congee), stews or anything liquid. If I’m serving soup or stew with noodles or pasta or rice, I bring the carbs on the side in a separate container.
Left: Thermos Thermocafe Food Jar Right: La Gourmet Thermal Cooker
Thermal Cooker (not ideal)
This is fairly large so it’s most ideal for bringing food for more than 1 person. The concept of a thermal cooker is to use the thermal heat to cook your food, so you can technically have freshly cooked food for lunch. Before I bought my Thermos food jar, I used this to carry hot food and soups to work. Mine has a shallow tray at the top that I can use to boil up my rice so I get piping hot, freshly cooked rice right in the comfort of my office. But if you’re just feeding 1 person, it’s too large and bulky.
You can buy these thermal/vacuum containers in the household department of most department stores locally (Malaysia and Singapore) and there are many different brands (mostly Japanese) but overseas I’m not sure where you can get them, but I’m sure you can find some information or online stores selling these. Wait till they go on sale or Best Buy, which is often for best deals. I’ve seen the Thermos sets go for under RM150 and I bought the Thermos Food Jar for about RM64.
How to ensure your food stays hot in your Thermos
Whatever thermos flask you use (I use Thermos generically for any vacuum flask, not necessarily the Thermos brand although that’s one I trust and use), the trick to keeping your food HOT until lunch is simple.
Before putting your food/containers in the flask, rinse it out with boiling/hot water first or put hot water inside for a few minutes. While my food is heating in the morning, I boil up some water and pour it in, swirl it about or keep it in with the cover on for a few minutes, and then pour it out. I do this just before putting in the containers/food and this keeps your food nicely hot. It won’t be piping hot, but it’ll be hot enough to enjoy.
You can also use your Thermos to keep your food cold, so if it’s a particularly hot day and you want something cold then it’ll do too.
What if I want to bring something cold
When I bring food that doesn’t need to stay warm, or wraps or sandwiches, I use a variety of containers that I’ve accumulated over the years.
My favourite ones are from Lock & Lock, simply because they are compact and minimize spillage. Some of them have compartments that you can remove if necessary. Lock & Lock also does lunchbox sets if you prefer that, and I have one which is the red set that you see. I also have some Rubbermaid Takealongs boxes I bought during a sale a long time ago. They have 2 compartments and I didn’t know what to use them for back then, but I bought them because they were cheap LOL Now, I use them for bringing bigger portions of food and for salads (because I eat heartily, not like a rabbit, I promise!)
If you like, you can buy bento lunchboxes from places like Daiso where you can get really cute bento stuff as well. I’ve gone through all that, and I can’t do cute or small (I need my food remember?). So, I just do practical and Lock & Lock makes practical boxes that I can use on a daily basis to store food in my fridge as well. If you want to bring hot food, don’t bother with the so-called insulated bags. I’ve tried them and nothing works as well as a vacuum jar.
It’s too much work to pack my lunch
Yes, it takes effort to prepare a packed lunch, I agree. But all you really need is to plan ahead a little and I have some tips for you.
- If you cook dinner, cook a little extra and set it aside for your lunch. In the morning, heat it up in the microwave or in a pot, fill your food containers and you’re good to go.
- If you eat out, you can always pack leftovers or order a little extra to bring to work the next day. No one said packed lunches must be cooked at home right? 😉 I sometimes cheat this way too and just cook rice or noodles to go with the food.
- You don’t need to make your lunches look cute. I don’t make cute lunches, if you look at my photos. Sure, there are tons of bento blogs out there where their bento lunches look like pieces of art. Mine don’t. They’re just serviceable food, and really, that’s all you need.
- Steam to heat or microwave in the morning. You can put your food to heat while you are dressing or putting on your makeup. That’s what I do. Stick the food in the steamer (I have a microwave but prefer not to use it for heating as I don’t feel it gets food hot enough and heated properly) and get dressed. By the time I’m ready, the food is ready and I just scoop them into the containers, wash up and go.
- If you don’t have time in the morning, then prepare it the day before. Some foods can be prepared the day before. If you make salads, wash them and pack them the night before and keep them in your fridge. You can fry rice the night before, or prepare stews and soups. When working with leftovers, if your office has a microwave, then heat it at work. If it doesn’t (like me) then invest in some thermos flasks and use the microwave if you like it quick, or use a pot or steamer like I do.
I’ve seen some people prep their lunches ahead for the whole week on a weekend. I don’t because I have my doubts about freshness of my food kept that long even if in the fridge. If I cook ahead, I freeze and reheat in the morning. I rarely, if ever, pack my food more than 1 day in advance. Of course if you don’t have doubts like I do a weekly food prep is an option. I may plan ahead but I don’t prep ahead.
I’m not a health freak and I don’t like salads
Know what? Neither am I and neither do I! 😀
I used to bring salads to work for lunch, thinking they were easy and quick, until I realised that I wasn’t a salad type of girl and it made me hungrier because I wasn’t getting filled up. I like my food and I like them hearty and in generous portions and preferably warm. I like pastas and rice and fried rice and fried chicken and I’m just not really into the whole “clean eating” trend, although I try. I just like food, period! So, I make and bring food I like. If I feel like having fried chicken, I make fried chicken. If I feel like fried rice, I make fried rice or pasta. The only thing I don’t really eat is processed food, so I don’t eat a lot of sausages or cured meats or frozen prepared food, preferring to eat whole food.
Ok, so I’m going to try. What type of food should I bring in my packed lunch
I’m no expert since I’m experimenting all the time, but here are some ideas you can use:
- Salads – wash the leaves, dry them and keep them in the fridge the night before. Bring your dressing separately and dress your salads only when you’re going to eat it so it doesn’t get soggy. I use these silicone cups you can get at Daiso (4 for RM5) to hold your dressing. I used to use little bottles (also available at Daiso) but they’re too hard to clean so I prefer these cups. You can also use them to separate your food in your bento boxes if you like.
- Stews – These are easy to cook the day before or on the weekend and to freeze into single portions for use during the week.
- Soups – Ditto, easy to make the day before or on the weekend and to freeze.
- Porridge – This would be rice congee. It can be a one dish meal with meat and vegetables cooked in it and it’s comforting especially if it’s a cold or rainy day.
- Fried Rice – A great way to use up leftover rice and to make a quick meal.
- Eggs – Boiled or fried, eggs are a great source of protein and a nice way to fill up your packed lunch
- Chicken – Grill, fried, braised… possibilities are endless
- Wraps and sandwiches – Traditional packed lunch food. There is a skill involved to avoid the bread getting soggy, which can include you bringing the filling separately but experiment and you’ll get there. I don’t eat a lot of bread, so I prefer wraps where the dough is thinner.
- Pasta – Again, unless it’s a baked pasta dish, try to bring your sauce and pasta separately so it doesn’t get soggy, and if you do that, you can even have it hot because you can keep your sauce in your Thermos flask
- Hard Vegetables – Think broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, beans etc. These can be quickly blanched and eated with a simple dressing or stirfried quickly
- The sky is the limit! – Use your imagination and experiment! 😀
The only thing I don’t bring is fish or seafood. The potential for spoilage is high and it smells, which doesn’t make it pleasant for others in the office 😛 So I keep my fish to eat at home. But if you don’t mind then it’s always an option.
Won’t it make me anti-social?
Well, arguably it might. But you can always bring a packed lunch a few days a week and go out for lunches with your colleagues a day or two in a week. Or if you’re going to a food court, you could always bring your lunch along (and make everyone else jealous!). I on the other hand am already anti-social so yeah, I’m good 🙂
Ready to join me on #PBMadeMePackLunch? Do you bring a packed lunch?
This is getting far too long for just 1 post so if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me below. If you have more ideas for how to pack your lunches, please also feel free to share them in the comments. I’d love to have you join me on my packed lunch journey because we save money, eat more healthily and hey, it’s fun! 😀 If you’re on Instagram, remember to tag me @parisbmws or use the #pbmademepacklunch hashtag and if your account is public, I’ll find you. I’d love to see your lunch ideas and perhaps, get inspired too! 🙂