Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lunches part 3 - the packing

This is the last of the general posts in my lunch series. If you have been enjoying this series too much for it to end, do not fret! I will return with a number of posts on specific lunch topics. For today though, the subject is packing.

I would love to have an assortment of cute bento boxes. Every now and then I go surfing the net and debate spending the money to get something like this:

I haven't though, for a couple of reasons. One is that I have more exciting things to spend my money on (video games!). The other is that I would feel like I needed to take extra care if I bought special boxes. I think that would get on my nerves sooner or later. I don't have a problem microwaving or dishwashering a cheap plastic container. If I kill it, I kill it. If I ruined a $20 Hello Kitty box, I would be sad.

So instead I have an assortment of reasonably priced (if boring) plastic containers. Some are Rubbermaid, the rest are Lock & Lock. I have an assortment of sizes, ranging from 1 cup to 2.5 cups. All are watertight. Glass and metal containers are readily available for people who do not want to use plastic.

The Lock & Lock containers are my favorite because they have two sections each. I often pack one of the smaller ones with two different vegetables (potatoes and carrots, for example). For the larger ones, I'll put something like curry one one side and rice on the other. Or pasta on one side and vegetables on the other. The small sections are removable, so I could pack two things that need different microwaving times. If anything is particularly liquidy, it does tend to creep over the barrier unless I use a strategically placed piece of plastic wrap (Basically over the whole container under the top. Just lock the flaps over it.)

I get my cute factor from my lunch boxes. I have two Hello Kitty lunch boxes, and one Kung Fu Panda box. All of them are insulated, so my lunch will stay cold for a few hours. I also have a Hello Kitty water bottle :)

Food safety is one of the most important considerations when packing lunch. In my insulated lunch box, something that comes out of the fridge will stay cold for a few hours. If lunch is going to be late, I take the food out and put it in the fridge in my office. If that were not available, I'd pack reusable ice pack with my lunch. Anything that I'm microwaving is probably being heated for the second time. That means after that reheating I either eat all of the food, or throw away the rest. If I think I only want half my lunch, I only microwave half of it.

I also use zip-loc bags and plastic wrap as needed to pack up lunch. My lunches are not waste-free. I try to find a balance between convenience and not using tons of plastic. One thing I rarely use anymore is aluminum foil. I discovered Press N Seal wrap about a year ago, and never looked back. You can pack moist things in it, without them leaking all over the place. And it works far better than foil in the freezer.

One last thing: learning to pack lunches takes some practice and some experimentation. Be careful about keeping things watertight. (When in doubt, put the container inside a zip-loc bag. If nothing happens, you can always reuse the bag later.) Pack food snugly, so if containers get turned on their sides, your food will stay more or less in place. If something squishes easily, be sure to pack it in a ridged container (not a baggie). Soon you will learn what packing strategies work for you, and if you are careful, you can avoid any lunch disasters in the process! :)


Anonymous said...

Hey, good article! What re-usable ice do you use? I've tried all sorts and I like this the best: Techni Ice, which I found at I live in Vietnam so it's very hot and food spoils very quickly. Keep up the good work.

Anastasia said...

I have a cheap blue ice pack that I use when I need it. I'm sure it does not work as well as the Techni Ice! :)