electronic Gourmet Guide


25 Tips for Better Brown Bags

lunch bags

by Kate Heyhoe


Who eats brown bag lunches? A whole lot of you do—sitting at your computer surfing the web at lunch, using either yours, your school's or your employer's internet account. We know you do. Our web stats show us that our usage peaks in the morning (checking email) and is busiest in all time zones at lunch hours (cruising for fun?).

Or, maybe you don't brown bag it yourself, but you may make lunches for your kids, spouse or just on an occasional basis. We've collected a file of tips to make brown bag lunches more exciting, safer and more convenient. Some are geared for the youngsters in the family, and others are best for the more sophisticated cyber citizen.

With all the wonderful places to go online, and the challenging experiences of merely growing up, the same old lunches can be really depressing. You don't need to be the Escoffier of the lunchroom, but with a little bit of effort, you can brighten an otherwise ordinary day.

25 Top Tips For Better Brown Bags

  • Splurge: If you are brown-bagging to work, you are automatically saving money by not eating out. So by all means, make your food more enticing than the local fast-food chain's. Make prosciutto, tomato and basil sandwiches, or pick up a roasted chicken in the deli and pack a portion for lunch.
  • Grilled Thrills: Nothing adds more flavor than grilled foods. Add grilled veggies (onions, zucchini, eggplant) to your lunch kits. You can bag them separately then add them to a normal sandwich to make it extraordinary. Especially good with goat cheese.
  • Lunch-Pooling: Form a lunch-pool at work with 4 other persons. On one day of the week, one person makes lunch for all. It's easier to make 5 of the same lunches at once than to make 5 different ones every morning. Plus, it adds variety (just make sure you all share the same tastes in food).
  • Zip Those Chips: Instead of costly pre-made single serving packs, use sealable plastic bags and even mix up your favorites. Some of them, like those tasty bean chips, vegetable chips and garlic bagel chips, don't come in single server packs.
  • Black Lunch Box
  • Special Beverages: Beverages are one of the most costly lunch items when purchased at a restaurant or even a vending machine. A number of canned and bottled exotic beverages are now on the market, which, while not cheap, are no more expensive than many alternatives and can make your lunch more festive. Give your lunches some elegance with iced coffee, raspberry lemonade, or hot, spiced apple cider.
  • Stop The Sog: If you are using moist vegetables or condiments, bag them separately then add them to a sandwich at lunch. No more yucky bread.
  • Fast Food Packets: Next time you eat fast-food (and we know you do), pick up extra packets of ketchup, mustard, salt, pepper, salsa, etc. They are handy for adding flavor to your meal. Condiments can make a sandwich soggy, so adding them fresh from the packet will make your meal tastier.
  • Condiment Heaven: Explore new condiments on your sandwich. Sun-dried tomato spread is a personal fave, as is horseradish, Chinese mustard, spreadable goat cheese and Caesar salad dressing.
  • Little Plastic Cups: What do you carry your salad dressing or condiments in? Some of the Mexican joints have salsa bars with little plastic ups and lids. You can also buy them from restaurant supply houses. Or, wash out your old medicine bottles well, and if they are air tight, use them. Plastic Tupperware containers are useful for keeping sandwiches and other goodies fresh and firm.
  • School Lunch Box
  • Baby-Wipes: Those premoistened wipes can clean messy hands gently. Keep a box at work or in your kid's desk or locker. Also good for wiping up your desk.
  • Don't Forget Your Lunch: Drop your car keys in the bag. You'll never get to work without them.
  • Pick A Fun Container: What you carry your lunch in can make a difference in how you perceive your food. Presentation of a homemade lunch is just as important as it is when served on a plate. Kids especially know this and the right lunchbox can make the difference in being accepted by one's peers or not. Adults may opt for some of the colorful nylon, cloth or paper bags available.
  • Wash Your Lunchbox: Bacteria can grow anywhere, so be sure to clean your box or bag out regularly. Safety first.
  • Ice Packs: A number of reusable ice packs exist, but you can also freeze those little individual juice containers and let them thaw until lunch time.
  • Nuked Food: Does your workplace have a microwave oven? Perhaps even in the vending machine area? If so, a world of great eating awaits you, especially if you plan your leftovers strategically. A hot lunch on a cold day really satisfies. And the aroma of a hot broasted chicken, reheated, will make you the envy of the room.
  • Thermos: Whether for chilled or hot foods, prepare your thermos by filling it with either iced or boiling water beforehand. It will more efficiently keep your foods the correct temperature—not just more pleasurable to eat but safer. Remember: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold to avoid food poisoning.
  • Work Lunch Pail
  • Cookie Cutter Sandwiches: Make these with your kids. Slice the crusts off the bread and use cookie cutters in fun shapes. Pack a few extra to share with friends.
  • Nuts To You! One of the most boring things about brown bag lunches is the lack of variety and texture. Adding nuts or sunflower seeds to salads, soups and even sandwiches makes for crunch appeal. Try some toasted, spiced pecans in your bag instead of chips.
  • Mail Bags: This is fun for kids: include some mail for them. A note from you, a newspaper clipping, even a piece of junk mail you don't plan on opening (kids love to open things!). How about printing out something fun from the Web and including it?
  • Stickers: If you use brown paper bags, decorate them with stickers, especially at holidays. This is not just for kids, because adults love to show off that something special sent from home, too. And there's such a variety of theme-oriented and playful stickers these days.
  • Alphabet Stamps: My mom used to take alphabet rubber stamps and ink pads and decorate my lunch bags with words and sentences. Try making up riddles, or jumbled words for your kids to unscramble.
  • Joke-A-Day: Do you have one of those joke a day calendars? Keep the old ones and throw 'em in your family lunch bags. The day may be gone but the joke's still good.
  • Monday Perks: Mondays can be vicious. On Sunday, be good to yourself by packing a cloth or decorative paper napkin, pretty paper plate, colorful plastic tableware. If you do this on Mondays only, they make it even more special. Or get a variety of designer paper products and mix and match during the week.
  • Silly Pasta Salads: Pasta now comes in all sorts of fun shapes: basketballs, grape clusters, Christmas trees...Make pasta salads using these silly shapes, and the kids will especially love them.
  • Five-A-Day: Remember that vegetables are good for us all. Focus on fun ways to eat them. Fresh vegetable relishes are tasty to pack and snack on. Try grilled corn and red and green peppers; black olive, tomato and grated cheese; red onion, oranges and cilantro. Pack some hummus dip, cut veggies with cookie cutters, grate them into a salad, roll raw veggies in chili powder, lime juice and salt...

Zojirushi Mr. Bento Stainless-Steel lined Lunch Jar, Silver
Click to buy Zojirushi Lunch Jar

Be adventuresome.

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This is an edited and updated archive of pages originally published in 1997.

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

Modified August 2007

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