Back to School

Lunches That Pack in 5 Minutes (or Less)

September  1, 2016

We're republishing this post, originally written in 2014, because back-to-school, return-to-reality season is upon us.

Think you don't have time to plan ahead? Here are ten lunches you can pack in less than five minutes.

Avocado Toast on Food52

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This one goes out to all you busy bees who claim you don't have time to pack yourselves lunch. So you turn to delivery, or the deli across the street, or a frozen meal you'll try to revive in the office microwave, all in the name of saving time.  

But wait! There are a whole bunch of lunches that you can pack at night, or even bleary-eyed in the morning, in just five minutes or less. Which is about the amount of time you spent chatting with Lisa about TPS reports this morning, or listening to Man in the Mirror, so don't tell me you can't deal.

Here are some of our go-to packed lunches, ready in a jiffy:

1. Avocado toast. It will never get old, and we'll never stop eating it. Bring in some bread, an avocado, and your salt stash, and you're good.

2. A shaved vegetable salad—it holds up well, even on the second day. Try sturdy vegetables like fennel, celery, and radishes, then toss them with herbs and dressing. Then add a protein, like tinned fish. Kenzi also likes this carrot salad from Orangette

Shaved Vegetable Salad on Food52

3. Almond butter upgrade: Add chopped nuts, dried fruit, chia seeds, sweetener, or spice to that little tub of almond butter you were planning on eating atop toast for lunch.

More: Extra points if you make your own nut butter.

4. Hummus, pita, and sliced vegetables. Yes, a snack can be a lunch, if you pack enough of it. Especially when your hummus is homemade. 

Hummus on Food52

5. Hard-boiled eggs—on anything, really. (Start with toast, salad, or grains.)

More: Here's how we like to boil our eggs.

Hard Boiled Eggs on Food52

6. Cheese and fruit sandwiches. Think cheddar and chutney, manchego and fig spread, or a soft, creamy cheese and strawberry jam.

7. Taco night leftovers. Make yourself a little picnic out of tortillas, shredded vegetables, cheese, and meat. Have a fiesta in your cubicle. Tequila not recommended.

Taco Night on Food52

8. Merrill tops baked sweet potatoes with last night's leftover pasta sauce. Bake the potato while dinner is cooking, or just bake it in the microwave once you get to the office. Poke it with a fork a few times before you nuke it, lest your office experience a lunchtime explosion.

9. Pack up a hodgepodge of grains, plus beans or lentils, and sturdy vegetables (cooked or raw), next to a jar of your favorite dressing.

Red Quinoa Salad on Food52 

10. Congratulations! You've now made yourself lunch, in the same amount of time it took you to read an article about making lunch. Just make sure to pack yourself a cookie, too.

Fig and Oatmeal Cookies on Food52

Tell us: What are your favorite 5-minute lunches?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Catherine S. September 11, 2022
Monday morning. Just got home from vacation late last night. No food in the house. A can of flavoured (or not) tuna, or a can of pea or lentil soup, or an egg, medium boiled, while I’m getting ready for work. Or if there are any cucumbers or tomatoes in the house, canned chick peas and feta (or any) cheese and some olive oil or any salad dressing.
patricia G. September 11, 2022
halved cherry tomatoes, red onion shreds, mozzarella pieces torn from a ball, a little vinegar, salt and pepper, a glug of olive oil...mix gently, scatter torn basil leaves over the top. How many times have I had this for lunch this summer?
Irene S. July 9, 2017
Vegan. Grains, Greens and veg. spiced up with citrus/ginger/spicey dressings. Big bowls that hold up to pre-assembly. Wraps of more of the same with crunchy carrot, snap peas, cabbage and greens, more spicy sauces including creative uses and flavors with cashew 'creams'.
Jan October 15, 2015
I start with salad as a base and then add whatever is on hand, usually left overs. Today was Asian meatballs, salad and cold spaghetti with a vinaigrette dressing & a dash of satay sauce. Tomorrow, egg salad with satay sauce, instant Gado Gado. Thanks for the tips on the boiled eggs.
Paulette E. October 15, 2015
Since I love having frienda over lunch I make a killer salmon with capers, white wine and a delicious salad with my own vinaigrette. It's simple and takes less than 30 minutes. When alone, lentil soup with cumin a dollop of sour cream and I'm ready to go
Brenda J. August 16, 2015
I constantly amaze my coworkers with my.... imaginative lunches. Many a time you will find me with a can of hearts of palm (yep straight out the can), a pouch of tuna or salmon (again, straight from the pouch), and a cucumber or bell pepper, raw. Sometimes I will have an apple or banana during the day at some point and always oatmeal for breakfast. Either overnight oats or plain oatmeal in the micro at work that I stir ground flax and nut butter into (makes it taste like a warm pb cookie!!). When I DO pack my lunch, it's usually a garden salad (loaded...kale, spinach, celery raddish, romaine, carrots, sprouts, chick peas etc etc etc).
SaucyCuisine August 13, 2015
I love to bring one piece of fresh fruit and set it on my desk. I enjoy the color and shape all morning. Can't wait to eat it for lunch. Grab this from your fruit bowl or crisper in 3 seconds as you're running out the door in the morning.
[email protected] August 11, 2015
I've been packing lunch for husband and me for about a year. Agreed, the key is Sunday prep and pack during dinner cleanup. A typical routine: Sunday cook a grain; bake chicken breast for husband (I'm a veggie) and make chicken salad; pre-wash salad greens and pre-slice salad goodies; sauté onion, mushroom and spinach; boil eggs. Along with fruit and plain yogurt or pre-made oats we have breakfast and lunch-healthy and yummy! Not so much work when you consider savings in weeknight time, calories, and health. Thanks for some new tips!
meg August 11, 2015
Leftovers. I love left over dinner for lunch or even breakfast, come to that.
meat, fish, whatever, and if I don't refrigerate it, it is room temp by lunchtime.
I know you will call the salmonella police on me, but really, it's fine. I take no chances. No really hot temps and it is not unrefrigerated that long.
I love leftover lentil burgers! Today: gf fried Swai with horseradish, green beans and gf noodles
catalinalacruz August 10, 2015
This looks tasty easy and fits the budget. Did I say healthy, too!
A G. August 10, 2015
The "tinned fish" link is broken
Patricia W. August 10, 2015
I pack lunch as I clean up from dinner. Today was 1/2 filet of trout, rice pilaf and sweetcorn cut off the cob. Delish!
Zoë L. June 16, 2015
Fried chickpeas. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a pan at medium heat. Add one can chickpeas (after rinsing them). Cook for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat, place in container, add spice mix such as garam marsala to taste. The best. I have it at least once a week.
Katie F. May 13, 2015
Editor's note: "Nine Lunches That Pack in Nine Minutes (or Fewer)"
Diana May 8, 2015
Margaret C. April 30, 2015
If you put your lunch together as you are putting your leftovers away after dinner all you have to do is grab and go. In the morning.
Gabriele S. April 28, 2015
Those lunches I've made many times, so easy especially if you prepare the night before. Heathier than those store bought garbage. You never know what they put into them or how they've been prepared. And how lazy can you be?
Karen F. March 23, 2015
left over pork tenderloin slices with rosemary crackers and sliced mozzarella cheese and sugar snap peas with jalapeno hummus
Larkin V. March 23, 2015
Ugh. Seriously, all of this looks horrible.
Hayden N. March 23, 2015
Agreed. I'll be picking up a $7 sandwich across the street, thanks.
Tahereh D. August 10, 2015
Wendy M. August 10, 2015
Michelle C. March 11, 2014
Some weeks are crazy and all I can manage is to bring my groceries to work. I head to the market on Sunday or even Monday morning and grab a container of pre-washed greens, bell peppers, mushrooms, assorted olives, pickles, artichokes, etc. from the olive bar, a hunk of sparkly gouda, a cup or so of sliced almonds from the bulk bin, maybe some bean salad if anything looks decent at the deli counter, and some eggs. If I'm lucky, I'll boil five eggs on Sunday night, put them in a container, add that to the sack with all those other groceries, and take them all to work. I assemble a salad from my ingredients each day in the kitchen at work. No advance prep necessary! (This works best if you have a a cutting board and a decent knife at work.) I always keep oil, vinegar, and sea salt at the office, so dressing is easy. And if you don't have time to boil eggs, grab some smoked salmon or fancy creminelli sausage and, voila! Healthy lunch on the fly.
Jared P. June 28, 2015