grab and go: help wanted

This year for my husband’s birthday present, I made him a bunch of lunches. Because the guy hates packing his lunches in the morning, I thought it’d be real sweet to make him an assortment of food and stick it in the freezer so that on weekdays he could just run down to the basement in the morning, load up his cooler, and go.

Actually, my gift wasn’t all that creative—I did the same thing another year. But I never know what to get him (he refuses to articulate any wishes), so it’s not like I have a ton of options. Besides, he has to eat anyway, and his morning grousing grates on my nerves, so look at me go, killing two birds with one stone, bam-bam.

Coming up with the foods to make ahead and freeze turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. The foods had to be freezer tolerant and tasty at room temperature. Also, he’s lactose intolerant, so no milk, cheese, yogurt, cream, or butter, bummer. Plus, he’s not a huge fan of legumes (crazy man).

The snacks and cookies were easy enough. I mixed up a huge bowl of fruit salad and froze it in pint jars. I made a bulk batch of gorp and two kinds of cookies (one was dairy-free), portioning it all out into little baggies. But the main course stumped me.

I emailed one of my culinary guru friends. She’s a whiz at cooking for people with special needs, so I thought that for sure she’d produce a bunch of viable options. She, however, was equally confounded.

She wrote, “I can’t think of something that would be good after freezing and thawing, eaten at room temperature, and not including legumes or unusual grains or dairy, except for bread, muffins and cookies.  I have hardly ever done freezer meals, except for soup, so I don’t have much experience either.”

It wasn’t just me. This was a tricky situation.

My husband can tolerate a small amount of dairy when eaten with a lactaid pill, so in the end I resorted to cheese. I made pepperoni rolls and hot ham and cheese sandwiches.

The hot sandwiches were kind of a bust. Not only do they use cheese and get cold in the freezer (though they still tasted good when thawed to room temperature), but they use an insane amount of foil. And then my husband went and announced that he’s not exactly partial to the spread I used—a delicious, I thought, mixture of horseradish, dijon mustard, fake butter (that has lactose in it—who knew!), and poppyseeds. Oh well.

I liked my friend’s soup idea, so I got my husband a nice thermos for a birthday present. It’s great, I think (though my husband isn’t jumping up and down with glee), but using it requires a couple extra “cooking” steps in the morning—heating up the soup, warming the thermos, putting the hot soup in the warm thermos…. Simple stuff, yes, but my original goal was to make foods that had zero morning involvement. Just grab and go.

So. This is where I need your help. I’d like to have more ideas for foods I could make ahead and freeze for my husband’s lunches. The birthday is over, but it’ll come again next year.

Am I forgetting something? Do you have any favorite make-ahead lunch foods?

To recap, the requirements:

*lactose free
*freezer tolerant
*tasty at room temp

Please help!

A Stumped Cook

PS. I also gave him a gift card to Dick’s Sporting Goods store, so not all his gifts were food-related. In case you were worried. (I think he was.)


  • Anonymous

    Think picnic. Fried chicken, barbeque meat, corn salad, pasta salad, baked beans, deviled eggs…

    Meatloaf — frozen in portion-size slices.

    Maybe check out a Nigella Lawson website. At the end of her shows, she gets into cold leftovers out of the her fridge. Probably some of her recipes can be portion-frozen ahead.

  • Lori

    How about a hearty Spanish-style torta (sometimes called a tortilla) made up of eggs and potatoes — these are delicious and are served in wedges at room temp at tapas bars!

  • Margo

    No, canning jars do not break when you bake in them at average temperatures. I just made a batch of egg custard in canning jars – 45 minutes in a 350 oven in a pan of water. Need to take a photo to blog about it (and I can't tell if this comment is going with the first comment I left or not. ding-dang computers)

  • Anonymous

    I would make BBQ'd meats like chicken, pork, etc and all that requires of him is to thaw it (my husband does this the night before) and then pack bread of some sort or eat it over rice. Pack some chips and salsa. Chili freezes well and can be put in the thermos. Cornbread freezes well and can be make diary free. I also raid the freezer deptartment at Sharp Shopper to put a few things in the freezer when I don't have any leftovers! They often have sandwhiches of some sort ready to eat!

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    I thought of a few more things…first the obvious: I make extra at dinner and pack a container of leftovers for my husband to take to work for lunch. Second, make a big pan of lasagne or enchiladas (omitting the cheese…or maybe use the vegan cheese?) and freeze in portion size containers to grab and go.

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    Burritos…you could do breakfast burritos (eggs, sausage, potatoes) and meat and bean burritos with salsa.

    This is a GREAT topic…I have been thinking of things for my sons and husband to grab and go, too. This is great! Thank you.

  • jodi

    I thought making his lunches was a really thoughtful birthday gift, but yes, it does pose a really hard question, making sure it's freezer tolerant, but also tasty when thawed. You're a good woman, trying to figure it out. I think I might have resorted to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches 🙂 I really like the hot pocket idea though. And maybe I'm odd, but I do like quinoa burgers at room temperature, but I've never frozen them.

  • Christy

    I'm with Jane…wraps! grill up a bunch of meat/veggies (or roast them since it's vegetable roasting time ya know….!?) and throw them in a tortilla (homemade or not!?) with some yummy sauce or salsa. OR simply toss the "stuffing" in some serious herbs/spices and no need for sauce…

    I'm a weirdo and enjoy lots of foods room temperature so that parts not difficult for me. 🙂 Beanie Weenies are some of my favs room temp foods. We do our own version using leftover baked beans and cut up hot dogs or ground beef.

    Some people are (VERY) opposed to cold hot dogs…but I think of them as lunchmeat really… (in a very overprocessed/high sodium kind of way). My kids love homemade corndogs in their lunch. Think mini muffin pan, regular cornbread recipe with slice of hot dogs hidden in the middle. Dip those puppies in some mustard and call it a lunch!

  • teekaroo

    I have done the bierrocks, or runzas as I've also heard them called. I also made and froze a bunch of shredded beef burritos, but hubby declared that they upset his stomach, so they're all still in the freezer.

    I never thought about freezing a fruit salad. What a great idea.

  • Ayrie Joyce

    Do you have a Vita Mix? You can make all sorts of nut butters (almond and sunflower are two good choices). These can then get spread on whole wheat bread with honey or apple butter. Burritos with rice and vegan cheese sauce would be another choice. They freeze beautifully and they're great cold. Oat burgers? Also, vegan and great frozen and eaten cold. Hummus in pita. Vegan stuffed Italian bread (vegan cheese and spinach inside bread) – same ingredients, different shape would be a calzone. Mock Salmon spread and almond olive spread, sliceable cashew cheese deli wraps, roasted vegi wraps.. OK – that's a huge list. Most of these ideas come from my favorite vegan cook book. We make occasional ventures into the vegan world and I love this book because the recipes are good, they are simple and easy to make and because the ingredients are easy to find. My copy has lost both the front and the back covers because it's been used so much.

  • Kathy

    I understand the complexity you are dealing with…. my meals need to be vegan for my eldest & filling for hubby. This week it is fried rice, chinese food with noodles, noodles with spicy peanut sauce, cold pasta & sauce, vegan pot pies, and old pizza cut into bite-size bits with a pre-made salad & dressing in a container to dump all together & eat (salad & dressing in fridge, pizza in freezer in containers waiting for salad).

  • the domestic fringe

    That's really, really tough. I'm not a great cook first of all, and when you add in the food requirements, I am totally useless. I'd buy a gift card to his favorite lunch spot.


  • Anonymous

    Empanada's are good at room temp and freeze nicely make them with traditional dough or use puff pastry. Fill with meat and veggie combinations and spice them up with herbs. Or just make 72 PB & J's and there you go!

  • Margo

    I'm going to pose this question to Rebecca. I'm sitting here wracking my brains.

    I think shepherd's pie would freeze pretty well. And I would eat that at room temperature, personally. You could even bake individual ones in pint jars. . .

  • Amber

    I was going to suggest "hot pockets" too until Anonymous beat me to it. Fill with ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad (hmmm. Wonder how egg salad freezes. The others would probably be okay. . . ). Or use pitas filled with such things. Another thing I do a lot for J's lunches is take a quart of plain yogurt and make a big batch of smoothie. I freeze this in 8oz. jars and all I need to do is grab one from the freezer and stick it in the lunchbox. By lunchtime it's thawed enough to eat/drink and it works as an ice block (but I don't worry about that in the winter). Is there such a thing as lactose free yogurt?

  • Sara-hare

    Cornish pasties! Make the crust with lard or shortening, add meat/potatoes/onions. Serve with mustard, or plain. Should be pretty delicious, even at room temp.

  • Kirsten


    They're in More With Less or one of those books. So delicious! I do like them slightly warmed, but couldn't he warm anything on his dashboard on a sunny day?

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    Some kind of wrap? Using a tortilla with some sauteed onions and peppers, strips of meat (or veggie burger or scrambled eggs) topped with his favorite sauce (bbq, salsa, etc.)? Maybe with the sauce for dipping on the side?

  • shelahn

    hmm, I've got a tough one to feed too. I have failed and now he just eats most lunches out.

    In hopes that this might inspire some ideas

    a few things that come to mind are these:
    These are a Sunday night prep, not freezer.
    This one just for the pic of the corndog muffins, they might work.
    these might be fun

  • Theresa

    Hrm. The room temp requirement is the one that's stumping me! Does he like eggs? I think a fritatta / strata would freeze well and be pretty tasty at room temp. You'd have to leave out cheese and use a non-dairy milk (such as coconut or almond) obviously, but maybe a sausage and veggie mix (cooked in olive oil instead of butter) would be good?

    I think you mentioned before that your husband isn't a big fan of ethnic foods, but I think a Thai peanut noodle stir fry would freeze well and be tasty at room temp or even cold! I can send you the recipe I base mind off of, if you want.

    FWIW, PB&J sandwiches are my favorite freeer-to-face lunches. You can make them up ahead of time and freeze them. Grab out of the freezer and by the time lunch rolls around, they're usually thawed. Not the most healthy choice though 🙂

    • Jennifer Jo

      Actually, I was contemplating individual quiches—lard crust, lactose-free milk… I think it might work.

      I'd like the peanut noodle stir fry recipe, please. If not for him, then for me!

  • Faith

    The first thing that came to mind was pasta salads. Tons of options, different pastas (cous cous is awesome for this), different mix-ins, different sauces. Yum!

    • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

      Maybe if you did a pasta salad you could make a big one on Sunday and pack it in individual containers to grab from the fridge during the week rather than from the freezer? If you added meat such as pepperoni or sliced ham it could be a bit hardier.

    • Faith

      Sorry, just thought to look back here (by "thought" I really mean thank you for linking to this post!).

      In my experience cooked pastas freeze and thaw just fine. The sauces would have to as well, but since you're looking at dairy free that shouldn't be much of an issue either.

  • Anonymous

    I made assorted homemade hot pockets over the summer and froze them. I was looking both for a grab and go lunch and a way to use up all of the little, annoying containers of meat I had in the freezer. They were very good just thawed out and not heated. I didn't have a recipe. I used a bread dough recipe and filled them with different cooked, chopped meats – chicken, roast beef and ham – and fried onions, peppers and seasonings. I know this is along the same lines as a sandwhich but, in my opinion, it's more convenient than sandwhiches. I also think that bread dough thaws better than rolls. I froze them in cheap ziploc baggies inside gallon baggies with the gallon baggies labeled according to what meat was inside the hot pocket. It did take all day to make them but when I was done I had 72 hot pockets (which I guess weren't really hot pockets because we ate them at room temperature!) for us to use for quick lunches the rest of the summer. Good luck with your quest!! Vicki

    • Peggy

      I have to second this idea! This is what we do for school/work lunches… fillings… a mixture of fried hamburger, cabbage, onion w/ salt & pepper, ham, pepperoni, salami. pickled eggs stored in a brine in the fridge (ours never pickle because the boys eat them too quickly). freezer pickles. pancakes/crepes

      Good luck!

    • Margo

      yeah, I was thinking of those too – the Mennonite version is bierrocks (and it's in one of the Menno cookbooks – too lazy to run downstairs and check). I did cabbage and ham once that was really good. Doesn't need cheese.

  • Becky

    -Pepperoni rolls (minus the cheese) with pizza sauce for dipping
    -Fried rice (chinese food is good at room temp, right?)

    Man, that's really tough. I second the idea of the thermos. Coming up with freezable food is pretty easy. Coming up with food that is delicious at room temp is really hard.

    BTW, Earth Balance is my favorite non-dairy "butter".

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