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I'm on campus for most of the day, and since eating on campus is expensive, I would bring leftover dinners with me. Since they would sit in my backpack for several hours before eating, I would use one of the many microwaves on campus to heat it up to kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.

I'm at a new college now, and there appears to be only one public microwave on the entire campus, which makes bringing leftover dinners inconvenient.

The Problem: The food I bring with me will sit around in the temperature danger zone for several hours before eating. Heating it back up and keeping it cool are not very feasible.

The Need: Meals that don't need to be kept cool or heated up. The only thing I can think of is sandwiches, and the only sandwiches I can think of are boring turkey slices on white bread. So, what kind of meals can I make then?

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Sandwiches can be interesting. Need not be just boring cold meat on sliced bread. First change the bread, try baggets, wholemeal, buns, with sesmi and other nuts. Then change the filling. I used to get ckicken tika, BLT, smoked salmon with lemon mayo and so on. Even if you stick to ol' ham and cheese you can get various cures of ham and hundreds of cheese. If you want it hot you can aways toast the sarnie. –  Rincewind42 Aug 21 '11 at 13:22
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Not food-related, but I'd ask around and see if the grad students in your department would let you leave your food in their refrigerator during the day. As long as it's not big and doesn't stay over night, there's a good chance they won't mind. –  Brendan Long Aug 22 '11 at 5:12

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

May I suggest investing in an insulated lunchbox and ice pack (decidedly un-sexy, but practical), or storing in a campus fridge? These can extend length of time food is at a safe temperature considerably.

Thermoses are wonderful things; a good thermos that is filled with fully heated/cooled food and kept properly sealed will keep the contents out of the temperature danger zone for at least 4 hours. The brand-name manufacturing site claims 6 hours in the safe zone for commercial products, with up to 16 for hot substances.

Failing this, cheese or PB&J sandwiches are pretty nonperishable. Remember that cheesemaking was originally intended to preserve the nutritional contents of milk for prolonged periods without refrigeration, and harder cheeses stay safe for longer. The catch is that they will exude some oil if kept warm. A similar principle applied to heavily cured meats, which are treated with nitrites or smoked, allowing them to be safely kept at room temperature.

A personal favorite meal for me is baguette, cheese, and a cured sausage. If you want to go even simpler, you can have a quite satisfying meal with a really good artisan bread and a dipping container of herbed/peppered olive oil.

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Would an ice pack last long when temperatures are consistently over 100 F? –  Jesse J Aug 20 '11 at 19:18
    
@Jesse: Dry ice is used to ship frozen products cross-country. If you get yourself a dry ice pack, it definitely will last 4 hours. –  Aaronut Aug 20 '11 at 19:25
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Dry ice everyday seems a bit impractical to me. –  rfusca Aug 21 '11 at 1:51
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+1 for the thermos. Not only can they keep things hot but they also keep things cold. You can fill the thermos with chilled foods and keep the cold until microwave time. –  Rincewind42 Aug 21 '11 at 13:17
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@Jesse J: In an insulated bag, I'd expect an ice pack to last a while even in high ambient temperatures. A thermometer will let you know for sure. Also, another trick you can try, for things that won't degrade from freezing, freeze them and let the thaw in the lunch bag. –  derobert Aug 24 '11 at 18:00

First off, no egg, poultry or fish products which are not made to be stored without refrigeration. An exception would be pickled eggs.

There are only about a bazillion things you can haul around without refrigeration. I am very enamored of sardines, cheeses, crackers, nuts, olives, pickled almost anything, some home prepared foods such as chunky guacamole, bread, roast beef*. Take a stroll through your local grocer with an open mind.

Eating crackers with cheese and salami chased with a kalamata olives and a bite of carrot is tasty nutritious and fun.

When in remote areas working I regularly carry a sack with peanuts, sardines, summer sausage, cheese and beef jerky.

Carrots, wedges of cabbage or chunks of lettuce, celery, baby beets, green onion, leeks, cherries, apples, etcetera are all easy, health and fun to eat.

Have used beef and cheese to make sandwiches using only butter or avocado as a spread, and bringing a pickle and tomatoe and onion, which I slice up with my nifty pocket knife for a bonus meal, a pear for balance and a candy bar to top it all off.

Bottom line: use your imagination, and don't use foods that will poison you after a few hours without the refer.

*there are many traditional recipes which use cooked beef without refrigeration for short term nourishment.

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We've mentioned the more sandwich-type stuff ... but some other things if you're getting sick of sandwiches:

  • A container of peanut butter plus some food item to scoop it out with: apple slices, carrot sticks, celery

  • Anything that hikers will put into trail mix or granola : nuts, dried fruit, dried coconut, candy coated chocolate (so if it melts, it doesn't get messy)

  • Fruitcake. Yes, lots of people can't stand it, but it comes from a way to preserve food for long journeys.

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+1 for scooping. Hummus would be a good choice here too. –  Preston Fitzgerald Jun 29 at 20:15

Salad is pretty good for that kind of situation. Add some toppings that won't go bad: olives, carrot sticks, sun-dried tomatoes, dried berries, slivered nuts, beans (garbanzo beans are good), artichoke hearts, hearts of palm.. go crazy. Make/buy some sort of vinaigrette and put it in a separate container, then put it on when you're ready to eat.

Like BobMcGee said, some cheeses and meats would also be safe if you feel the need.

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