Top 5: Laws of the Lunchbox

With the rigors of the morning workday including pointless meetings, office gossip and hours on Facebook, who wants to be greeted at noontime by a sad, stain-ridden paper sack whose food contents reflect the imagination of those in the HR department?

It is possible to create tasty, thrifty, tidy, too-fun midday meals without tons of planning, pre-morning prep or dependence on the company nuke-box. Just follow these five laws of the lunchbox.

1. Live it Up: You're already saving money by steering clear of McBurger Bell, so why not make the eats better, and healthier? Consider sandwiches made with cucumbers, avocados, tomatoes, or grilled veggies (pack them separately to avoid the gooeys,) or salads topped with salmon, egg or sunflower seeds. Make a few meals with a roasted chicken plucked fresh from the deli. And don't fall back on cheese slices wrapped in plastic - depending on your entrée, go for goat cheese, prosciutto, even grated Parmesan.

2. Nifty n' Thrifty: We don't care what Chester Cheetah says, those single-serving bags of cheese snacks are expensive, and if you add up the offerings made to the vending machine god, you'll realize why you couldn't make your car payment last month. Use sealable plastic bags or containers for snacks and pack your own beverages, too. Wanna kick Chester where it hurts? Try spiced pecans, bagel bites or veggie chips in addition to fresh fruit and veggies with hummus. Wash down with flavored tea, iced coffee or lemonade.

3. Good to be Green: Metal lunch boxes touting the exciting world of metrics and filled with aluminum foil and plasticware are for loser kids and garbage dumps. Be good to yourself, the ones you love and the planet by investing in a decent cloth or nylon bag. Use recyclable plastic containers as much as possible and complete with silverware and a nice napkin (sorry, paper towel squares don't count). For condiments, try old travel-size shampoo bottles or that airtight bottle of Ambien you've been meaning to refill. When necessary, employ the services of a reusable ice pack.

4. De-Funk Regularly: Who wants the midday mind meld of seeing a tomato, basil and proscuitto sandwich in your lunch bag, but smelling vomit in a rendering plant with a sewage leak? Be sure your hard work smells the same way going in as it does coming out by regularly washing all containers, including the inside and outside of the lunch bag. Stop the sandwich soggies by placing moist vegetables and condiments in separate bags or containers to be assembled later by the luncher. And remember, food poisoning should be a bullshit excuse only to call in sick, not the real thing because you didn't keep foods at the correct temperature.

5. Lunchtime is Funtime: No lunch made with love is complete without that little reminder of you inside - not just so you can say you care, but to point out it could have been Spaghetti-O's and a warm can of Tab. While the obvious might include a love note, magazine clipping, crossword puzzle, joke-of-the-day or printed page from the web - utility bills, junk mail, ransom notes and puffy Bratz stickers have a certain charm as well. It's the thought that counts.

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