Packing a lunch to bring to school or work can be healthy and economical. Perishable foods, though, need to be kept at lower temperatures to avoid bacterial growth that can cause disease. If your destinations don't have a refrigerator handy, you still have options for packing a lunch -- you just need to make safe choices.
Rather than worry, you can pack a lunch with nonperishable items. Deli meats may be out, but you could still pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread. Fruits and vegetables are a good choice for side items. Some are more perishable than others, so stick with those that you might usually keep at room temperature, such as apples, bananas and oranges. Vegetables keep a few hours at room temperature if they were in the refrigerator before you left the home. Crackers and prepackaged items like shelf-stable creamy dips and dressings as well as fruit cups can be smart additions.
Certain perishable items can freeze and remain safe for eating after thawing at room temperature, according to the New York Times. For example, you could make sandwiches with deli meats and the condiments of your choice, such as mayo, mustard or ranch dressing. Then freeze the sandwich overnight and take it out in the morning. By lunchtime, it's ready to eat. You could also do this with dairy products like yogurt.
The USDA suggests that by properly packing perishable foods, you can keep them fresh until lunchtime. Use an insulated lunch bag and place a freezer gel pack in the bag along with your food. The organization warns, though, that you should throw away any leftovers from this meal, as they will have started to go bad by the time you get home from school or work.
Another option for those who can't refrigerate lunches is to choose foods that you can prepare at school or office. Certain prepackaged pasta or noodle meals simply require you to add boiling water to soften the noodles or add cold water and microwave it. Alternatively, you could bring a container of a hearty soup and heat it up in the can, if it's meant to be microwaved, or pour it into a microwave-safe bowl.