Monday, March 1, 2010

How to Pack a Tiffin

Nothing brightens a dreary workday like a thoughtfully packed lunch. If I've got something delicious or unusual waiting in the fridge, the whole morning seems special. Unfortunately, few people treat themselves to a healthy, exciting, substantial midday meal. (Teachers must be the worst—if they get a lunch break at all, they spend it making copies and responding to email, and inhale a yogurt as the kids come in from recess.) Packing lunch is a simple chore, but taking a few moments to enjoy something flavorful, colorful, and fun will replenish your energy and make you feel human again, no matter how wild your morning.

I recently purchased a 3-tier tiffin from To-Go Ware. Unbuckling and unstacking the metal layers is a sensory event, a visual and tactile experience superior to popping open a tupperware or plastic bag. Having several small, compact containers allows me to enjoy a variety of flavors, textures, and colors.

Though I pack my tiffins slightly differently each day (I need variety), my general guidelines are as follows:

•Bottom layer: bean and/or grain salad, usually the protein source and heaviest part of the meal
•Middle layer: raw fruit or veggies
•Top layer: dip (in the 2-ounce sidekick container), nuts, some kind of sweet

There are endless possibilities, so this setup never gets old.

Chickpea salad on quinoa, celery sticks, clementines, and homemade cinnamon-almond butter.

Since metal tiffins can't be microwaved, I pack foods that can be eaten cold or at room temperature. This tangy Italian-inspired chickpea salad comes together in five minutes, and it packs a lot of protein and flavor. When I'm out of chickpeas, I use lentils and it's just as tasty.

Quickpea Chickpea Salad

2 cups cooked (or canned) chickpeas
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 small carrot, grated
chopped herbs, dried or fresh (basil and parsley are nice)
freshly ground black pepper (lots)

Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust flavors. Serve over cooked grains (try quinoa for added protein) or salad greens. Serves 2.

Tiffins' fun to cost ratio is out of this world, and I suggest you treat yourself to a set, but even if you're working with tupperware and brown bags, pack something that brings you energy and joy.

What are your favorite packed-lunch foods?


  1. Ooh, what a cute little lunch! It reminds me of a bento box. Do you ever miss hot lunches (in the winter)? Sometimes I really enjoy hot leftovers.

  2. Now I wish I'd purchased one when I found some the other day!

    Your lunch looks delicious and healthy and I love the feeling of knowing you have something great to look forward to at lunch time.

  3. Fabulous post, I love tiffins. The color and variety are fun and energizing, yes!
    Eco Mama

  4. Kate: I rarely bring leftovers to work and reheat them, because communal microwaves almost always smell like ham or chili or something and get my food all stanky. I eat hot lunch when I'm home, though!

  5. Yup, teachers do get the raw end of lunch. I'm just a substitute, but it's still hard to get away and do more than inhale something meal-like. A tiffin might just do the trick! Love the quick and easy chickpea salad recipe too.

  6. adorable! can i just have a tiffen full of cinnamon almond butter?

  7. I had a small ceramic dish with a lid that I packed with leftovers. Into other containers went fruit and raw veggies. I also had a ceramic mug with a lid that held soup. I used the office microwave because I really liked a hot lunch in the winter. The tiffin is very appealing but so was my little casserole dish, though I'm a sucker for clever kitchen equipment and the tiffin is extremely clever.

  8. tiffins are the best! I brought home some really nice tiffins from India, but I am coveting your little mini tiffin containers inside the main compartments. very nice! I used my tiffins whenever I have to take lunch with me somewhere... which isn't all that often, but I always look forward to it!

  9. Wow, such a tiffin seems to be very handy! And you packed it with the most delicious foods.

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  11. I'd never heard of a tiffin before you had a photo of one of your recipes packed in one a few months ago. They're such a sweet idea - even the name is fun! ("Tiffin" would be a cute critter name. Might just have to bestow it on one of this spring's fawns!) :-) I looked up tiffins on Amazon back then and showed them to BW, who packs his lunch every day, but he thought they'd get the daylights beat out of them in his package car (he's a UPS man). So alas, as of now we have no tiffins. :-(

    Do you find the latches easy to lock and to open? (I remember that being a complaint on some of the Amazon tiffins).

    One of BW's favorite things to pack in his lunch, in the fall and winter months is a baked yam. We bake up a bunch of organic garnet yams in a 350º oven (lined with foil to catch the syrupy oozin's) for about 90 minutes. Often we eat a couple while they're hot, but the rest we refrigerate and he just munches on them cold during the week. He loves them that way! (Don't know if one would fit in a tiffin, though!)

  12. Such a cute lunch box- I'm totally smitten with this thing! If only I ever had a reason to pack a lunch... One of the downsides of working at home, if I can ever think of one.

  13. Laloofah: My tiffin set fits inside a thick cotton bag, so they may be able to survive a ride in BW's UPS truck. The latches are quite snug, but you don't need to be a bodybuilder to close them. The good thing is the contents don't leak.

    I wish I liked yams more. They seem to have devoted fans!

  14. Thanks for the info, Mary! Either those reviewers probably got some cheapo knockoff with problem latches, or they were feeble weenies. ;-)

    I used to detest yams growing up and refused to eat them in adulthood. Then I reluctantly tried a baked yam last year and loved it! Go figure. The same thing happened with Brussels sprouts very recently. I guess it pays to revisit veggies we used to think we didn't like from time to time!

  15. Ooh, I need one of these! I always pack fun lunches too, but typically in old plastic containers. Usually its leftovers, but my leftovers are never boring. Today I had a slice of Seitan Root Veggie Pot Pie (that I froze from a batch I made last fall) with a big ole' spinach salad with fresh sprouts, corn, sundried tomatoes, homemade vegan ranch, and bacon bits. Yum!

  16. I agree packing a tiffin always makes my lunch a special experience to look forward to. I often give tiffins as gifts - filling them with special treats for the receiver to discover.

    Our society would be a lot better off if we each packed a daily tiffin rather than grabbing a styrofoam container packed with low nutrient low cost food.

  17. What an awesome lunch! Luckily, I work close to home so I go home everyday for lunch & don't need to pack one!

  18. That looks great, I think I might have to get myself a tiffin!

  19. You forgot the most crucial step--the part where you send it all to me. :)


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