Shelf-Stable Food to Pack for Lunch

No worries with these foods.  They can stay at room temperature. Try some of the following for lunches and snacks:


Breads and grains:  various breads (including multi-grain), bagels, pita, crackers, single-serving  boxes of cereal, trail mix, energy bars, granola bars, and cereal bars,  popcorn, chips, or pretzels


Raw vegetables: carrot and celery sticks; broccoli flowerets, cauliflower buds, pea pods


Raw fruits:  grapes, cherries, raisins, single-serve applesauce, whole apples, other whole fruits (bananas, peaches, pears, plums, oranges), dried fruit or dried fruit mix; flip-top cans of fruit cocktail, fruit juice cartons


Dairy and dairy alternatives: soy or rice milk (if in asceptic, single-serve boxes); single-serve pudding cups (if they are sold as shelf-stable, were not taken from the store’s refrigerated cooler, and are labeled “no refrigeration needed”), individually portioned (3 oz.) tuna cans with easy-open tops 


Protein sources: nuts, peanut butter sandwiches (or with jelly or jam), single-serve packages of peanut butter and crackers (Be aware, however, that most schools have barred peanut butter due to serious allergies in the school population. It’s best to check with your child’s school before sending your child to school with peanuts or peanut products.)


Meal muffins:   Some of these can work as  lunch entrées (for example, ham and cheese or Mexican cornbread).  Keep them in the freezer, and pack them in a lunch in the morning.  By lunchtime, they should be thawed, still chilled, and ready to eat safely.  But experiment with this method before trusting it to see how long it takes them to thaw to about 50°F, and, in very hot weather, add a frozen gel pack.  Remember, bacteria grow rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40°F- 140°F.


Desserts:  pie (not cream pie), single-serve pudding cups from the store shelf, cookies, brownies, cake without cream fillings or frostings


Condiments:  Pickles, mustard, catsup, commercial mayonnaise, and most commercial salad dressings are fine at room temperature if they are in single-serve, sealed packets. 



American Dietetic Association “Kids Deliver the Lunchbox Lowdown”


Emergency Food Cache and Sack Lunches “Foods Safe to Keep Unrefrigerated”


Susan Brewer, Ph.D. University of Illinois, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition


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