In the early 1800’s, almost 70% of all American families lived on farms. Most of these were subsistence farms — a few cows, pigs, chickens on some land where corn, wheat and potatoes were planted — and these farms were the family’s main source of food and clothing. So, the farmer would rise early and feed his livestock, repair fences, outbuildings, fix machinery, gather eggs and in the middle of the day, when he would need some food and a short break, he would walk back to his house to visit with his wife and children and eat a small meal. And for hundreds of years the term lunch would simply mean that; to take a break from your work and go home to eat.

As the effect of The Industrial Revolution spread, factories and mills needed more and more workers. Now the small farmer had the opportunity to not only care for his land but to travel to town for day work in order to bring additional income into the household. And because it would not be practical for the farmer to return home for lunch — and because he would need to leave early in the morning and not return until late that night — he would have to take food with him.

So the farmer would put hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, vegetables and meat into a container —often a small basket with a handles — and head out in the morning. He would often meet up with other men who were carrying similar baskets as well as those with meals wrapped in handkerchiefs or placed in metal tins. In fact, workers in more extreme environments — such as coal mines and steel mills — needed something to transport their lunch in that would protect it, so they often used small covered milk pails.

By the 1850’s manufacturers saw this growing consumer need and began to mass produce fitted metal buckets and boxes specifically designed to carry lunches in. They were called lunch pails even though the trend was leaning more towards the box style. They sold well and the need increased.

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In 1904 The Thermos, was introduced as an option to the commercial lunch pail and now a worker could have a cold lunch with a hot drink. And when schools began to regionalize — and the one room school migrating to the larger multi grade school — children were now unable to come home for lunch and also needed to take food with them. And many children who wanted to mimic their fathers, sought out metal pails or buckets to take their lunches in.

In 1935, the first children’s lunch box with a licensed character was produced and the image of Mickey Mouse was lithographed over an oval tin with a handle. And in 1950 the first TV character made the cut, with Hopalong Cassidy being the choice, which was a lunchbox that cost two dollars and sold half a million units in the first year alone.

For decades the metal lunchbox was the symbol of the workforce and the character lunchbox was the symbol of childhood — with millions of men carrying their lunches to work and millions of school children carrying theirs in boxes decorated with their favorite TV shows, bands and sports figures.

But when a child moved from Elementary School to High School the lunch box was often abandoned. In that socially sensitive environment, the need to quickly distance ourselves from childish things became powerful and the brown paper bag became a safer containment choice — as well as the ability to now purchase a hot lunch from a school cafeteria.

Today, the average American purchases his lunch rather than brings it. He spends an average of ten dollars on each trip and the majority of those meals are bought at fast food restaurants. We eat in our car. We eat on the run. And we eat whatever is quickly made and cheaply provided and whether it’s the memories of soggy bologna sandwiches or the still need to distance ourselves from childish things, few of us bring a lunch to work — or if we do it’s a quickly prepared sandwich that we eat at our desk.

But the bagged lunch as an entity, as a creative endeavor, is an amazing thing. It is healthier, far less expensive (we spend almost $1,000 a year on fast food lunches ) and give us this versatile control over our day. It’s a very neat thing.

So the first step is to get yourself a lunch box — and I mean one that fits your needs as well as your lifestyle. A brown paper bag is only temporary but choosing a container to bring your lunch in shows a commitment to seeing it through.

So here are some quick options for lunch ideas.

1. Leftovers. This is an easy and simple. Simply take some of that lasagna from last night or some of that leftover casserole and bring it to work in a Tupperware container. Provided you have access to a microwave, this works well.

2. Soup. There is nothing like a cup of hot soup with a biscuit or some bread in the middle of the day. And the great thing here is you can be working in the middle of the woods and still bring hot soup in a thermos. The only requirement here is, make a pot of homemade soup — very easy to make, tastes better, healthier and much less expensive than canned soup —

3. Wraps. Only because sandwiches are so overplayed — and because most store bought bread is pretty tasteless — wraps are a good alternative. You can make a wrap with cold cuts, or a with beans and cheese for a tortilla. They are smaller, can be made quicker and are easier to eat on the run.

And the last option is this amazingly simple thing called a Mason Jar Salad. This is so incredibly simplistic that it’s absolutely brilliant.

mason jar

So, what you do is take a Mason Jar and in the bottom you put in your wet ingredients; your salad dressing. Then you add in the solid vegetables — anything that won’t get soggy if they touch the dressing — tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, celery, peppers, etc. Then you add your softer items; your pasta, mushrooms, avocado. On top of that you put your protein; your chicken, turkey, beans and then the lettuce and on top goes your cheese and any nuts.

So what you have is this self-contained salad that is separated, fresh and can remain that way for days. In fact many people make these up a week at a time and use them days later. It remains in the jar until you need it then you pour it into a bowl where all the ingredients mix. Genius.

So get creative, get a lunch box and get to work.




Everett De Morier has appeared on CNN, Fox News Network, NPR, ABC, as well as in The New York Times and The London Times. He is the author of Crib Notes for the First Year of Marriage: A...