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Fed-up with hostile post-it notes, sticky shelves and festering fast food containers? Don’t let an unfriendly office fridge bully you into blowing your lunch money on pricey take-out. Beat the system with these fridge-free, 5-dollar lunches.

Perish The Thought: Follow these simple, USDA approved, rules for food safety and give refrigerators the cold shoulder.

1. Play it safe: Minimize the amount of time your perishables spend in “the danger zone” (40-140 degrees) by keeping hot food hot and cold food cold.
2. Lunch Whistle: Consume packed lunch within 3-4 hours.
3. Natural Preservatives: Incorporate foods that naturally ward off bacteria, such as garlic, hot peppers, pickled vegetables, lemon and cilantro.
4. Don’t break the seal: Choose fruits and veggies that come pre-packaged by mother nature such as cherry tomatoes, blueberries and bananas, and leave them whole.
5. Towel-off: Moisture accelerates spoilage; so dry produce, like lettuce, thoroughly after washing and pack foods that may sweat with paper towel.

Recipes For Success

Tex-Mex Rice Bowl
Some dishes are best served a la minute, while other improve over time. Rice salads, like this one, require at least an hour of commingling, so the longer it sits, the better it tastes.

1 tablespoon olive oil $.10
2 ounces pancetta $2.00
½ cup cooked brown basmati $.50
½ cup black beans $.30
½ avocado $1.00
1 tablespoon lime juice $.15
¼ cup grape tomatoes $.75
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped $.30
salt and pepper $.05

1. Brown pancetta in a skillet; add tomatoes and cook, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and toss to combine with remaining ingredients. Allow to cool completely before packing.

* Triple Play-Besides adding a bright flavor note. The acidity in lime juice thwarts bacteria and keeps the avocado from browning.

Sesame Noodle, Edamame and Frosty Grape Bento Box
Fun to eat, visually pleasing and perfectly portioned, this compartmentalized, Japanese-style lunch box will have your co-workers cooing.

1 cup leftover noodles, such as capellini $.60
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided $.50
2 cloves garlic, minced $.05
1-inch piece ginger, minced $.40
1 tablespoon rice vinegar $.20
1 tablespoon tahini $.30
1 tablespoon hot chili oil or Sriracha $.20
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds $.25
salt $.05
1 cup frozen whole edamame $.90
1 cup seedless black grapes, frozen $.75

1. In a small pan, toast garlic in sesame oil. Toss pasta with garlic oil, ginger, vinegar, tahihi, hot sauce, sesame seeds and salt.

2. Microwave edamame pods with ½ cup water on medium-high power, 3-5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and toss with coarse salt. Allow to cool completely before packing.

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3. Wrap frozen grapes in paper towel.

*Double Agent-Freezer packs are bulky and easily misplaced. Keep your lunch cool by freezing edible items, like bottled water.

Soup and Sandwich Combo:
Yellow Tomato Soup
This simple summer soup is equally delicious hot or at room temperature, making it an easy lunch option.

2 tablespoons butter $.40
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs $.10
2 yellow tomatoes, cored and seeded $2.00
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth $.75
salt and pepper $.05

1. Melt butter in a skillet, add breadcrumbs and cook until lightly toasted. In a blender, combine breadcrumbs, tomatoes, and broth and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

* Some Like it Hot: To pack hot, bring soup to a rapid boil and pour immediately into a thermos that has been pre-heated with boiling water.

Herbed Turkey Finger-wiches

Tea sandwiches were designed to sit-out at room temperature without wilting.

1 tablespoon chopped herbs (such as tarragon, chives or thyme) $.30
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature $.80
2 slices sturdy bread, like sourdough $.40
2 leaves red leaf lettuce $.10
3 slices turkey $1.00

Stir herbs into cream cheese and spread on 1 slice of bread then top with lettuce, turkey and remaining bread slice. Cut sandwich into fingers and allow to cool completely before wrapping, to avoid condensation.

*Sogg-proof: Use softened or whipped cream cheese as a spread to safeguard against sodden sandwiches.

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