Making lunch: You're doing it all wrong! (And 36 ideas for getting it right)

Packing your lunch should be easy, people! 

If you're anything like me, you start out the work or school week with the best of intentions: This is the week I'll pack my lunch each day, saving time, money and untold calories. And that lasts about, oh, a day or two. Or, until a coworker invites me to go out to a restaurant serving grub that's far more interesting than the stuff I've packed.

Turns out, I've been doing it all wrong.

There's a new crop of books aimed at making the midday meal easy -- whether you're brown-bagging for just yourself or for picky eaters of the pint-sized variety.

One of the biggest mistakes adults make is trying to make lunch their "diet" meal. But if you just pack celery sticks and rice cakes there's a good chance you just won't eat it. Another mistake is trying to make lunch a full-fledged meal that you shop for, and make, for lunch, that includes a meticulously planned ratio of complex carbs to and...

STOP!

It's hard enough to make a decent breakfast and dinner for ourselves each day, much less throwing a third meal into the mix, said food writer J.M. Hirsch, author of "Beating the Lunch Box Blues." He says  the easiest way to get lunch in the bag each day is to shop your fridge for leftovers or little bits and bites that, when combined, will make a tummy happy come midday.

Grab some crackers, a few slices of sharp cheddar, a handful of grapes and some veg -- maybe some cherry tomatoes, or string beans. Tuck in some of your favorite salad dressing to use as a dip. And you're done!

A new crop of bento-style lunch boxes also help with this mix-and-match approach, encouraging a "grazing" type of meal that just might make it easier to pack up your lunch and get out the door each day.

Hirsch's book still has plenty of recipes to help you prepare lunch items in advance, such as pasta salads and a tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons. But the book excels at providing creative ways to throw lunch together in a snap. 

Three other lunchtime cookbooks that will inspire you to get packing are:

--"Weelicious Lunches" by Los Angeles food writer and blogger Catherine McCord. Although the book is aimed at packing lunch for kids -- as in, lunches they'll actually eat -- adults will enjoy many of these meals just the same. Examples: A turkey BLTA wrap (the A is for avocado) or tapenade-cream cheese pinwheels that use ingredients you probably already have sitting in your fridge: Sandwich bread, cream cheese and tapenade. (McCord includes a recipe for her own tapenade, if you prefer to DIY.) You can read more about McCord here.

--"Best Lunch Box Ever" by Katie Sullivan Morford. This book is also aimed at kids, but it's suitable for adult lunch boxes as well. Morford's book (as well as McCord's) offers lots of clever ways to sneak veggies into lunch. A few examples: A sweet-and-savory date wrap that puts spinach to good use, a veggie-rich sesame pasta and an Asian slaw. 

--"Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts on the Go" by Diana Rodgers. Despite the name of the cookbook, this last one will help you pack up easy lunches whether you follow the Paleo Diet or not. Her recipes come together in mere minutes, including chicken, avocado and bacon salad and spicy shrimp salad lettuce wraps.

What's your favorite way to pack a lunch when you're trying to run out the door?

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