Every summer as I was growing up, my family would take road trips. To save money and time, my parents would pack a cooler, and we would stop for lunch “along the road.” In spite of the variety of sandwiches that might include homemade ham salad, or a loaf of bread with a choice of cold cuts and fixings, more often than not I seemed to end up with a slightly squashed peanut butter and honey sandwich. (I blame my brothers.) Only now do I appreciate how well we ate, with everything fresh.

One of the banes of my existence is answering, “What’s for lunch?” whether feeding myself, or making sure that a family member isn’t going to starve, and doing it economically and nutritiously.

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When I was working full time, I was fortunate that I could run to the company cafeteria for an affordable (corporate subsidy!), freshly prepared lunch. Otherwise, I would have done anything to avoid bringing my lunch from home. But these days I’m a veteran packer, whether it’s a combination lunch and after-school snack for my daughter, or a last-minute easy-to-eat meal for my husband to grab as he heads out to volunteer on a search-and-rescue mission.

small-redI wish I had a copy of Califia Suntree’s Bring Your Lunch! earlier.  Suntree not only makes an excellent case for the merits of bringing your lunch, but details how to do it, from stocking your kitchen to packing, transporting and proper storage. She includes recipes that are quick to assemble with an eye on good flavor. Gluten free? Vegan? She’s got you covered. Bring your lunch and you’ll never skip lunch, and you’ll never have to compromise because of dietary requirements.

It has taken me years to find containers and totes that are both the right size as well as environmentally responsible. But in the first chapter, “The Mess Kit,” Suntree provides a comprehensive list of options I wish I’d had from the start, including their merits and the results of any testing she did. One of my favorite discoveries: Packit brand coolers, with freezable gel packs built into the liners.

I love the second chapter, “Strategy Session,” which tells how to shop, stock your kitchen, and even how to quickly tailor the same food to lunches for the entire family. Tuna salad for the kids and Nicoise for the adults from the same basic ingredients? Genius.

The remainder is filled with additional tips and recipes, many of which are gluten-free or vegetarian. There is a “10 Minutes or Less” section for packing in a time crunch.  Colorful infographics summarize the essentials, and links to recommended products or recipes are embedded in the text. In fact, my only disappointment with the book is a small one: it is only available as an eBook. I would love to have a print copy to keep in the kitchen, or give as a graduation gift.

Those family road trips were great experiences that I have tried to share with my own children. I do miss that forced togetherness, and seeing the country. But I don’t miss the soggy peanut butter sandwiches.