Remember when you were a little kid and could.not.wait.for.LUNCH!? Imagine feeling that way again — actually excited to enjoy your midday break with a healthy desk lunch you brought from home. Think noodle bowls, creamy, tart avocado toasts and spicy soups.
With a few strategies and a little forethought given to your lunchbox (and some sea salt in your desk drawer), your weekday lunches can be just as exciting as any other meal of the day.
Here’s how to re-think what’s in your brown bag:
NIX THE PLASTIC CONTAINER — FOR GOOD
If you have a favorite coffee mug, find yourself a favorite bowl, too. Keep a real plate, bowl, glass and utensils at work. It doesn’t need to be fancy, and it’s true that food tastes better when there’s a little ceremony attached (and no one likes it when their plastic fork snaps in half while diving into cold chicken.) Besides, it’s better for you and the planet.
MAKE A DESK DRAWER PANTRY
Keeping a few staples at your desk lets you make meals on the fly, finish something you brought from home or hodgepodge together take-out meals to make them more appetizing and awesome. Some of our favorite things to have on hand:
- Sea salt: A little sprinkle of flaky Maldon or Jacobsen sea salt makes everything taste better. (Both companies make tiny tins, perfect for stashing in purses, backpacks, glove boxes and camping kits.)
- Togarashi: This Japanese spice blend adds a kick to rice bowls, hot soups, leftover veggies or salads.
- Vinegar: A tiny little bottle of rice or cider vinegar helps add punch to bowls of beans, boring deli meats or even add bright dressings to lame salad spreads.
- Olive oil: If you’re going to stash vinegar, stash olive oil, too. Drizzle on soups, toss with grains or whip up an on-the-fly vinaigrette.
- Pepper grinder: Because pepper doesn’t come from a paper packet. Drop mic.
- Crackers: Big, broad crackers (like Wasa Crispbread or rice cakes) are great bases for open-faced sandwiches in a pinch (Think: Grown up peanut butter and jelly) or to enjoy with salads and soups.
- Marcona almonds or roasted unsalted almonds: Tossing almonds on your salads and bowls adds crunch and instant gratification. They’re also great for snacking.
- Hot sauce: This situation is what those little bottles of hot sauce were made for.
- Mustard: A little dollop adds bite to salad dressing and a spoonful makes a mean ham sandwich on the fly. (This may be best kept in the fridge — find some real estate in there and label your goods.)
KNOW WHEN TO DRESS AHEAD
Stashing a salad for lunch is a great idea, but it’s one that’s best served dressed appropriately. Sturdy greens like kale, radicchio and chard stand up to dressing hours before enjoying, so go ahead and dress it at home. But more delicate greens like spinach, mixed baby lettuces and tatsoi will wilt and be … well, limp for lunch, so dress them right before eating. Toss a few croutons or chunks of bread into your salad to bulk it up and sponge extra dressing out of your bowl.
READ MORE > WHAT DIETITIANS EAT … FOR LUNCH
MAKE PICNICS A PRACTICE
There’s nothing that says your lunch has to be in a bowl or between two pieces of bread. A picnic requires little-to-no prep and always feels like a special treat. Pack pieces of salami, cheese nubs from the fridge, a hunk of baguette and a piece of fruit or a few olives. It’s effortlessly dignified and really easy to pull off. It’s a good idea to keep a small cutting board and a small sharp knife for slicing in your desk pantry; once they’re there you’ll find infinite uses for them.
LEAN ON THE LUNCH BOWL
Bowls are the new best case scenario when it comes to lunch. Mix and match grains, greens, proteins and toss on a sprinkle of something crunchy and delicious. The keys to a great bowl? See below:
Build a Base:
Grains, greens or a combination of both. Always having steamed grains and chopped greens prepped in your fridge makes this easy to execute. Choose grains, greens or both. Farro, quinoa, brown rice, couscous and bulgur are all are great grain options. Add handfuls of kale, spinach, baby lettuce or herb mixes and you’re ready to go.
Pick a Protein:
Give your bowl some staying power with protein. Eggs, beans, leftover chicken or steak and smoked fish are all great options.
Now, add texture, color and more flavors. Pick at least two items that add crunch, salt and a little bit of fat such as avocado, cheese, nuts, croutons, seed mix, raw or roasted veggies or your favorite crackers crumbled up. Fatty, salty, crunchy mix-ins like cheese and nuts are the difference between satisfactory and satisfying. Choose at least two.
Dress to impress:
Lastly, the dressing is the tie that binds here. It can be as simple as olive oil and lemon juice or as complex as green goddess or a homemade vinaigrette.
ENTER THE OPEN-FACED SANDWICH
Open-faced sandwiches don’t transport well, but that’s precisely why they’re great to make from scratch for lunch. (Read: No soggy bread.) Rice cakes, tortillas, slices of bread or large crackers are all equally excellent as your base, then top with something spreadable, produce and a protein.
The equation is simple. Try hummus with avocado and pea shoots, sliced hard-boiled eggs with salted butter and radishes or smoked trout with labneh and fresh dill.