Image: Maya Visnyei
It isn't always easy to pack a homemade lunch, but with these tips, yours will be the talk of the office.
Eating out for lunch every day can quickly add up in terms of cost, but the alternative—a hastily assembled cold sandwich—doesn't exactly get you excited about bringing a meal from home. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to up your lunch game that won't involve a lot of effort; in fact, if you're cooking yourself dinner, you're already halfway there. Here, a few tips to help you whip up a fab desk lunch.
1. Start with the essentials.
Just as it's easier to make dinner when you have a well-stocked pantry and fridge, the same goes for your lunches. Having the following ingredients on hand (which you can prep on the weekend) will help you transform just about any leftovers into a laudable lunch:
- hard-boiled eggs
- cooked lentils or beans
- cooked chicken breast
- hard cheeses
- cooked whole grains
- roasted veggies
- toasted nuts and seeds
- a killer salad dressing
- oil-packed canned tuna or salmon
- hearty salad greens, washed
2. Meal prep...in moderation.
Some people are absolutely fine with building five identical mason jars' worth of layered protein and vegetables and eating them every day. But for the rest of us, the idea of eating the same meal so often is dreary and unappetizing, making it that much more likely you'll “forget” your prepared lunch at home and head out for something new.
Planning your meals in advance can be a good thing, but you're better off cooking a few ingredients (see the list of essentials above) in large batches, and incorporating them in different ways throughout the week, based on what you had for dinner.
For example, if you cook up a large batch of quinoa, use it in the following ways: Stir it into a chili, serve it instead of rice with a curry, add it to a salad for heartiness, use it to bulk up a soup or tuck it into salmon cakes. Similarly, cooked chicken is a great ingredient to have on hand, because you can use it to make a salad, burrito, shawarma bowl or soup.
3. Don't snooze and lose—make your lunch ahead of time.
Mornings are already enough of a hassle; don't add lunch-making to the list. Instead, assemble your lunches the night before. The perfect time is when you're cleaning up after dinner, which allows you to transfer leftovers (plus any add-ons) straight to your lunch container, cutting down on cleanup the next day as well.
4. Pack for how you actually eat.
Just because you can eat salad for lunch doesn't mean you have to. For many people, a salad just isn't a satisfying, hearty enough meal, and forcing yourself to pack one doesn't mean you're going to enjoy eating it. Instead, prepare meals that reflect what you actually want to eat, and ensure they're nutritious by following the general nutritional guidelines.
That being said, if you did happen to be interested in some heartier salads that won't leave you hungry by 3 p.m., we suggest our egg-topped French salad, steak and avocado bowls, or Greek-inspired power bowl.
5. The more the merrier.
Like any habit, it's easier to build good ones when you have a support network to back you up. At your office, start a challenge that tracks the number of times people bring their own lunches to work and have a small prize for the person who manages to do this the most. Alternatively, put out feelers to see if anyone is interested in forming a lunch club, where one day of the week one member brings a meal for everyone involved. If you amass even five members, then you'll only have to cook one day a week, but get to reap the benefits all week long.