How to Brown Bag It
Bringing lunch. Whether you love it or hate it, you know it’s the right thing to do. Come noon, instead of hungrily browsing SeamlessWeb or roaming the streets of the Midtown food desert, you could be sashaying to the company kitchen, taking out a brown bag, and revealing a mouth-watering, healthful, and well-rounded lunch. But how?
To start, here are four big considerations a lunch-packer should keep in mind. Or rather, five, if we consider rule #1: never bring tuna, ever.
In the comments section, tell us how you pack lunch, and don’t forget to share your favorite dishes on SKC for a chance to win some awesome lunch totes!
— Cara and Phoebe, the quarter-life cooks
Tips & Tricks
Budget. As long as you’ve already convinced yourself to forgo that tempting-but-disappointing sandwich, salad, or pasta from the deli downstairs, you may as well save yourself some money. Eggs, either hard boiled or made into a frittata, are great cheap protein. Beans are substantial and easily varied. Many soups cost little more than a can of tomatoes, for example, to make. To up the ante on a plain-ish soup, top with pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or a crumble of goat cheese, and add pretzels or baby carrots and you’ve got a meal: cheap, filling, with a pleasant aroma. (In summer, consider eating that soup cold!)
Best Cheap Lunches: Vegan “Cream” of Broccoli Soup with Leeks and Scallions; Celeriac & Sundried Tomato Frittata; Hard Boiled Egg Sandwich; Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers; Cold Pea Soup with Lemon, Basil, and Ginger.
Appearance. That pleasant aroma brings us to a second type of lunch possibility: the wish-list meal that makes co-workers near and down the hall salivate with envy. Though this type of lunch may require adding some items to the grocery list and doing prep work the night before, if you’re the type of person who finds cooking before work soothing, you’ll want to try to bring in a lunch like this at least on occasion. You’ll thank yourself for your efforts later, when you open the office fridge to find a meal that is fully flavored, well-proportioned, excellently presented, and inordinately satisfying.
What’s in the Fridge. If you’ve got a plan for the week that involves cooking dinner, you’re well-positioned to pack a lunch full of delicious leftovers. If dinners or other meals have parts that are prepped in advance — leek confit, for example, or roasted cauliflower — it’s also totally possible to save some to use in your lunch. This can be very much touch and go, or it can be part of a larger, strategic plan where you make extra Basic Basil Pesto, and say, toss it together with leftover roasted chicken to create a Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwich. For meals that make great leftovers, check out our Dinner Main Course section. Even when what you already own is decidedly less exciting than leek confit and is more along the lines of spaghetti, you can still come up with a decent lunch.
Best Leftover Lunches: Peanut Rice Bowl; Roasted Tomato Quesadillas (or really any kind of quesadilla, stuffed with leftovers and cheese); Spicy Black Bean Dip with corn tortillas; Spinach Strata with Sage and Gruyère.
The Afternoon Snoozes. We get really, really tired after lunch. No sooner is the fork put down and the crumbs brushed off the keyboard than an urge to crawl up beneath a blanket in a warm, comfy spot consumes us. The nutritional components of lunch seem to be impossibly tricky and somewhat unpredictable — the same meal that will leave us bright and productive one day might create grouchiness the next. Until after-lunch napping becomes accepted, it’s normally worth trying to put together a balanced meal, slightly on the light side, if only for the sake of keeping one’s eyes open during important afternoon activities.
Best Wake-Me-Up Lunches: Roasted Beet Salad with Ricotta Salata and Pistachios; String Beans with Mustard Dressing & Cured Shallots (add some grilled chicken breast); Quinoa Tabouli; Spinach Salad with Avocado, Red Onion & Toasted Pecans (add some goat cheese or smoked tofu).