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12 Ways to Have Better Lunches in 2016 (Even if You Only Have 5 Minutes)

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As they say: With time comes (lunch) perspective. And we've learned a lot from our mistakes slapdash grilled cheeses, toasts dotted with almost out-of-season baby tomatoes, and miscellaneous photoshoot leftover lunches. 2016 will be our lunch year. How do we know? Because we have a carefully laid-out plan. Here's how to make lunch whether you find yourself with an hour to prep and plan on a Sunday afternoon, or you're 5 minutes from your office, and here's to better lunches in 2016.

Photo by James Ransom

If It's Sunday Afternoon and You Have...

5 Minutes

Make yourself a chutney for the week ahead—it's one of the most versatile pantry staples and is delicious in everything from savory yogurt to sandwiches to potato salads (mix it in with the mayonnaise!). Making a batch now will give you a world of options for the week. Throwing all the ingredients in your food processor takes about five minutes from start to finish.

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10 Minutes

Make a pot of hard-boiled eggs and stash them in the refrigerator. Come morning, you'll have twice as many lunch options: Make avocado toast with an egg on top, eat an egg with hummus and whole grain bread, chop it up and throw it on some greens for a quick salad, or tuck one or two into a pita sandwich.

30 to 45 Minutes

Make lunch for yourself for the week. One of our favorite ways to do this—and one that our marketing team member Haley Priebe swears by—is to make a quiche. Then it's time to clean out your fridge improvise: Line the crust with whatever cooked vegetables you have leftover from the weekend, then beat five to six eggs with some spices and pour them over the vegetables, sprinkle some cheese on top if you're feeling fancy, and bake at 375° F for 30 to 40 minutes. Not into quiche? Cook a myriad of grains and beans to throw together into quick salads all week long. (Roll over the photos below for some of our favorite tips on each.)

A Range of Grains -- and What to Do with Them

A Range of Grains -- and What to Do with Them by Marian Bull

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How to Cook Dried Beans

How to Cook Dried Beans by Marian Bull

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8 Lunches that Taste Better at Room Temperature
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8 Lunches that Taste Better at Room Temperature

If It’s the Night Before and You Have...

5 Minutes

Who says impressive lunches have to take time? One of our favorites—Pan Con Tomate with Burrata—only takes about five minutes to make and, if you leave out the burrata (which you definitely can), you likely already have all the ingredients in your pantry. To make it, box-grate a tomato (fresh or canned, depending on the season) into a storage container, then mix it with grated garlic and salt and pepper, cover, and place in your fridge to grab for tomorrow. In the meantime, toast two pieces of bread, wrap them in plastic wrap or a towel and set aside for tomorrow morning. Come lunch, just spread the tomato mixture over your bread.

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10 Minutes

Turn your leftovers from dinner into a sandwich: Almost any protein you cooked for dinner tonight can take the place of cold cuts. If you roasted a chicken, pull the meat off the bone to make a pulled chicken sandwich (or taco!), layer tofu onto a baguette for a bánh mì-inspired sandwich, or slather the bread with chimichurri and stick your steak between it.

30 Minutes

Use one of your pantry staples to make a bright and hearty salad that's still delicious on the fifth day. Combine kidney beans (we know you have a can somewhere) with onion, cilantro, parsley, and walnuts, then make a garlicky, yet slightly sweet and spicy dressing and set it in a large container. In the morning, dress your salad before work and top with crumbled feta. And if you don't have any of these ingredients and don't want to run out to get them, the good news is that this salad is flexible.

Lobios Salad (Spiced Kidney Beans with Herbs and Feta)

Lobios Salad (Spiced Kidney Beans with Herbs and Feta) by Kenzi Wilbur

Pan con Tomate with Burrata

Pan con Tomate with Burrata by meganvt01

If It’s the Morning Before Work and You Have…

5 Minutes

You don't have a lot of time and you're probably exhausted (we're with you on hitting that "snooze" button one too many times), so stick with the basics: Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Lucky for you, depending on what you have in your refrigerator, there are countless options for upgrading the classic PB&J: Replace the jelly with ricotta mixed with honey, swap out the jelly for tomato jam for a sandwich that isn't as cloyingly sweet, mix your peanut butter with some red pepper flakes before spreading it, or use cashew butter in lieu of peanut.

10 Minutes

If you have a piece of bread, Greek yogurt, and any kind of spread, you have the makings of a yogurt tartine. In a quart-sized container, place any spread at the bottom (think guacamole, eggplant-tahini spread, zucchini butter!). Cover this with a layer of plastic wrap, then toast some bread, put it on top, and cover—there are many ways to pack this lunch but I've found this to be the most foolproof! Bring along a container of Greek yogurt, then at the office, layer your toast with the yogurt then the spread.

30 Minutes

Our go-to when we have a little time in the morning is the jar salad. Packed in a large mason jar, it makes for easy transport (no more spilled dressing!) and will fit all of your favorite salad components. At lunchtime, just flip the jar into a bowl and you're ready.

How a Few Hard-Boiled Eggs Can Save Your Work Lunches
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How a Few Hard-Boiled Eggs Can Save Your Work Lunches

If You’re On Your Way to Work and You Have...

5 Minutes

If you're racing to work and barely have time to stop to grab ingredients for lunch, use what you already have. We all keep a snack drawer at work (right?...) and there are several things in those snack drawers that can work for lunch. If you already have crackers, run to the corner store and grab some hummus or an avocado; if you already have dried dates, run to the store and grab Greek yogurt and eat them together (and if you have a stove at the office, please, please make sautéed dates, then send some our way); if you already have toast, you don't need our advice—there's a world of toast options waiting for you (just call it a tartine when Phyllis from accounting asks you what you made).

10 Minutes

You don't have time to think—but you do have time to run to the store. Grab yourself the ingredients for a simple meal you can assemble at the office like a radish and butter tartine. Or pick up an avocado and call the nearest takeout place for a container of brown rice. Just add soy.

30 Minutes

Do as we often do and make an impromptu salad. Stop at the market on your way into work and get whatever looks beautiful—see some buckwheat sprouts? Throw 'em in! Some mustard greens? Great. Once at work, mix it all together and drizzle with good olive oil and vinegar (two ingredients we are strong proponents for keeping desk-side) and you'll have a lunch that's so much better than that salad place with the never-ending line.

What are some of your New Year's lunch resolutions? What are your strategies for keeping them? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags: lunch timing, lunch planning, meal planning