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As a defiant response to sad desk lunches, the Food52 team works to keep our midday meals both interesting and pretty. Each week, we'll be sharing our happiest desk lunches—and we want to see yours, too.
Today: Your office might not have scooters, but that doesn't mean you can't eat like it does.
Imagine if you could have everything you ever wanted for lunch at work: a bowl of ramen, three heaping spoonfuls of chocolate pudding, a freshly made pepperoni pizza, or a plate of food from Southern India and handful of malt balls because nothing keeps you going quite like milk chocolate.
It might be hard to believe, but such a work environment actually exists.
I’m talking about a lunch wonderland where baristas make your favorite coffee drink at the drop of a hat and wood-burning ovens are only a scooter ride away from your desk—and it's all for free. This food utopia is the Google office in Chelsea, New York.
When I arrived at the fourth floor waiting room an hour early for a tour of the lunch program at Google's Manhattan headquarters (I was excited), I sat in front of a display of computers through the ages, dreaming up a business plan that would secure me a coveted spot at Y Combinator, a subsequent buyout, and finally, a dreamy desk in one of Google's airy, open offices. And that was before I had even seen the Lego micro kitchen (it's like a mini Lego Land with snacks, and one of several snack-filled, themed micro kitchens throughout the office) or the hydration stations, which put water in easier-to-reach places than soda to encourage healthy habits. Each of the 170 (that's not a typo) cafés at Google's Chelsea office has a different personality. In one room, they have a fully-functioning food cart smack dab in the center; in another, they serve only New York City-themed foods like bagels and pastrami, and the largest café takes its inspiration from the Netherlands.
The tour—which included a five-second glimpse of a mysterious Pac-Man-themed hallway complete with black light and (I imagine) a matching micro kitchen—had me dreaming up the ways I could apply Google's lunchtime principles to my own desk lunch. I left with a new determination to make my lunchtime as enjoyable as it is for those scooter-riding employees.
In order to eat like a Googler—yes they are called that, no "The Internship" did not make it up—all you need to do is believe in good food and your own lunch-packing ability (which is like a superpower, but better). Here are some tips to help you change your company food culture one not sad desk lunch at a time. Of course, if you want to start by bringing in a birthday cake and having an office party, I totally support that—after all, rumor has it that celebratory cakes (along with Swedish Fish) were the first snacks offered at Google. Here are the ways in which you can embrace a Google-inspired desk lunch with ease:
1. Pack a smoothie.
A day at Google could easily start with a smoothie (or twenty), thanks to complimentary juice bars, but taking a smoothie to work for your breakfast, a snack, or a light lunch is a very easy way to channel Google’s subtly health-conscious café culture. Fill a jar with a thick and fluffy avocado-based smoothie to have something to look forward to at 10 A.M. It's almost the same as having one made for you while you fiddle with Docs.
2. Drink professional-quality coffee.
Rushing to the local coffee shop and waiting in line while everyone stocks up on espresso shots can be a little tricky when you have a busy day at the office. But having high quality coffee makes lunchtime a million times better. Brew some iced coffee at home and fill up a thermos, ball jar, or growler with the liquid gold. Now your day can be punctuated with sips of cold, refreshing coffee in lieu of stress. (If you’re a tea drinker, same rules apply.)
3. Eat regionally (and communally).
Google likes themes and a great theme to absorb into your lunch routine is local food. Live in Wisconsin? Bring in some cheese curds for a fun afternoon snack to share with your desk-mates. Working in Washington? An extra apple or two never hurt anyone. And if you work in New York like I do, try throwing a bagel breakfast. Bonus points if you bake them yourself.
4. Explore different cuisines, one lunch at a time.
Dinner isn’t the only meal that allows for a little culinary world travel. Making a lunch that draws on flavors you love from around the world is a great way to bring some excitement to your desk lunch. It might require some outside-of-the-box planning, but something as simple as ramen can take your lunch to new heights. All you have to do is make your soup and noodles the night before, then keep them separate until you get to the office. Once there, add water and heat the noodles and broth in the microwave and enjoy your globetrotting lunch with a side of laptop à la carte.
5. Eat fresh pizza.
At Google, there is a legitimate wood-fired oven where mini pizzas fly out at the speed of an Indy 500 race car. But just because your office isn’t equipped with a wood-burning oven doesn't mean you, too, can’t enjoy freshly made pizza. The solution? Pizza bagels. Honestly, pizza bagels are endlessly pleasing and more fun than regular ol’ pizza because of that wonderful thing called nostalgia—and they can be made in a microwave.
6. Always save room for vegetables.
This may seem obvious, but remembering vegetables at lunch can be tricky business. Do as Google does and make the vegetables hard to forget. They do this by displaying greens more prominently than pizza and other less-healthy choices. I like to do this by packing a salad to eat with whatever I am craving that day or bringing some spinach to throw on my last-minute pizza (see above). A little green goes a long way to make a desk lunch a not-sad thing.
7. Snack like you mean it.
Remember those snack-filled micro kitchens I mentioned? Not many offices have a designated snacking area but that doesn’t mean your desk can’t. The way to embrace your inner snacker is to whip up a few batches of your favorite snacks: pretzels, granola, pocket coffee, the list goes on and on. Once you have a bunch of homemade treats, package them into snack-sized servings, then grab one (or two) a day and snack happily at your desk.
8. Don't forget to have dessert.
Google is sly when it comes to the sugary joy that is dessert. They place the pies in far-away corners of their lunch halls, put obstacles between you and the ice cream machine, and give you so many other good things to eat that you might as well just forget about the chocolate pudding lurking behind the salad bar. Food52 is a little different, to say the least—seriously. So it goes without saying that I believe in dessert—so pack yourself a little treat because your afternoon will be better if you lunch ends on a sweet note.
What are your favorite ways your company makes lunch better? Tell us in the comments below!