Meal Plan

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

December 29, 2015

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

Shop the Story

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mark A. Denner
    Mark A. Denner
  • Vanitha
  • Sharon Hanna
    Sharon Hanna
  • Melissa Wilks
    Melissa Wilks
  • Michele Washington
    Michele Washington
I eat everything.


Mark A. January 16, 2016
My favorite 5 minute lunch: in a small deli container, put 1 heaping tablespoon of miso, 1 teaspoon of dashi granules, some cubed tofu and a bunch of sliced scallion. Refrigerate at work, and when ready to eat fire up the tea kettle (or microwave a big mug of water). Add a few tablespoons of hot water and mix the miso in with a fork, then fill the rest of the way.
Vanitha January 4, 2016
I have a lunch buddy at work. I make lunch for 2 days, she makes lunch for 2 days and then on Friday we have leftovers. It's keeps things different and also means we don't shrug off lunch prep because we have the other relying on us. It's great!
Sheri D. January 4, 2016
That's a great idea.
Elisa O. February 16, 2016
Excellent idea......
Sharon H. January 4, 2016
As I can't edit my post, want to also say thank you for the ideas! Just don't think it's good for people to rush - so much knowledge and research about what makes humans stressed out points to the need to slow down and smell the....whatever.
Sharon H. January 4, 2016
Five minutes for lunch? Yikes. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Maybe a little less time on the computer and "smart" phone and people might have more time for lunch ;-)
Elizabeth F. January 7, 2016
These are ideas on preparing your lunch with whatever given time you have to make it. Five minutes, thirty minutes, etc. Not how much time you have to eat it. People should also spend some time on reading comprehension. ;-)
Melissa W. January 4, 2016
This is a fun and different format to read. Thanks.
Michele W. January 4, 2016
I think mercury retrograde hit this posting a day early a few snafus that need fixing.
Sheri D. January 3, 2016
These are great ideas. I made Cuban black beans and celery root and apple soup this weekend. I love doing batch cooking on the weekends as it takes away some of the stress of cooking every night. My favorite impromptu ingredient to in my pantry is canned sardines. If I'm too lazy, there's not wrong with canned sardines, crackers, and spinach on hand for lunch.
ella11 January 3, 2016
These are such great ideas and I love that they're broken up by time! Love that they're all in one place too!