I used to work at an office where, for snacks, we had four giant bulk bin canisters with levers that let us take
more than a few handfuls of M&M's, trail mix, popcorn, and pretzels. Since I am the kind of person who leaves her house at the very last moment possible, the lunch I packed for myself the night before often sat in my fridge, forgotten, until it became dinner. And lunch? M&M's, trail mix, popcorn, and pretzels. (It was less expensive than an overpriced salad bar with a long line, OK?)
Though I've gotten much better at remembering my lunch—turns out, it's a lot easier to remember when you're excited about the food you cook!—I still find myself running to the subway on the regular. I imagine the breakfast waiting for me on the other side: oatmeal that I made, froze, and stashed in the work freezer, ready to be reheated (thanks to an excellent tip from Sarah Jampel), and I walk faster. (There are frozen dumplings in that freezer, too.) Which got me thinking: What other shortcuts are there to make office meals more nutritious, more cost-efficient, more delectable?
I asked my coworkers and the Food52 community for tips on how to make office breakfast/lunch/snack lighter on the wallet and the belly, but bigger in flavor and ease, going into the new year. Here's what they said:
Megan Güntaş, our digital designer:
I leave a nut butter at the office and bring an apple every day, so I have a yummy snack for when I get hungry in the late afternoon. When it's winter, making a hearty chili or soup is such an easy way to have leftovers from dinner, adding another easy lunch to bring to work without any extra work.
Community member mainecook61 suggests this streamlined process for chili or soup leftovers: freeze them in lunch-sized portions; grab and go, or keep them at work. And if you don't have access to a microwave (or cutlery, or a fridge)? BerryBaby has an answer:
Rollups! Flour (or spinach) large tortilla, leftover chicken cut or shredded into bite-sized pieces, shredded red cabbage, matchstick carrots, pepper jack cheese, Italian dressing. The combinations are endless. Quick, easy and compact, it's a salad and sandwich rolled into one.
Cory Baldwin, our director of partner content, advocates for having filling, ready-to-eat foods in your fridge at all times: "Avocados and smoked salmon are great for rushed mornings." OK, but what about space? Nobody wants to be the person who opens the fridge door, only to have five people's lunches fall at their feet! Cory says:
Gallon-sized Ziploc bags (which I re-use) are my godsend: Salad greens, nuts, fruit, roasted vegetables, grains, and/or protein all go in the bag the night before, wrapped separately when appropriate, to be assembled once I get to the office. It fits in the overstuffed office fridge—and my purse—way better than bulky Tupperware.
And if you're afraid of meal fatigue, Cory's got another great tip:
The trick is picking something versatile enough that I'm not totally sick of it by day three. Think things like poached chicken, which can be sliced and added to greens as a salad; shredded and tossed with mustard for a sandwich; or pulled and served with its broth as a simple soup. Roasted vegetables like butternut squash or cauliflower also work well; they can be tossed into a seasonal salad; puréed into soup with stock and some aromatics; or mixed with greens, nuts, and something like farro, quinoa, or pasta for a heartier meal.
Social Media Manager Kaitlyn Bray adds hard-boiled eggs to the list of filling, ready-to-pack foods, but forgoes Ziploc bags for an equally space-efficient option: using segments of the egg carton itself.
Batch cooking on the weekend is the best way to make sure your lunches are tasty and filling. Video Editor Fiona Murguia says: "Usually, I like to go to the farmers' market on Saturday, and then batch cook on Sunday for the week."
While you batch cook, consider making a few different salad dressings, as Community Member ktr does, so even if the greens are the same—and remember, you can keep these greens at work, or pick them up from the grocery store on the way to work—the taste varies. Here are some dressings to get you thinking and planning:
Here are some more ways on how to give second, third, and forth lives to giant batches of foods you prepared over the weekend (because a repetitive office lunch is not very inspiring):
What are your tips for making desk lunch less sad/expensive/blah? Let us know in the comments!