22 Easy Recipes to Make Packing Lunch a Breeze

September 24, 2018
The prettiest lunch bowl there ever was. Photo by Rocky Luten

One might think working at a food publication would mean we’re impervious to the weekly―nay, daily―affliction of not knowing what to pack for lunch. Sure, we certainly get our share of wondrous eats that emerge from our very own test kitchen; but relying on those often random combinations of divergent recipes does not make for a sound lunch strategy.

Planning for lunch is a very real thing at Food52: One look at our shared fridge will immediately give you insight as to how seriously some of our co-workers take it. There are those who create beatific Mason jar salads whose colorful cross-sections have me admiring them in front of an open fridge door for far too long. There are those who bring in shoebox-sized containers of gorgeous pasta salads already dressed with pesto and dotted with the last heirloom tomatoes of the season.

And there are those, like my co-worker Cory, who come armed on Mondays with gallon-sized zip-top plastic bags of pre-washed greens (they take up less space than clamshells, thankyouverymuch), bulbs of fennel, sheets of lox or cured ham, and maybe a carton of eggs. Eventually, she’ll create a variety of #notsaddesklunches from this lot throughout the week, and it will have taken her only minutes of foresight.

These are precisely the types of lunches I love: They're seemingly effortless, come together in minutes, and feel truly complete with maybe a hunk of bread on the side. I realize not everyone has access to a full-service kitchen at their workplace, but there are still plenty of great, easy ideas that focus on bigger batch prep you can do ahead of time. If you're looking to be better about bringing your own lunch, consider some of our favorite smart and tasty ideas below.

And, of course, if you have favorites of your own, don’t hold back! Be sure to share your gems with us down in the comments.

Salad as a Meal

If there's one category of food where we really excel, it's the large-format salad, which is flexible enough for additions and adjustments (depending on the state of your produce drawer). Here are a few that only get better as the workweek powers on.

The Incredible, Edible Egg

There's no way we can have a lunch roundup without a nod to one of our favorite pantry staples. I love layering creamy egg sandwiches with a thin slice of deli ham; I also love slicing up leftover frittata from Sunday brunch and slapping them onto two pieces of bread, heavily slathered with a mustardy mayo. Have a tried-and-true egg salad recipe? I'm always listening.

Load Up a Thermos

Whether you like it or not, the temps are dropping and the need for a warming soup, stew, or pasta is real. Make a large batch and load up a widemouthed, insulated thermos (something like this). Don't forget to pack a crusty roll, and be happy you don't need to wait on the microwave line to reheat your turkey chili.

Think in Components

One of my lunchbox "formulas" is some type of grain or rice, a steamed or roasted veg, and some "other" (usually protein). This is hardly rocket science, but thinking this way really makes making grain or rice bowls, or more traditional bento boxes easier to assemble. The first two components are easily and often driven by what I had the night before; here are some of my favorites to fill in the rice and "other" categories.

For Colder Days Ahead!

What are your go-tos to make lunch-packing a breeze? Please share them below!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Hana is a food writer/editor based in New York.