Brown Bag Weekday Lunches

June 26, 2013

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.

Today: Gabriella tells you how to pack a lunch that'll make the whole office jealous.

Veggie Burger

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If I had a dollar for every time someone complained to me about being broke, all while regularly spending upwards of $10 for lunch every day...well, then I wouldn't be writing this column.

Sound familiar? If so, put away your wallet, dust off the old lunchbox, and be prepared to receive constant compliments from your coworkers about how good-looking your lunch is. Also be prepared to feign humility ("oh, this old salad?"). Then, look at their expensive sandwiches with pity and teach them everything I'm about to tell you here.

These recipes can be heated up or eaten cold, so regardless of whether your office has a full functional kitchen or if you have to scarf your food down right out of the bag, you'll be good to go.

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Vegetables

My go-to lunch involves roasting a huge batch of vegetables on Sunday nights and polishing them off throughout the week. The combination I'm currently obessed with is sweet potatoes, onions, and cubes of tempeh marinated in teriyaki and hot sauces and roasted for 25 minutes. While those are cooking, I slice up and marinate asparagus, mushrooms, and red peppers and stick them in the oven with the other vegetables for an additional 10 minutes. Then I'll throw them on a bed of mixed greens or on top of leftover grains for a hearty, healthy lunch. 

Homemade Veggie Burgers

Veggie Burger

Veggie burgers are a quick way to pack leftovers into one portable, nutritional meal. The formula is simple: 1 part grain + 1 part bean + 1 part vegetable + binding agent. Combine the ingredients, roll into patties and bake. I store them in my fridge all week, then enjoy them on a bed of lettuce or on whole grain bread with a generous helping of hummus. 

Leftover Pasta 

Pasta e Ceci

As soon as I finish a pasta dinner, I'm already looking forward to the leftovers I'll enjoy the next day. This farfalle and chickpea pasta and macaroni peas are two that translate especially beautifully to pasta salads (add a few halved grape tomatoes to the latter the next day -- just trust me on this one). Or skip the greasy Chinese takeout and try this soba noodle salad -- no risk of passing out at your desk at 3 PM from a carb coma. 

Quinoa with...anything 


Quinoa Confetti

Quinoa is the lunchtime darling. It's affordable, nutty, healthy, and satisfying without being heavy. Gena's Quinoa Confetti Salads are a no-fail solution for using up leftover vegetables and beans and adding heft to greens. 

Odds and Ends 

Lemon Caper Dressing

There are little things you can do to keep even the most bare-bones packed lunches, eaten while hunched over your keyboard, seem like a feast. Make sure to keep some salad dressing or good olive oil and vinegar in the office so you won't have to schlep it in every day. Sea salt, black pepper, a bottle of Sriracha, and nuts are also crucial lunchsavers; think of them as a desk-drawer first-aid-kit for your food. Bring real forks and knives (there is nothing more depressing than eating with plastic cutlery), and if you have plates in your office, use them. Avocado toast is never, ever a bad idea. And take a cue from Amanda's Kid's Lunch: always pack dessert. 

Tell us: what are your favorite lunches to pack on weekdays?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Abigail Kellie
    Abigail Kellie
  • dc
  • Nico01
  • SuSanFran
Yes, my name rhymes.


Abigail K. June 3, 2014
Cheese, crackers, and some good cured meat make for a fancy feeling and tasty lunch. Add some marinated artichoke hearts, hummus, olives, etc. and it's a lovely antipasto lunch.
dc September 25, 2013
How do you make the leftover pastas into salads?
Nico01 June 28, 2013
This is seriously helpful! Will try out some of the ideas here. Hope this becomes a weekly feature.
SuSanFran June 26, 2013
My absolute favorite work lunch is roasted vegetables (which I do a big batch of over the weekend), brown rice (ditto), with a few squirts of sriracha and a dollop of Greek yogurt on the side. The combination of carmelized vegetables, nutty rice, spicy sauce and tart yogurt just sends me. And it's healthy to boot. Yum. Thanks for the other ideas, too!