We all know taking your lunch to work is invariably going to be healthier and cheaper than a bought lunch. And yet, sometimes we run out of ideas or motivation to prepare ahead enough to pack a lunch. We sometimes need a little inspiration and a little extra push – I know I do!
For one thing, have you thought about how much money you’d be saving if you brought your lunch to work? Let’s calculate how much it would cost to buy your lunch every day if you work five days a week. Even allowing for holidays and a couple of sick days, if you spend an average of $10 per day on lunch it adds up to over $2,000 per year.
Another good reason to bring it yourself is the health factor. What are the chances of finding healthy options in shop bought food? Slim, I would say. I know there are options out there and you can find more healthy food choices now than several years ago, but there’s a pretty good chance most things you bring yourself from home will be healthier than anything shop bought.
Maybe you already bring your lunch to work and just need a few fresh ideas to get out of the vegemite sandwich rut. I confess I’ve been spying on my work colleagues lately, checking out what they’ve brought for lunch, plotting to take all their good ideas.
So, why not get motivated to spy on your work colleagues and share a few of their lunch strategies? And then get even more motivated and actually bring your lunch to work, or shake up your lunch routine a little.
Top 10 tips to get you started with making your lunch work
1. Do it together
Start a little co-operative with some of your workmates. Then you could pool your resources to buy a packet of wraps or bread rolls, sliced meats, avocado, lettuce, dips, cheese, mustard or relish and other interesting fillings and make your lunch together until the supplies run out for that week.
2. Leave some leftovers
Dinner leftovers are a classic, and especially good if you have the option to reheat your lunch at your workplace. It’s easier to get into the groove of bringing leftovers for lunch if you are in the mindset of cooking extra for dinner, and then packing it into a container for lunch while you are serving up your dinner. Pop it in the refrigerator (or freezer) and it’s ready for the next day’s lunch.
3. Spruce up some spuds
Here’s an idea I got from someone at work – buy a simple supermarket potato salad or bring in some cooked, cooled potato or sweet potato and jazz it up with some chopped fresh tomato, chunks of canned tuna and a few capers kept in a jar in the work fridge. Yum!
4. Nothing wrong with a sandwich.
I admit they are potentially a little boring, but I can almost hear someone in the background saying “back in my day . . .” True, previous generations survived quite well on a sandwich or two for lunch.
To freshen it up, remember that everything tastes better toasted, so use the work sandwich press if you are lucky enough to have one at your workplace. Actually, I know someone who carries around his own sandwich press in his work truck so he can plug it in wherever he stops for lunch.
If toasting isn’t your thing, try a new spin on an old favourite. With the variety of bread and wraps available these days, including gluten free styles, you could have a different sliced bread, wrap or roll every day of the week. There are also bread alternatives such as large crispbreads or rice crackers, or loaves like this one made with sweet potato and polenta.
Look for some new filling ideas and give them a go. Have your fillings at the ready at the start of the week to make it easier for work days.
So many salads in the world! Similar to the varieties of bread available, you could have a “salad week” and have a different salad every day. Make it more substantial by adding canned beans or chickpeas, noodles, canned fish, boiled eggs or cooked meat. Make it in a jar and it’s ready to grab and go when you leave for work, plus it looks pretty cool. Same applies for soup in the cooler months – plenty of options there.
6. A collection of Elements
Here’s an idea: put together a collection of bits and pieces that you can combine in different ways to make up a lunch. Let’s call those bits and pieces Elements to make it sound more serious – this is a work lunch, after all. Your collection of Elements could include:
- cooked grains such as brown rice or quinoa, kept in the freezer in small cliplock bags or clingwrap;
- a small can of tuna or salmon;
- leftover cooked vegetables, either in the refrigerator or the freezer (some freeze better than others);
- a tasty sauce or dressing; and
- a handful of nuts or seeds.
When it comes time for the workday, pull out some of your Elements and grab some salad greens and/or some leftovers from the refrigerator. Put them all together at lunchtime.
7. A secret supply stash
My desk drawer has a few surprises in amongst the stationery. Hello! It’s a helpful stash of healthy canned or packaged food with a long shelf life, ready to pull out on a lazy lunch day! Next week I’ll add a small can of cooked beans or chickpeas to my supplies.
8. Small improvement #1 – separate
One small suggestion to improve your lunch is to take any nuts or sprinkles in a separate container. Same deal with any salad dressing or sauce, rather than letting everything sit together all morning getting soggy.
9. Small improvement #2 – special
Here’s another tip I picked up from a work friend: make a small improvement to your lunchtime meal by eating from a bowl or plate rather than straight out of your plastic container. It’s a little something you can do to make it seem a little more special and to help you enjoy your lunch as a proper meal.
10. Everyone needs a backup plan
If you do get stuck and forget your lunch or run out of supplies and/or need to run out the door, you could pop out to the supermarket and buy a banana and a bread roll for under a couple of dollars. Another idea is to buy a carrot or two and some hummus or similar dip. Also, it’s OK to treat yourself with a bought lunch every now and again (so I keep telling myself)!
What’s in the photos? Here’s the key:
|1. “Power bowl” with red quinoa, carrot, snowpeas, roasted capsicum and poached chicken||2. Purchased Caesar salad (and friends)||3. Leftover frittata with a toasted bread roll and a side salad|
|4. Bread roll with sliced ham, sweet potato dip, tomato and lettuce||5. Leftover Indian lentils and chickpeas with brown rice, broccoli and some chutney||6. Yes, it’s Vegemite.|
|7. A couple of slices of wholemeal bread with half an avocado to spread at lunchtime.||8. Homemade sausage rolls, heated up in the work sandwich press||9. A fresh salad plus boiled egg and a healthy, nut based dressing|
|10. Leftover casserole with some extra green vegetables||11. Roasted and steamed vegetables with a tasty sauce||12. A can of baked beans, a couple of slices of bread, and scrambled egg cooked in the microwave in a microwave safe jug|
|13. Rice noodles, poached chicken, cabbage and other vegetables with soy sauce and sesame seeds||14. A healthy coleslaw sprinkled with nuts||15. A cheese and tomato sandwich in the work sandwich press|
|16. Fresh salad with canned chickpeas||17. Quinoa and vegetables with some nuts to sprinkle on at work||18. A little salad on the bottom, with some leftover stew and some canned chickpeas.|
Need some more ideas?
- Getting a head start on meal preparation for the week means food at the ready for lunch. Read more in this post here.
- And for something a little different, try Japanese rice balls (onigiri) as an easy and tasty alternative to a sandwich. Step by step instructions with photos in this post here.
This post was made possible with the co-operation of my work friends. Thanks!