No Sad Sandwiches Allowed: Tips for Better Workweek Lunches

by Ashley Mancill, Head Editor, INALJ Alabama

No Sad Sandwiches Allowed: Tips for Better Workweek Lunches

ashleymancillAs information professionals, we dedicate a lot our time to organizing and managing information and making it accessible to others. But when it comes to organizing our lunch boxes and making sure we have access to healthy, satisfying meals at work, we sometimes aren’t quite so devoted, which sometimes leads to this. Or this.

I work at night, so I try to plan my meals and prepare something ahead of time. I don’t always succeed—recipes sometimes backfire or I start working on a project and completely lose track of time. And occasionally, I get in a rut and can’t decide on anything, which usually results in me leaving the house with a bag of baby carrots and a nearly empty container of hummus. But when I do plan ahead, I find meals easier to prepare and a lot more satisfying than something put together at the last minute. It’s worth it then to invest a little time, energy, and forethought into planning work lunches (or in my case, dinners), especially if it means not having to resort to a medley of leftovers (seriously, what is that?).

Following are some suggestions to help you get ahead of the meal game and add to your repertoire of workweek meals.

Make several days’ worth several days ahead

It’s difficult to find the time or energy to cook once the workweek starts. Make it easier on yourself by spending an hour or so cooking over the weekend or on your next day off. Prepare enough so you can put meals together quickly in the evenings or have lunches ready to go. For example, make enough chicken for dinner Sunday night and wrap the rest in a few whole-wheat tortillas with your favorite add-ins. Chop up the last bit to use in a chicken salad or chicken and rice dish, or toss with teriyaki and add to a bowl of steamed vegetables. If you aren’t a meat eater, set aside some time on your next day off to make a large pot of beans. Add to green and grain salads, mix into soups, or serve over rice or quinoa. I often cook a large pot early in the week and make bean burger patties that I can freeze and re-heat later.

Plenty of Pasta!

Pasta is another good make-ahead that’s not only versatile but also quick and easy. Buy some shaped pasta on your next grocery trip or use what you have in your pantry to make several different pasta salads. Go classic with chopped celery, diced pepper, and a creamy dressing, or mix it up by using walnuts and feta or olives, onion, and chopped tomato. Don’t hesitate to use thin noodles like vermicelli or linguini as a substitute. Save any cooked long noodles you have leftover for favorites like spaghetti or alfredo, or stir-fry them with mixed vegetables for a meal later in the week.

Assemble a quick fix!

If you do have time in the morning to make a lunch but are bored with the same old turkey or roast beef sandwich and find the idea of a salad unappealing, try thinking outside of the box. For a simple, quick, and stress-free lunch, make a cheese plate. Pair a few types of cheeses (or whatever kind you have stored in the refrigerator) with assorted crackers or mini toasts and a fruit like grapes or a sliced apple. Pack some nuts for a little extra crunch and bring a vegetable spread, jam, or chutney to add a bit of sweetness or tang. For those of you who need something a little more substantial to get through the day, try putting together a ploughman’s lunch. Pack a thick cut of rustic bread, a chunk (or several slices) of cheese, an apple, a tangy spread like tapenade or chutney, and deli-sliced meat or a hard-boiled egg into your lunch box. Just be sure to save the beer for happy hour.

The Mason Jar Method

If meats and cheeses aren’t your thing but the souped-up salads you put together are turning into soggy, wilted, unappetizing heaps by break time, try the mason jar method. Mason jars are a good alternative to using tupperware in that they keep all the ingredients separate and fresh for longer. Start by putting dressing in at the bottom, add the vegetables (chopped broccoli, thinly cut carrot, radishes, chickpeas, etc), and then top with salad greens. Leave a little space at the top of the jar for add-ons, such as nuts and seeds, dried fruit, or croutons. Pack in some cooked quinoa or a grain like bulgur for texture.

But in case of an emergency…

Even if you do plan ahead, there is always the chance that your might forget your lunch. Be prepared by keeping some healthy items in your office kitchen or at your desk that will keep you satiated and give you enough energy to get through the afternoon. Stash some single-serve packets of dried fruit or nuts in a drawer to munch on or bring in a large bag of homemade trail mix. Oatmeal is also a good, filling shelf-stable item if you have access to a microwave. Keep a canister in the break room or in the bottom drawer of your desk, or opt for single-serve pouches if your desk storage is limited. Bring in a few cartons or cans of soup and box of crackers for a more savory option (and read these tips for ideas on how to liven up your bowl). And if all else fails, there’s always peanut butter. A guy I once worked with always kept a jar and a loaf of bread in his cubicle in case he couldn’t get away for lunch. Just make sure no one in your office is allergic.

Preparing and packing a lunch doesn’t have to be hard work. It just takes a little bit of planning and organizing. And librarians and information professionals are nothing if not experts at planning and organizing.

So what’s for lunch?