We’ve all been there: you day gets so slammed that you find yourself wolfing down a sub-par meal in between meetings. Not ideal, but often a necessary evil. With a little prior planning, though, you can nix that "necessary" part and keep lunchtime from getting depressing.
Stocking up on the right tools, both at home and at your desk, will make those crunch time meals a little more satisfying. So even if your schedule is packed and your office is cramped, your lunch can still be a nourishing and flavor-packed break from your work load.
Break out the Slow Cooker
If you think you don't have enough time to make meals for your workdays, adding one of these to your kitchen arsenal is one of the best lunch prep decisions you ever make. The beauty of these bad boys is that you can throw a few ingredients into the cooker after a long day at the office, and by the time you hop out of the shower the next morning later, you have a hot, fresh homemade meal to take with you. Zero culinary skill required.
Try it for chili, soups, pasta sauce, enchiladas, stews, shredded chicken, oatmeal... basically, anything hearty and delicious.
Find the Right To-Go Containers
Saving the flimsy plastic container from your latest Seamless order works in a pinch, but a nice set of glass or BPA-free plastic containers in a few different sizes is a much more grown-up way to accommodate your meals.
You can also find super-specific containers tailored to what you eat most. You're a salad guy? Get something specially built for salads, with a built in container for dressing and an ice pack to keep your greens from wilting on the commute. Into soup? Get a good-quality thermos.
Liven Up Your Leftovers
Making a big batch meal and eating the leftovers for lunch all week is convenient, but it’s really easy to get sick of eating the same meal by the time Wednesday rolls around. So knowing how to dress up leftovers from can be a godsend.
The trick here is to make versatile meals that have basic elements that you can spice up throughout the week as opposed to making a super specific dish like lasagna that you can’t really customize. Turn leftover chicken into a kickass chicken salad with a little mayo, hot sauce, and celery, or dress it up with a little pasta and balsamic dressing. Leftover steak works as well on top of a salad as it does on a sandwich: chop up the leftovers and throw them some crusty French bread with a little horseradish sour cream. Or get crazy and go for an Asian-inspired take with a little soy sauce and cilantro.
Just do your office mates a favor and stay away from fish – no one want’s to be that guy at the microwave.
At The Office
Invest in Actual Dishware
Eating lunch while reading emails at your desk can be depressing enough without the added risk of snapping your plastic fork when you go to stab a piece of salad. It’s time to take back your dignity.
Rather than resigning yourself to eating out of takeout containers, stow a decent plate, bowl, mug, spoon, knife, and fork in your desk drawer, and take two minutes to put your food on a proper place setting. It’ll make you feel like a little more like a real human as you scarf down your meal.
Keep Condiments On Hand
Some people prefer to make a big batch of something bland (think chicken breast or quinoa) at the beginning of the week and then spice things up from the office fridge. Whether that’s your desk dining strategy or you just find yourself with a bland meal from the building cafeteria, having good condiments and spices at arm's reach can completely save a meal.
Spice up leftovers with hot sauce, and keep good quality salt and pepper grinders around so you don’t have to resort to those sad little packets. Stash some high-end mustard and quality dressing to give sandwiches and salads a little kick, and keep a little bottle of good olive oil on hand to drizzle over salads and into grain bowls.
Stock the Fridge
Inevitably, there will be days when you don’t have time to do much prior lunch planning and can’t stomach the idea of another mass-produced salad. So it can also be super helpful to keep some food staples on hand at the office.
A loaf of bread in the freezer, some charcuterie with a long shelf life, and a little cheese can be lunch savers. Use 'em as a snack, or make a sandwich with your lineup of condiments. Either way, keeping your favorites on hand will give you something to look forward to on those too-rushed-to-prep days.
Keeping an avocado stashed in the office fridge can also can take a meal to the next level on a bland day. It’s great as a sandwich topper, sliced onto toast and topped with a little lemon juice, salt and, pepper, tossed in with a salad, or mixed with leftover quinoa plus a sprinkle of soy sauce.
Obviously, you don't have to put every tip into practice all at once, but even just hitting one or two of these can mean never having to eat a sub-par office meal again. Because your lunch break should never be depressing – even if you do have to dine at your desk.