Monday, September 21, 2015

The downside to working in the office all day, every day is that packing lunch is a macabre affair

Today's noontime menu:

-banana (1)
-carrot (1)
-cheddar cheese (5 slices)
-cottage cheese
-hardboiled egg (1)

I also have a bag of rice cakes in my desk drawer.

I am a good eater. I like to eat. I do not "diet."

This lunch, which I patched together at the last minute out of what was to hand in the kitchen, depresses me.

I am now teaching at an institution with one of the highest rated food services in the country. It's outstanding. But I will not allow myself to drop $8-$10 a day on lunch, especially not at what happens to be a lean financial time for my family.

So...what on earth do people take for lunch? I used to do this regularly, like back when I was 23 and had a miserable office job--although I do remember an exhausting number of cheese sandwiches being consumed in that period.

Leftovers, when we have easily transportable leftovers, are an obvious solution, but otherwise...? I need to get better at this.


Anonymous said...

Leftovers from dinner the night before.

Earnest English said...

Maybe make a frittata and then use it for lunches? It's easy to heat up (if you need to) and tasty and will last for a while. You'll probably get sick of frittata before it's gone.

What I do, I confess, is bring Amy's microwave-able dinners. I can usually find one I like for $3.50 (and I like that it happens to be vegan and gluten free -- I eat the Asian Noodle ones), but this also may be more than you want to spend.

I used to bring salads, but I don't like to eat salad if it's cold. You also might think about soups and bread when it gets colder.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm chuckling as I sit here eating my celery with hummus, plus frozen grapes. But in general, I'm with Earnest: Salad in warm weather, soup when it's cool. Some sort of starch with both. Soup also freezes, so I used to make a soup a week, keep half in the fridge, and freeze half, so I could alternate and wouldn't have the same soup every day for a week.

And maybe treat yourself to *one* of those fancy food service lunches on campus per week?

JaneB said...

Frittata also freezes...

I make more interesting sandwiches on the weekend, without adding any salad, and freeze them (this is particularly good if you eat meat as there are many more options!) - they act as a cool pack in my bag (and being frozen means I can't eat them easily at 10am because I'm stressed) and are fine for lunch. I bring them along with veggies and fruit and stuff...

I also like to have a box of 'grabbables' in the kitchen - oatcakes with herbs or other tasty additions make cheese much more exciting, granola bars and fruit leather snacks are nice, and there are lots of kinds of canned soup and make-from-concentrate-with-hot-water soups which are tasty and moderately healthy and portable.

Also, if you make extra rice or pasta with dinner, that can be a quick and tasty salad with the egg, cheese, grated carrot etc. that you grabbed - and a dob of dressing can add variety

I make a granola version of refrigerator oatmeal too - I throw frozen berries into a well-sealing container, add a handful of seed and nut rich granola, and top with a couple of spoons of whatever yoghurt is in the fridge (or leftover custard or quark and a good squirt of syrup/maple syrup/honey) - the fruit thaws during the morning and the granola keeps some of its texture, and it's pretty tasty!

In fact, just keep the bag of granola in your office drawer, much more enjoyable than rice cakes... ;-)

undine said...

Sometimes leftovers, sometimes Lean Cuisine before they reformulated everything and raised the price. Trader Joe's salads are perfect. My go-to lunch has to have some heft to it or I am starving and faint by 2 p.m., so currently it's a Yakisoba frozen noodle/vegetable pack that they sell at Costco to which I add shrimp. It gets me through long afternoon classes.

heu mihi said...

What great ideas! I do take leftovers when they're available (and practical), but we've been prioritizing leftovers for Bonaventure's lunches, which frequently leaves me in the cold.

Two things:

1) Clearly, I need to do more food prep work on the weekend.
2) We are going to have to lighten up on our seasonal-veg-only policy! Normally, we have huge stocks of frozen vegetables and soups and sauces and things from the garden, but moving meant no garden means empty freezer. I will eat out of season this year, and IT WILL BE OKAY.

K said...

I find Indian or Italian works pretty well with my Mr. Bento (basically a thermos with compartments inside).

It's designed for (1) soup (2) rice (and maybe toppings of a dry-ish sort and (3) sides, but I find it works well for

(1) curry (2) rice (3) veggies/dessert or
(1) sauce (2) pasta (3) veggies/dessert

There are particularities about it (the "rice" container can leak if you put something too saucy in and knock the thermos on its side), but it keeps the meal fairly hot, which is a bonus for me: no good microwave on my floor. (A small thermos for the curry or sauce would also work, I think, since the pasta or rice, if not straight from the fridge, might be warmed enough by the sauce. Hm.)

Bardiac said...

I'm the most boring lunch person ever. Peanut butter sandwiches. Maybe some yogurt or cheese, too. And the next day, another peanut butter sandwich.

Leftovers are good, too, but that requires a bit more planning.

Good Enough Woman said...

I often have hummus with veggies (my faves are mini sweet-peppers, carrots, and broccoli) and pita chips.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

A typical lunch is a microwaved bag of steamed veggies that hubby and I split up in the morning, and then some kind of meat (meatballs are convenient and warm up well, usually. We also sometimes cook a couple of breasts of chicken, cut them up, and portion out over a week.). If you're vegetarian, you can always just go with the steamed bag of veggies with whatever sauce or topping you like. I often do take leftovers, though, and sometimes I just have a grab bag of snacks like your post said.

Making lunch is stressful for me, so hubby often deals with it. I just hate cooking every day. He loves it.

Sisyphus said...

Back when I had access to a fridge I took in a frozen Amy's or leftovers, or made something with bulgar (I love that stuff!) or dal. These days I make a big ham and cheese sandwich or turkey sandwich, or buy a couple TJ salads for variety.

ntbw said...

I also eat almost exactly the same lunch every day (well, not this year, because I'm on leave and an eat at home, but when I'm going to campus, this is what I do):

Greek yogurt
boiled egg (I make a batch at the beginning of the week)
edamame (the steam in bag kind--also done in bulk at the beginning of the week)
piece of fruit

I will often eat one thing out of this batch (generally the fruit or the edamame) as a snack around 10:45, and then the rest for lunch around 12:30.

SOOOO boring--but I actually don't get tired of it, because I can vary the flavor of the yogurt, the kind of soup, the kind of fruit. And it's healthy and keeps my satisfied through the afternoon (hence the emphasis on kinds of protein).

JaneB said...

If the vegetables were FROZEN in season, and you're just buying them now, it's not SO bad, surely? (rationalising like mad, in the absence of any garden for years...)

Maude said...

If leftovers aren't available, then I make big salads with a can of tuna or chicken or salmon or the like with raisins, almonds, half an avocado, oil and vinegar for the dressing, and an apple and almond butter for a snack or side if I'm starving.

Food prep is key. It's a pain, but at he very least if I get the Magpie's lunch made the night before, I have more time in the morning to make mine, although most of the time I'm like, "well, if I'm making hers, I may as well make mine while I'm here!" If I'm really industrious, I get the ones for my long days done all at once because I know I'll be too tired to think about lunch that night.

I can't remember if you're a vegetarian. If you are (or even if you're not), the cookbook Laptop Lunches has some good creative, easy lunch ideas. Paleo Power Lunches is a good one, too (you can just sub out another protein for the meat to make it veg friendly). eMeals (online) also has a lunch only plan that you can sign up for, and they give you a meal plan for five lunches for individual or family for a few bucks a month. Sometimes I find planning easier when someone else maps it out for me.

Also, we have found it to be cheaper most of the time if we spend the money on doubling dinner in order to have leftovers for all of for lunch then to buy separate lunch stuff. And big hearty stews that you can make in the crock pot on a Sunday and just portion off for the week works well, too.

Susan said...

When I'm organized, I do a couple of things at the weekend. One is a quiche/ frittata type thing - gives me a few dinners, and then lunches. Also, I'll do a hearty rice/quinoa/other grain salad: a few cups cooked rice, a can of beans (usually black or pinto) and then some veg - I'll sauté some peppers, zucchini, etc, use cooked broccoli- but also just mix in kale, spinach, or scallions; in season pomegranate seeds, but walnuts, feta cheese. Toss with a vinaigrette and voila! It's endlessly variable.