We all know we should do it, but let’s not lie… making lunch every single day can get a tad monotonous. When you’re faced with other tasks that require your free moments (laundry… why must you be so perpetual), or when it seems like you don’t even have free moments at all – lunch prep takes a back seat.
I’ve found that, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, one of the biggest mental barriers in making lunch (or any meal for that matter) is the recipe factor. Yes, recipes exist to help you stay on track with your culinary adventure but I also often find them to be a bit overwhelming. Even the easy ones tend to have multiple steps and/or a substantial ingredient list. I’m all for making a meal I can pack up every day of the week, but when I’m already tired and cranky even salt and pepper seem to challenge my cooking capacity. On top of that, there are just so very many recipes to choose from. It’s overwhelming on top of overwhelming.
In the age of information, the access to recipes doesn’t necessarily make it easier to plan. After doing a quick Google search for “easy lunch recipes” I realized that there are millions of options out there – more than enough to keep you fed and happy for years to come. However, that very variety can be intimidating rather than helpful. When there are 89 different ways to make pasta, there are 89 reasons to say: I don’t have time to sort through this.
This had me thinking – how can you combat option overload while still getting the best of all the variety out there?
So I did something I never do… I compared real life to math. What’s a recipe but a kind of equation for a meal. In a recipe there are the variables (the changing ingredients), the constants (desire for flavor, health, satiety, cost effectiveness), the method (the process of prep) and finally, the answer (the meal itself). Once you understand how these elements work with one another, you have your problem solved.
Taking that logic, I focused on creating some easy lunch templates that could be applied regularly. This guided “equation” helps streamline the process while also resulting in some pretty balanced meals at the end of it all. Insert your personal flair and you’ve got yourself something that is simple and easy to assemble but that has potential for hundreds of combos. This way, you won’t have that “but I’m tired of eating x,y,z” on your mind. You’ll have the skills to create a new answer by combining that x,y,z into a new result.
Note: While these are easy recipes to whip up, remember that any food prep will take some time. Yes – 10 minutes to curate a lunch is time commitment, but it’s also less time than you’ll spend standing in line at the deli by your office come lunch rush.
Rice Bowl’d Over
Cute names are a requirement when it comes to things like this. Trust me. And rice bowls are just about the easiest (and potentially cutest) things to throw together. Once you have a general idea of what flavors you like to combine, the possibilities are endless. The important part is making sure that you’re adding enough good stuff on top of the grain so that you’re filling up on nutrients rather than simply filling up on rice. Here’s your equation:
- Base: grain like quinoa, wild rice, or brown rice
- Bam: tofu, tempeh, grilled meat, legumes, avocado
- Colors: grilled vegetables, pickled stuff, herbs
- Drizzle: oils, dressings, hot sauce, coconut milk
- Sprinkle: nuts, seeds, cheese, dried fruits
Recipe Equation 1: Brown rice + grilled tempeh+ pickled vegetables + cilantro + sesame oil + hot sauce + sesame seeds = Mmm
Recipe Equation 2: Quinoa + chicken + roasted red peppers + avocado + olive oil + balsamic + feta cheese = Yum
That’s a Wrap (On Your Hunger… Games)
And I can’t talk about rice bowls without talking about wraps, however ridiculous that seems. It’s like the handheld version and a staple for quick and portable lunch.
- Outside: tortilla/lavash
- Inside: proteins, grains, vegetables,
- Bulk: Spread/Dressing: hummus, pesto, flavored cream cheese
- Crunch Factor: raw vegetables, crispy fried onions,
- Contrast Flavor: vinegars, hot sauces, etc.
Recipe equation 1: Whole wheat tortilla + smoked tofu + cilantro rice + guacamole + roasted corn + sriracha
Recipe equation 2: Lavash + hummus + falafel + sour cream + sprouts + jalapeno jelly
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Desktop Picnic aka Squirrel Lunch
The desktop picnic is hands down my favorite way to approach lunch time. Not only do I feel fancy for getting to eat olives in the middle of the day, it keeps me from getting bored of the same thing. It also has the added perk of forcing me to stop and take a break in order to eat (since there are so many items to pick through) which has a huge impact on my general well-being and happiness. Mindful eating is a powerful tool when you live in a crazy, fast-paced world!
Here are some suggestions to put together your perfect workday picnic:
- hard boiled egg(s)
- sliced fruit
- grilled chicken
- whole grain pita
Recipe Equation 1: Hummus + hard boiled egg + olives + pita + apple + peanut butter = Classic
Recipe Equation 2: Baguette + cheese + salami + sliced fruit + yogurt = Feeling Fancy
And of course, no set of lunch equations would be complete without the salad template! For those who want to keep it a little lighter, here’s the template for a rockin’ salad each and every time:
- Base: kale, spinach, shredded cabbage, red lettuce
- Good bits: tofu, beans/legumes, meat, hard boiled eggs, roasted sweet veggies
- Fat(s): oils, nuts/seeds/avocado etc.
- Extra freshness: fresh herbs are delicious when added into salad and definitely give it another dimension of flavor. Additionally, any fresh veggies that you have in your fridge (that don’t require cooking) add crunch and nutrition.
- Dressing: oil based, vinegar based, citrusy goodness, etc.
Recipe equation 1: Kale + cannellini beans + sliced almonds + goat cheese + sliced strawberries + red bell pepper + lemon vinaigrette = Oh so healthy
Recipe equation 2: Shredded cabbage + tofu + hazelnuts + avocado + cilantro + ginger vinaigrette = Yes please
As you can probably see, there’s a clear pattern in all of these meals and “equations.” Essentially, they’re comprised of many of the same ingredients with the common aim of creating a well balanced, packable combination of ingredients. But it goes to show you that there’s a ton of variety to be had in your lunch line-up, even if you keep stocking up on some of the same basic staples each and every grocery trip. Plus, utilizing these templates can help you to eliminate sorting through recipes so you’ll have even more time to prepare your lunch for the week ahead. Coming from someone who packs their lunch every single day – I assure you it’s fulfilling and an excellent way to save money.
What’s your favorite office friendly meal?
Image Credit: Liz Mochrie