Lunches To Long For – Beyond The Vegemite Sandwich
The best of intentions
We all know that we should be bringing our lunch to work. It cheaper, it’s healthier. We make a new years resolution but find that two weeks into February we are struggling, and before we hit the beginning of March we’re back to grabbing an overpriced and uninspiring wrap at the coffee shop, driving through Maccas for some greasy comfort food or, probably worse still, skipping lunch altogether.
What gets in the way?
Chances are you’ve had this conversation: ‘I’d like to bring my lunch but…. you know…. [insert valid reason here], ‘I don’t have time’, ‘It’s too much effort’, ‘It’s boring’, ‘It’s not practical’, ‘It just didn’t work for me’.
We’ve been asking around, and drawing on our own extensive trial-and-error research, and have pulled together some hints and tips on how to make bringing your lunch from home a pleasure, not a chore.
It’s the inspiration that counts
What are the flavours you turn to for comfort? What cuisines and restaurant dishes do you crave? Write a big list and include all the yummy foods you can think of, searching for as much variety as possible.
For me it would include crusty bread rolls, avocado, curry, Thai beef, bacon, fresh tomato, fruit, lemon, goats cheese, coriander….(the list goes on).
I have to admit that there have been more than a handful of uninspiring but ‘sensible’ lunches that were shopped for, made, transported to work and then left lonely in the fridge as I guilty sneaked down the stairs to buy something that I actually felt like eating.
Creating an interesting and varied repertoire of menu ideas, that you actually enjoy, will give you that extra motivation to follow through on your plans.
Consider the environment…. Your working environment
Do you have fridge? A microwave? A toaster or sandwich press?
These environmental constraints will play a part in what is realistic to achieve and how you might need to adapt your recipe ideas to accommodate.
In the last office I worked in there was a microwave and sandwich press which made curries and quesadillas completely doable. But the lack of an oven meant that pastry items like pasties or pies generally needed to wait for the weekend (or the occasional bought lunch).
If your workplace doesn’t have a fridge, or perhaps you are mobile ,you’ll need to think about recipes which are friendly to keep chilled in ice packs.
Invest in your tools of trade
Good quality containers (with lids that match: yes we’ve seen your cupboard and it looks like ours) is the first step: Tupperware, Sistema, Décor, and even Ikea all have good ranges. Overall, the key is to only keep containers that have good seals, and to have a variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate for different ingredients (there are some with dividers, and some titchy ones which are great for dressings).
Next you want to think about whether your workplace has the right tools of trade. Do you need to bring your own sharp knife so you can cut your tomatoes instead of mashing them? Is it worth keeping your own cutlery and a bowl and plate onsite (we certainly know what its like getting to the communal kitchen to find someone’s taken the last fork and spoon and your left with a teaspoon or chopsticks to each your curry with). If there is no fridge, a small esky with an ice-block may be useful. A small investment in utensils can make a huge difference.
Building your recipe library
Having considered the flavours that inspire you, your environmental constraints and the tools of the trade you are now ready to build your library of recipes. Scour your favourite cookbooks, free menu pamphlets from the supermarket, and check out online resources such as taste.com.au. Gather together a list of recipes that meet the conditions of:
1. Are appealing to you
2. Meet your constraints – working environment, cost and time
3. Cover a variety of flavours and season
Some people need only a small library; they are happy with a Caesar salad every Monday and Wednesday, a cheese and tomato toastie Tuesday and Thursday, and head down to the café for a pie on Friday.
For many of us, the thought of having the same food every week sends shivers down the spine. If that’s you, then you are going to need to put in a bit more work and have a lager repertoire of lunches. We’ve shared some of our favourites (with links to the recipes below).
Planning is your friend
Planning is important: by having things thought out in advance, you remove the need to decide at the crack of dawn what you are going to take to work, because the thinking is already done. This means that you’re less likely to end up with an uninspiring lunch.
Perhaps you could do your menu planning once a week, or have a regular rotating menu so that you know what you are going to have a week in advance. This has the added benefit of making your grocery shopping more organised, and reducing your spending on ingredients you don’t need.
Building in variety, ease and failure
Think about what’s stopped you in the past.
If it was boredom: consider making sure there is enough inspiration and variety in the menus.
If it was too hard: think about building in planning and making sure that you have enough easy recipe options to draw on
Importantly, think about emergency lunch items. A can of soup kept at work might be boring if you had to have it every day, but it can be a great backstop if you’ve had a big weekend, and the idea of prepping the weekly lunches is just beyond you.
Stock the cupboards
Think about some versatile, long-life ingredients to keep at work so as to minimise what you’re bringing in each day. Having a small bottle of garlic olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, a few small tins of protein (tuna, salmon, chicken), a packet of two-minute noodles, some crackers in an airtight container, a tub of butter or margarine in the fridge, and a jar of spread (peanut butter, jam, vegemite) means that you’ve got options for making something tasty even if you’ve only got bread or a few leftover veggies to bring from home.
Putting it all together
We tried and failed many times before we finally got a successful system going for lunches. In the past, we found it challenging to keep up the inspiration while keeping it as fuss-free as possible to make it practical with our hectic lifestyle. In our house we decided that we could cope with the same lunch two days in a row, but we’d prefer that wasn’t repeated more than every couple of months. We know that – if we buy lunch once a week – we have to have at least 16 different lunch recipes to draw from per month. To make things a little easier, we tend to feature simple and easy lunch two days a weeks (eg a cheese and tomato toastie) and a more involved and delicious (Thai beef roll) two days a week, and allow ourselves the freedom for a bought lunch on a Friday.
Experiment with what works for you in terms of desire and practicality, and feel free to share your success stories with us below!
Here are some of the recipes we use to keep us longing for our home made lunches, instead of the crafty trip to the café. We love using the taste.com.au website because it pulls together tasty and practical recipes with ingredients that are readily available. Some are quite straightforward, other require a bit of prep, but if your lunch box needs a refresh, here’s a good place to start.