Posted on October 29, 2014 at 6:00 am
Sitting down at work the other day with my takeout for lunch, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had actually brought a meal from home for lunch. Between frozen meals and eating out, I probably haven’t enjoyed a homemade lunch in months. I have no issue with eating out or grabbing something frozen when the need arises, but I genuinely enjoy trying to come up with meal ideas and new recipes.
Growing up, I was driven to pack great lunches based solely on the fact that my school’s lunches were particularly awful. Even a ham sandwich was valuable on the thriving lunchtime black market compared to the school’s little lukewarm packets of soggy, grey, and non-palatable food—looking back it kind of sounds like most of the frozen meals I’ve eaten lately.
Things obviously changed a bit as I grew up and gained some of those time-consuming, adult responsibilities my parents were always talking about. Until recently though, I’d managed to keep up the lunch-packing. Life is certainly busy, but it’s not that I’d suddenly become incapable of making a lunch, I’d just gotten a bit lazy. So as I sat there trying to remember when I last really enjoyed my lunch, I realized it was time to get back to my lunch-making roots.
So I’ve pulled out some of my old recipes and dug up some new ones to inspire a new wave of simple and delicious lunches:
Peanut Sesame Noodles with Sriracha from Chew Out Loud
If it wasn’t for the judging looks I’d get, I would drink the sauce for these noodles by itself. It has such an amazingly rich flavor that makes it perfect on its own. That being said, it’s also a great blank slate for any number of add-ins. This is the type of meal I make for dinner one night with chicken, bell peppers, and carrots, and easily enjoy cold for lunch the next day with scallions, broccoli slaw, and cucumbers.
Breakfast for Lunch from Beating the Lunch Box Blues by JM Hirsch
Do you remember when breakfast for dinner was the best meal of the month? Pancakes, bacon, and eggs might be a bit much for lunch, but there are a number of great recommendations in this book. You could try yogurt topped with fresh fruit, nuts, or granola for an easy meal. My recommendation though is a whole-wheat waffle topped with almond butter and apricot preserves– it has just the right balance of salty, sweet, and crunchy!
Pesto Chicken Salad from Victoria McGinley Blog
Diversity is key with packing lunches—personally, I don’t want to eat the same thing every day for lunch any more than I would want to eat the same thing every night for dinner. The pesto in this recipe makes a classic chicken salad so much better in my opinion, and is so simple to whip together that it’s definitely worth trying. I use it on sandwiches or green salads, and even sometimes add a little greek yogurt to make a dip for pita chips.
Miniature Asian Chicken Meatballs from Fast, Fresh + Simple by Hope Cohen
It goes without saying that leftovers can make a great lunch the next day. I’ve incorporated these into meals in all number of ways from adding the extra taco fixings to a fresh salad or using that leftover chicken breast to mix-up a batch of the amazing pesto chicken salad above. One of my favorite leftovers recently though was using some leftover chicken meatballs to make a phenomenal sandwich. Tucked in a roll and topped with some sesame wasabi slaw, I could have eaten these for days.
Buffalo Turkey Sandwiches from Fake Food Free
Sandwiches don’t have to be boring—I like to try any number of new ingredients from cucumber and spinach to avocado and cream cheese to spruce up a sad sandwich. Featuring fresh turkey and buffalo wing sauce topped with a creamy yogurt and celery spread, this sandwich is anything but boring. And given that turkey-season is on the horizon, it might be just the thing you need to help you get through all those leftovers.
Tomato-Basil Soup from Cooking Light
I love being able to have warm soup on a cold day at work—especially when the cold sets into the Spokane Valley Library basement. What’s great about this recipe (besides the flavor!), is that I can usually prepare it in less than 30 minutes, and when frozen in individual containers, it’ll last for up to two months. Paired with a salad or roll, this is the kind of frozen meal I’d rather have for lunch.
It’s not all about the main dish either—I know that if I don’t have some great snacks ready to go with my meal that I’ll just end up at Starbucks sometime in the afternoon. To get over that, have some things ready to toss into your lunch. I usually prep and bag up some extra veggies and fruit each week, and have some granola bars, containers of yogurt, and baggies of trail mix ready as well. This makes it quick and easy to grab what sounds good that morning, rather than having to prepare extra food each day.
I’m just getting back into the swing of packing my own lunch, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It hasn’t taken nearly as long each day to get meals ready, and get out the door in the morning as I feared. By mixing up any salads or soups together on the weekends (and keeping dressings separate if necessary), and having all the fruits and veggies ready to add to leftovers, I can usually be out the door in the morning with just a couple extra minutes tacked on for packing my lunch. And that’s definitely time I’d rather spend enjoying my lunch break than in line at Qdoba!