Unfulfilled lunchtime.
June 22, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I have a bad habit of buying lunch while at work. What can I make for lunch that will fulfill my super-strong cravings for huge burritos and greasy pizza?

I buy lunch at work more often that I should. When I'm starving, it's hard for me to avoid buying a massive burrito or huge plate of greasy stirfry. What can I say? I love salt and fat.

I want to look forward to lunch. I want to sit at my desk in the morning and daydream about my lunch waiting for me in the fridge. I want my homemade lunches to be drool-worthy and cause me to forget all about my desire to go out and waste money. For example, my homemade lunch today consists of two hardboiled eggs, a container of plain yogurt with walnuts and dried cranberries, and a bag of edamame. Healthy, uh-huh, but it won't fulfill that deep desire for a hearty meal.

I know there are plenty of lunch threads, but I haven't seen one that suits my particular need (please let me know if I'm wrong).

Any dazzling lunch recipes that will satisfy my stomach and wallet?
posted by sucre to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 106 users marked this as a favorite
I bring salads, but I make them awesome (for me, anyway). Walnuts and chopped hard-boiled egg (like you already have), cut-up roasted red pepper (from a jar, easy), chopped tomato, avocado if it's in season, spoonful of black beans or garbanzo beans (from a can, easy). Add grated cheese, whatever your favorite. Then lettuce -- for me, arugula is awesome and stays really fresh in the fridge. Plus I'll throw in cilantro if I have it and I'm doing the black beans. For drool factor, add some roasted chicken or cut up steak.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Go hardcore on some curried chicken salad, which ought to satisfy the protein craving and give you the hearty-meal feeling. Roll it up in a burrito and toss in something spicy for a side-dish, which may quench the salt-urge.

And now I'm hungry.
posted by jquinby at 9:56 AM on June 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Can you reheat food at work? I often bring leftover, homemade, Mission-style burritos for lunch - and yep, I dream about them all morning!
posted by unlaced at 9:57 AM on June 22, 2010

Do you have access to a microwave? I defrost a frozen salmon filet during the morning, and at lunchtime, nuke it for 1 minute. Then add the seasonings of your choice. Or stick it on top of a big, fluffy salad. Or add a baked potato.

I also keep a jar of chipotle powder in my desk. You can add it to a lot of things (hard boiled eggs) to make them more exciting and to combat the craving for salt.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Also -- in the winter when veggie are less appealing, I bring a cheese-and-something sandwich (with brown mustard and mayo, winter hydro tomatoes, some kind of protein) and heat it up in the toaster over (or you could bring in a sandwich grill) so that the resulting meals is crunchy-cheesy.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Awesome salads worked for me. The secret to awesome salads is last-minute assembly- this means you can pack it up the night before, but keep everything separate and then mix it up at the last minute. One of my favorites was baby spinach, boiled egg, bacon (hey, this makes it something to look forward to!) and avocado, maybe cherry tomatoes, and then the dressing in a tiny little tupperware thing. Last minute assembly means it's all fresh and not mushy or wilted, and very appealing.
posted by ambrosia at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

seconding the curried chicken salad! in a pita. another that works for me is black beans (just from the can), avocado, cheddar and lettuce in a pita. also amazing over yummy rice!

another thing i like to make is ants on a log -- whether old school (pb and raisins), dessert (pb and chocolate chips), or adult (cream cheese & smoked salmon, blue cheese & pistachio... etc!).
posted by crawfo at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gack, your lunch sounds terrible! No wonder you are craving burritos and pizza!

There is no reason your lunch can't be delicious. Last week, I had a pasta salad kind of situation with fresh peas, cherry tomatoes, tarragon, basil and kalamata olives. It was great, and I looked forward to lunch each day (ultimately eating my lunch before 11, and then getting a donut later, but that's another story). I think I had a three-bean salad with it.

I also like a black bean salad with fresh corn, red onion, basil, and grilled chicken.

I think a version of the tarragon pasta recipe is on epicurious. The black bean salad is in the joy of cooking. Side note: I don't reheat my lunches (no convenient microwave + don't like nuking in plastic containers + microwaved food doesn't taste great). If you do microwave, your mileage may vary.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:05 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you like giant burritos, why don't you make them? Buy some giant tortillas and roll 'em up with rice and beans plus lettuce, leftover chicken or beef, salsa, sour cream, whatever you've got. I once made one with leftover chicken curry and pilau rice with salad, mango chutney, and raita. That was amazing.

Or make quesadillas. sautee a mixture of onions, peppers, mushrooms, etc. and put it between tortillas with plenty of cheese. Cook it on each side in a dry skillet until the cheese melts, cut into wedges, and take it to work with some little containers of salsa and sour cream. They're great cold, but you can microwave them, too. You can make enough of the veggie mixture to last 2-3 days if you don't feel like getting the skillet out every night.

And of course you can just make amazing sandwiches. Maybe try to recreate some of these.
posted by Wroksie at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is there any reason you have to be starving until lunch? Snacking mid-morning might cut that massive craving for a heavy meal.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Sounds like you need something high-protein and umami. What about marinated, grilled/broiled chicken breasts? With the right marinade (maybe something with soy or worcestershire? I like these two) they'll taste good hot or cold, and you can cut them into fingers and eat with dipping sauce of your choice. The reverse of bland, and nothing fills you up like a big chunk of lean protein.
posted by Bardolph at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're only trying to get out of the habit of spending too much money, why not make a yummy, better-leftover casserole dish, like enchiladas, shepherd's pie, lasagne or tuna noodle casserole, and take a big, cheesy square to reheat? The effort of making a simple, comforting casserole on Sunday night is worth the savings on $10/day lunches.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:13 AM on June 22, 2010

Is there any reason you have to be starving until lunch?

Yes, you should definitely look into this. Are you eating breakfast and a mid-morning snack? Preventing yourself from being ravenously hungry will help. Eating a high-protein breakfast keeps me from feeling outrageously hungry for the rest of the day- like this morning, I had a bowl of greek yogurt with some granola.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2010

Hmm...honestly I would start with one of those factors: home-made or healthy.

If you start with both, I think it'll be really easy to quit and go back to your old habits -- it might be too much of a sacrifice all at once, in other words.

At least, that's how it's gone with me in the past.

I would try making really yummy "normal" food at home (buy some really traditional pizza makings or burrito makings that are dead easy to work with) and then move on to healthy later.

Or you could try to find some healthier places to buy food, and then gradually mix in the homemade stuff.

The advantage is that you're gradually worked into it and can retreat a little at any time without feeling like you've destroyed your prospects altogether. :-)
posted by circular at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

A Wendy's-style taco salad is tasty and satisfying. Dump a cup of hot homemade chili over a big salad, add sour cream & cheese (fat-free if you're trying to eat healthier.) Crunch up some tortilla chips over the top.

Black beans and rice is also easy to make, yummy, travels and reheats well. Saute a cup or so of onions and half a pound of cubed ham in a little oil until onions are transparent. Add a quarter cup or so of brewed coffee at this point if you have it, if not, leave it out. Add a T. of chili powder. Dump in two cans of black beans with their liquid, 3 cups of brown rice, and heat through. Top with sour cream & cheese if you like.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I've run into the same problem you do - I either don't pack lunch, and then get to eat out (meaning, I reward myself for my earlier mistake) or I pack a really healthy lunch and then don't want to eat it.

A few things that helped were upping the awesome of my lunch, like you're doing here, and keeping some snacks on hand to both stave off hungriness and to improve my lunches. Almonds, prunes, lollipops, and hardboiled eggs have been my mainstays, along with the occasional handful of M&Ms.

One of my favorite lunch is a chunk of cheese and a chunk of homemade bread. Some olives would be nice in there, or smoked salmon. Hummus (for some) is really enticing. I've went through a bout of homemade hummus and homemade pitas recently, and that was wonderful. Especially the day when I swiped some leftover lamb from home.

I think my greatest week of lunches was when I made some mushroom handpies on the week and had them each day. It was delicious, easy, and fun.

Also, I made a bunch of Nothing...and like it's SUPER QUICK AWESOME GARLIC SPINACH SOBA NOODLES,, portioned it out, and had that for a few days. My coworkers were pretty jealous.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:23 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If what you like about burritos is the awesome fillings (as opposed to the tortilla), then a big salad might work. When I want typically American "Mexican" food I usually get a salad with peppers and onions, grilled chicken, baby corn, mushrooms, avocado and put on a ton of pico de gallo (sometimes shredded cheese too). I am surprised how much I like this and how much I don't really miss the burrito - but I think a lot of that is the burrito, for me, is a vehicle for avocado/guac and peppers, so the salad hits the craving.

In cooler weather, I like to do what I call a roasted vegetable melt. I roast eggplant, peppers, zucchini, portabello mushrooms, whatever is on sale and sort of flat, and basically make a lasagna, using the roasted vegetables instead of noodles (note, the amount of cheese I add probably keeps this from being really healthy, but I do get in my vegetables). So I'd make a bottom layer of vegetables in a pan, then I miss ricotta with a package of frozen spinach, lots of minced garlic, and tomato sauce, and layer that on top of the vegetables (sometimes I add ground beef/turkey to the ricotta/spinach mix too). Then another layer of the roasted vegetables and then mozarella cheese on top. Its not the most elegant meal, but it keeps well in the refrigerator and reheats in the microwave. Its certainly not pizza, but the cheese/sauce combination hits a similar spot for me.
posted by Caz721 at 10:26 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Tip: go easy on the salt in the food you prepare to being to lunch, and bring salt to add at the last minute. You can also bring a little bottle of olive oil. One of the things that makes Crap Lunch so addictive is the big load of SALT FAT SUGAR that comes with. You can still have that without it being a mountain of salt or slab of lard like in caf burritos.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Do you cook at home? Are you having super awesome dinners? Becuase you can have a hearty meal of leftovers for lunch. I like salads but they always leave me wanting something else. Lasagna is a hearty lunch. One time it was so delicious and i was thinking about it so much that I had to eat it for breakfast. I am obsessed with food and thinking about lunch while I am eating breakfast.

Anyway, black bean chili is also good for lunch, on top of white rice, plus sonme pico de gallo. Pack some shredded cheese, sour cream, avocado, and big flat tortilla chips. It sounds like a lot but it is so good and filling. Really hits the spot. Plus you can probably freeze the chili so you can make it in advance. There might be a way to make this healthy if you want. Brown rice instead of white?
posted by mokeydraws at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2010

Another awesome snack idea that I cribbed from another askmefi awhile back - Old Bay seasoning makes a perfectly stupendous topping for popcorn (in lieu of...well, whatever they're putting on there). If you can find some plain microwave stuff, you'd be set.
posted by jquinby at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2010

The greatest lunch week of my life was when I made a bunch of chicken pot pie filling and mashed potatoes. Requires a fridge and a microwave, but, oh, my god, greatest lunch of all time. I was on lunch cloud nine. (Recipe from, of course, The New Best Recipe cookbook.)

Healthy? Well, could have been better. But healthier than eating very little and grouching at everyone here at work, and healthier than buying a Snickers bar from the vending machine.

But yeah, no need for lunch food to be categorically different than dinner food. Make delicious stir fry, burritos, whatever, and reheat (if that is an option for you).
posted by teragram at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: I get pretty excited when there's quiche in my lunch. Quiche can be as healthy as you like (use mainly egg whites, veggies and no cheese) or as decadant as you like (bacon and tons of cheese). If you buy pre-made pie shells, it's only 5-10 minutes of work - mix eggs with whatever cheese, meat and/or veggies you like plus seasonings and some milk/cream/sour cream. Pour into shell, bake, done. It's also no big deal to make a whole bunch at once and freeze them.
posted by kitcat at 11:21 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

The thing that helped me was to not to try to make my brought-from-home lunch so seriously healthy. Once I came to the realization that almost -anything- I made was going to be more healthy than anything I bought, and also be drastically cheaper, that freed me up to bring lunches I actually -wanted- to eat instead of having to deal with "hmmm, the rest of my team is going to get giant burritos, and I've got this salad here" angst. Lately I've been grilling a batch of hamburger patties on Sunday, and taking burger fixin's and buns, and maybe some chips, or baked beans, or whatever sounds good for sides, and heating a burger patty up in the microwave, assembling the rest, and having cubicle picnics. (Of course, this is dependent on having access to a fridge to store a couple of days' worth of stuff in.)
I've also smoked a brisket on the weekend to make sandwiches out of for the week, as well as buying pre-made pulled pork and buns from CostCo for an easy week's worth of lunches. Doing it this way means you're eating the same thing every day for a week (though that's not so bad for me as I still let myself go out one day, and I work from home one day a week), but if you mix it up across weeks it works pretty well.
posted by jferg at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: The only thing I really look forward to when I bring my own lunch is leftovers that were left over on purpose.

I try to eat more at lunch than I do for dinner, so my boyfriend (who usually cooks or me on an occasion) always makes more than the two of us could possibly eat for things I really like.

And when those things are "not horribly bad for you but not good for you" (like spaghetti carbonara or my risotto, I always stop eating when I'm satisfied at dinner but not when I'm disgustingly full -- which means there is more leftover and I'm really looking forward to eating the bigger portion when I get it for lunch within the next couple of days.

Seriously, sometimes around 11:30 am, I'm drooling.

So my only suggestion for a better lunch is to eat better dinners.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:16 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like the mezze-meets-bento approach--lots of little treats in their own sections, like muhammara, tomatillo guacamole, walnut-feta dip, eggplant dip, some whole-grain or sesame seed crackers and nested lettuce leaves or green beans or snap peas to scoop things up, some almond-stuffed dates or figs, maybe a bit of spicy seasoned popcorn, some shredded chicken, blackberries, a little cup of yogurt, marinated black or white beans or chickpeas, a bit of leftover beef, cucumber slices, carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter, some chocolate--the possibilities are endless. Eating a lot of different things, but just a bit of each, makes lunch fun for me. It doesn't have to be daunting if you just use what you've got in your fridge anyway and maybe once a week make some dips or other things with lunch in mind.
posted by ifjuly at 12:42 PM on June 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Favorite satisfying lunch of late: grill some chicken and poblano & sweet peppers. Get the skins of the peppers nice and black. Put the peppers in a bowl with plastic wrap to release the skins, and peel under cool water. Fridge everything if you are taking it for lunch the next day. Assemble: pita (warmed if you have a microwave or a toaster) + store-bought hummus (or homemade if you are ambitious) + grilled chicken + roasted peppers + any other veggies you like (shredded carrots, slaw mix, broccoli slaw all work great here). You could also use store-bought jarred roasted peppers, but the roasted poblanos were THE BEST! Very filling, very delicious.
posted by sararah at 12:57 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try taking in some pitta breads, falafel, humous and salad. They make delicious lunches, and pitta bread can be revived in the microwave if it starts to get a bit dry.
posted by lizabeth at 1:46 PM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: You are all awesome! Excellent ideas here.

I do have a microwave/fridge/toaster at work, so that helps.

I do eat bfast every morning; recently it's been a bowl of steel-cut oats with milk and walnuts, and maybe a banana. A little more protein would probably help. The oats tend to keep me fuller than cold cereal for example, although I still get hungry before lunchtime.

I'm going to mark a few best answers but I appreciate all the fab responses. Sometimes I forget that lunch can be whatever I want it to be, not some prescribed healthy brown bag of items. I agree that yummy leftovers from the night before are always a good idea!

Unnnggghh, these all sound so tasty!
posted by sucre at 1:48 PM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: Nthing the "pick home-made or healthy" advice. That was the biggest thing that lept out at me reading your question. If your choice is awesome burrito or yogurt, obviously you're going to pick the awesome burrito!

This took me a loooooong time to learn. I'd be all determined to bring my own lunch, but the lunches I would bring were never satisfying, because I was used to junky lunch spot food.

So finally, one day, I sat down and made a list of all the foods I would be thrilled to have for lunch, that I could make myself. A lot of them are things that can be reasonably healthy without sacrificing flavor.

And then once you're in the habit of bringing your own lunch, start thinking about health. But unless you've got some sort of imminent health crisis, wait until you are really in the groove of bringing your own lunch. Wait until it's second nature. Then start thinking about what some healthier options you can bring are. And start small, by, say adding a salad to your lunch, or more veggies to your burrito, or whatever.

That's the stage I'm at right now. Actually, at this very moment, I'm eating my surprisingly satisfying lunch, which is:

Turkey sandwich with lettuce and a bit of mayo on whole wheat bread
Handful of potato chips brought from home in a baggie (scratches that "want chips with my sandwich itch" without being too caloric)
Yogurt with berries

No, it's not a super-pure salad lunch, but I know I won't be starving again in an hour, I enjoyed eating it, and it fits in with an eating plan that's allowed me to lose 10 lbs so far. and it only costs about $4, which is about a third what it would cost at a deli.
posted by lunasol at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2010

I made a giant fruit salad for $6 on Sunday night that I divided into 5 tupperware containers for my lunches this week: cantaloupe, kiwi, grapes, and raspberries. For lunch I just mix in a container of yogurt and sprinkle with granola. I am not normally the best person for eating a healthy lunch, but fruit is soooooooo good this time of year, you really won't feel like you are missing out on anything.

If you like burritos, you would probably like my favorite lunch which I lovingly call burrito guts: rice topped with black beans, topped with shredded cheese, topped with salsa. Microwave for about 1.5 minutes. Incredibly easy, cheap, satisfying and delicious.
posted by gatorae at 3:57 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Me and a few other people at work started a sandwich collective. One person brings in a loaf of fresh bakery bread each morning, and once a week we bring in veggies, fixings, and meat for the sandwiches, and keep them in a lunchroom fridge. Making the sandwiches fresh avoids the problem of soggy, stale sandwiches made the night before. Sandwiches can be made as decadent as you want (more mayo, more spreads, more meat) and when made fresh with good bread, are better tasting and healthier than anything you can buy. For toppings we buy jars of pickled peppers, sliced red peppers, sprouts, hummus, chili spread, olives stuffed with garlic, sprouts, spinach, good deli mustard, and anything else that keeps in a fridge and works in a sandwich.

Dried fruit as an emergency dessert/snack works well, since it lasts forever and is sweet enough to kill junk food cravings.
posted by benzenedream at 1:51 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make your own meatloaf, cut into wedges, serve on "country" white or wheat bread.

The "Corned Beef Special": corned beef, coleslaw, russian salad dressing. If you've never had it, you pretty much have to try it. Stunningly good.

Whitefish salad sandwiches are pretty awesome.

Pita Pizza: at home, pop a few pitas in a bag, bring a small container of sauce, and another filled with cheese and toppings of your choice. At work, put pita on plate, pour on sauce, sprinkle on toppings and cheese, and toast or nuke until cheese is melted.

Bring in rice, white or brown, along with a jar of Furikake. Bring other items you might like, such as sliced scrambled egg, marinated chicken or fish, soybeans, etc. Sprinkle the furikake on the rice to taste, add the other ingredients, sprinkle with a little rice vinegar to taste. You can also make this beforehand.

You can make even boring food taste amazing with the right condiment. There's this "Red Label Chinese Chili Sauce" that I call crack sauce because it's that addictive, sometimes I just spread it on its own on bread. But anything you put it on magically becomes delicious. The one I like has a sad man on it rather than a sad women.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:17 AM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: I totally forgot to mention by the way, if you don't mind eggs frittata is one of the world's most perfect portable foods--it's versatile as hell (you can put anything you need to get rid of in your fridge or pantry in there--well, maybe not chocolate but you know, ham and cheeses and herbs and leafy greens and even fruit like apples and pears and bacon and zucchini and summer squash and corn and tomatoes and even starches like noodles or potatoes, really the list seems endless), way way easier to cook properly than an omelet if you're a clumsy one like me because you let the oven finish it off, slices into portable portions much easier than omelets and is less runny, and tastes delicious hot, at room temperature, or cold. They're my go-to plane food, and I'm not the only one. I believe Marcella Hazan has said as much too in one of her books.
posted by ifjuly at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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