What do you bring to work for lunch?
July 9, 2013 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I usually eat lunch at the cafeteria at work. While the meals are tasty and cheap ($6-$8), I'm beginning to notice that an alarming proportion of my monthly budget is being spent on lunch. My schedule is often busy and unpredictable, which makes it difficult to motivate myself to prepare meals at home before/after work. What are some cheap, no-fuss, and delicious meals that I can bring to work?

Some special snowflake details:
  • At work, I have access to a kitchen with a toaster oven, a microwave, and a big fridge/freezer. I don't mind doing a bit of prep at work. In fact, this might even be preferable, given my schedule. I'd also be open to meals that I could prep in advance on the weekend.
  • I bike to work (and the grocery store). Everything needs to fit inside (and survive) my backpack or panniers.
  • I'm single, and do my own grocery shopping. Unless I freeze things, I can have trouble consuming a whole loaf of bread before its expiration date. I don't want to eat the same thing every day, but I also don't want to be constantly throwing away fresh ingredients. Ideally, I'd love to assemble a small-but-versatile selection of ingredients that won't spoil quickly.
  • I'm looking for things that are fresh, reasonably healthy, and filling. I'm not a picky eater, and have no dietary restrictions. A mix of hot and cold meals would be nice.
I'd be open to both general guidance and specific meal ideas or recipes. Thanks in advance!
posted by schmod to Food & Drink (55 answers total) 138 users marked this as a favorite

You can crock pot a batch, then freeze it in individual containers. I buy the cheap round plastic ones that won ton soup comes in.

Its filling, and easy to heat up in a microwave.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:39 AM on July 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Chili is indeed a good solution.

I keep olive oil, balsamico, and salt at the office. Then I bring some subset of the following and clean/cut/mix/season it: lettuce, tomatoes, chickpeas, mushrooms, bell peppers, canned tuna, mozzarella, nuts, seeds. Thus I get a greens, colors, protein combo for a mix of savory, bitter, sweet and different consistencies and chewiness.
posted by meijusa at 11:47 AM on July 9, 2013

Previous luncheon parties:

Hardware and food.


Tamales, Burritos, Carnitas, OH MY!

I'm doing a lot of lunch prep this summer with the acquisition of 1.5 extra children a week, so I spent the spring collecting takeout containers from a friend who hires in a delivery service for his meals. Several containers fit in the lunch bag, and each is right-sized to fit a "meal" in - be it frozen, fridged, or dry goods. We assembly line fill them in the morning and clean them at night.
posted by tilde at 11:49 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the way, I have not scientifically tested it, but you may not have to completely fill a Thermos container to have it maintain a temperature of safety. You do, however, have to make the food in there EXTREMELY HOT or eat it quickly.

Also, I've bought one of those plastic low-power keep-warm desk CrockPots and have not tried it. I have tried steel and plastic Thermos containers and the steel ones are far far superior.
posted by tilde at 11:51 AM on July 9, 2013

I can have trouble consuming a whole loaf of bread before its expiration date.

That's because you're not eating sandwiches! You won't waste food if you eat the food that you buy. A loaf of bread is perfect for two weeks at work. Put half the loaf in the freezer for week two.

Keep in the fridge at work: hummus, cheese, romaine lettuce leaves. Bring sandwich makings of your choice each day, just thrown together in one cup: meat, sliced peppers, a different cheese, other veggies. Assemble on your non-freezer bread at work. Forgot the fixins? Do open-faced cheese sandwiches in the toaster oven.

You don't have to have a sandwich every day, but they're very versatile. I had a cheese/artichoke/mushroom sandwich out of the toaster oven the other day. Good gracious that was good.
posted by headnsouth at 11:52 AM on July 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

A container-serving of tuna salad or salmon salad, on a bed of lettuce.

If you're more ambitious, homemade cobb salad or caesar salad, with or without chicken.

Don't forget to check the go-to salad thread for inspiration.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:52 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

My solution to this problem has always been to eat salad for lunch, with a variety of different ingredients. But since I'm also single and usually can't use a whole head of lettuce before it goes bad, I buy the lettuce and other fresh vegetables every day at the cafeteria salad bar. Basically, I bring in a big tupperware container full of the things that are heavy, and therefore expensive when purchased by the pound, but also keep for a while: beans, meat, cheese, etc. Then, I can buy the lightweight items, like lettuce, cucumber slices, shredded carrots, etc., at the salad bar for a dollar or two, and that means I don't have to chop them or worry about them going bad. Mix yourself, add dressing, eat.
posted by decathecting at 11:56 AM on July 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

One thing that has really worked for me is a salad bar/bring from home hybrid. I can spend $2 on salad and get really fresh greens and some interesting topping and then add that to leftovers, canned tuna or grilled chicken.

It gives fresh veggies without shopping or prep, and cuts down on the purchase cost.
posted by mercredi at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I asked a question about meals I could prepare at work. Some of the answers might help you. Houmous and oatcakes does make a great bring-to-work meal that's cheap and requires minimal prep. However, what's most cost-effective is probably going to vary quite widely, depending on your geographical area.

I've found it's possible to cook very thin egg noodles or filled fresh pasta by just covering it with boiling water, putting a lid on the whole thing, and waiting for about five minutes before draining. Frozen fish is easy to cook in a microwave and can be both tasty and healthy. There also exist really great sachets of Indian food - usually chickpeas and so forth - which are largely made of ghee and delicious in a not terribly healthy way. Baked potatoes can be cooked in a microwave. I have not used a toaster oven - they're not a thing where I live - but I imagine you could prepare all sorts of grilled things with one; I'd encourage you to think about, say, thinly slicing courgette or aubergine and lightly grilling them.

Whatever you do, it's a good idea to keep olive oil, pepper, salt and soy sauce on your desk - that way you can just stick a tupperware box of salad in your bag in the morning and dress it when you come to eat it.

This probably goes without saying, but if you have time to make dinner, you should make double quantities and eat the rest the next day. It'll definitely be nicer than a sandwich.

One think I have made in bulk in the past is split pea soup. You then cut up hotdogs into it and microwave the whole lot. If the soup is very thick, this can be a brilliantly stodgy meal for a cold day.
posted by Acheman at 11:58 AM on July 9, 2013

I recently signed up for Mealime and have found it to be really good. It's a meal planning service - each week you get a 4 meal option and a 6 meal option, with complete shopping list and recipes. Each recipe is portioned for 2 servings, so you eat one serving for dinner and one for lunch the next day. I've mainly be using the 4 meal options.

Everything's been pretty delicious and healthy so far. I've tried other meal planning websites and paid services before and none of them did it for me. They were either bland recipies, serving sizes meant for families, or they kept wanting me to buy shrimp and scallops and expensive cuts of meat. Mealime's recipes have been cheap, flavorful, quick and easy to make, and geared for a single person. They offer a free trial, check it out!
posted by Arbac at 11:59 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I had an available freezer at work and very little time to prep in the morning, I would often load up on Lean Cuisines (on sale, or at Target - much cheaper than at the grocery store) to keep in the office freezer (in an opaque plastic bag, tied tight, with my name on it of course.) I know that's not exactly what you asked but it's a useful adjunct -- at least that way you've spent $2.50 rather than $7, when you slip up and forget to plan your healthy bag lunch.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:03 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I rotate between a PB&J with fruit (usually an apple plus whatever happens to be in season) and a salad with fruit. For the salad I stuff the greens in a ziplock and put a little dressing in a tiny tupperware container. However, do have the benefit of a kitchen at the office with plates, utensils, etc.
posted by COD at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2013

650ml lock lock boxes. 4 of them brought in on monday morning, giving me one freebie day to splurge/go out. One box crammed full is pretty much exactly enough food to keep me full but not foodcoma-y post lunch.

Recently I'm on a bo sssam kick, where I roast a big pork shoulder on sunday, and then have that + rice and a frozen veggie in my box. This is STUPID cheap- ie bf and I are having lunches + a full gallon ziplock of delicious pork leftovers this week for $20 bucks TOTAL this week.

My general plan is to fill the box 1/3rd full of protein, 1/3rd full carb (rice, potato or pasta) and then 1/3rd full veggie. Those proportions work really well at keeping me going all day. If I cut out carbs, then I try to up the protein, but that can get pricey and isn't as comforting. and honestly, lunchtime is my only real break during the week, so it might as well be pleasant. Occasionally we'll make 2 different big meals on the weekend and then each have 2 types of meals to cut down on the boredom.

Frozen meatballs, couscous and frozen veggies is the backup when we can't be arsed to be more creative.

Caveat- we (mostly) like to cook, so spending 2-3hrs on sunday evening having some beers and working through food prep for the week isn't a chore. We've won the lunch war, but more often than not we have mac and cheese from a box, soup or a quesadilla for dinner during the week.

posted by larthegreat at 12:05 PM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I usually buy one of those bags of salads and leave it in the fridge at work. Then every day I bring some cut up chicken (usually pre-cooked grilled frozen chicken already cut into strips for maxx convenience), one of those Baybel cheeses, a 100 calorie bag of pretzels, and something sweet (couple of Andes mints for example). Reasonably healthy for all pre-prepared foods and about as convenient as possible.
posted by JDHarper at 12:07 PM on July 9, 2013

I eat cottage cheese every day for lunch. Sometimes I throw in a piece of fruit or a slice of hard cheese or sometimes even a piece of cooked meat or cold cuts. Obviously you have to like cottage cheese but for me it's perfect because it's portable, doesn't need any prep work, healthy and is protein-rich with fewer carbs (so I don't feel sluggish all afternoon).
posted by triggerfinger at 12:07 PM on July 9, 2013

One of the things a colleague of mine used to do is cook a giant meal every couples of days and freeze it down. After two weeks he had about 5-7 different dishes he'd cooked portioned out in his freezer so he could have a rotating menu.

Making things like a big pot of spaghetti, stew, chili, stir fry, or curry is relatively easy if you have an evening to devote to it on the weekend. You can throw in a few things to spice up your menu if you're willing to do a little bit of prep at work, like sloppy joes or burritos. If you mix that with some salad and a few days of sandwiches, you've got a pretty diverse set of lunchtime meals.
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 12:07 PM on July 9, 2013

Grab and go:
From your refrigerator: yogurt, lunch meat and soft tortillas, boiled eggs, a couple of pieces of fruit, pre-cleaned crudite: celery, carrots, broccoli, etc., cheeses.
From the pantry: energy bars like "Kind," munchies
You should be out the door in two minutes!
Acheman above suggested a supply of condiments in your office drawer.
posted by Lornalulu at 12:08 PM on July 9, 2013

Also ketchup is shelf stable for 6m after opening. Get a bottle for your desk if you don't have access to condiments.

A good many homemade meh lunches can be made better with some ketchup.
posted by larthegreat at 12:12 PM on July 9, 2013

Winter stuff is easier than summer stuff because hearty soups and chili are SO AWESOME and you can make it in big enough batches to last you 2 weeks without eating it every day.

In the summer it's just too goddamn hot for me to care much so I'll have plain yogurt with a spoonful of jam or almond butter or something.

Frozen fish is easy to cook in a microwave and can be both tasty and healthy.

Oh my god, please do not ever ever cook fish in a communal microwave unless you are deliberately attempting to earn the undying enmity of every single one of your coworkers.
posted by elizardbits at 12:14 PM on July 9, 2013 [38 favorites]

Frozen fish is easy to cook in a microwave and can be both tasty and healthy.

Oh my god, please do not ever ever cook fish in a communal microwave unless you are deliberately attempting to earn the undying enmity of every single one of your coworkers.

Seconding that so goddamn hard. Those of us with seafood allergies in particular would like this to be illegal.
posted by larthegreat at 12:16 PM on July 9, 2013 [8 favorites]

Trader Joe's has some excellent lunch-sized salads that are around $4. The kale & broccoli slaw one is my current favorite, though I'd also recommend the Field Fresh Chopped Salad.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:16 PM on July 9, 2013

I like to have leftovers for dinner. When I take lunch, it's usually some combo of tuna salad/ PB&J/ hummus, egg salad on crackers/ bread/ tortilla/ rice cakes and raw veg/ salad. Boring, but easy for shopping and packing, and affordable. When I packed lunches for my son, I often added some pickles, dried fruit (raisins, apricots), and cookies or graham crackers.

Tuna salad sandwich, red pepper strips
PB&J, baby carrots
Tuna salad, crackers, small salad
hummus, crackers, red pepper strips
hummus, rice cakes, baby carrots

I keep a can of soup or baked beans in my desk for days when I forget lunch.
posted by theora55 at 12:22 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Jumping in here: Salads usually don't fill me up.

I run a lot and usually eat a tiny (or no) breakfast. Having a salad for lunch puts my caloric intake into the bottom range of what's healthy or sustainable.
posted by schmod at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2013

Trader Joe's frozen foods are actually pretty cost-effective for work lunches. For $2-3, you can get a good-sized lunch portion of pretty much anything: enchiladas, eggplant parmesan, various pastas . . . And it's new to you, so a little more exciting than leftovers, and requires no thought whatsoever.

(Boy, I have all kinds of nervous intern memories of the giant dim halls of the Longworth cafeteria. Like eating lunch in a train station.)
posted by ostro at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

There was a stretch where I kept all the ingredients for a Reuben sammich in the office fridge, and made a hot one in the toaster oven each day for lunch.

As others have said, chili is crazy cheap, filling, and easy to deal with.
posted by xedrik at 12:30 PM on July 9, 2013

I have in the past few years gotten my husband and I on a pack-your own lunch regimen. Get some tupperwares with the screw-top lid, and make batches of things like dhal, chili, mattar paneer, lasagna, shepherd's pie (or gardener's pie, if you are veggie), and freeze in individual containers. Bring a bunch to work and stash in the freezer. Take one out, nuke to hot all the way through, and eat.

I also like the lunchables/ploughman's lunch option too. On grocery day, buy a block of cheese, some salami or other cured meat, olives, crackers, nuts/trail mix, apples, grapes, etc. Cut up the cheese in 1" cubes, and divvy out cheese, meat, olives into baggies or little tupperwares. Bring with some crackers and a piece of fruit. If you want to be fancy, cut some saran wrap into squares about 3" x 3", put a dollop of quince paste or fig jam, or something on there, and twist it up into a little sachet to tuck into a corner of the tupperware.

All of these will survive being banged around in a backpack.
posted by LN at 12:32 PM on July 9, 2013

Communal eating - "big fridge" information - Have a bag with some cold staples in the fridge all the time. Big enough to stick a day lunch in when you bring it. Have a couple spares in the freezer.

Don't take up a ton of space, you will get people grumpy. I take up in my communal fridge a space about six inches high by three inches wide by eleven inches deep; and I still get shoved around and grumbled. One time I had the box out to make my Ploughman's Lunch and someone came in and shoved their lunch right in there .... I protested half jokingly they took "my spot" simply because I didn't want to be displaced permanently. Their stuff takes up about the same space daily; everyone else, though, brings in HUGE grocery bags of random stuff and shoves it in all over the place (and forgets it). A few bags are never touched (much) owing to the lofty positions within the organization to whom the owners have risen (but most of them are very nice and pack tight little lunches in neat little bags that don't take a huge fridgeprint).

Invest in a wax pencil (or some fat kindy garten crayons, I guess, though a wax pencil does me well (sold as "China Markers" in blue).). Put your name on your stuff. People tend to buy box meals and freeze them and forget them ... need to differentiate cheaply.

Finally, I keep a can of beans and rice in my drawer (along with can opener) and crackers in the cabinet (boring ones that don't get stolen) for emergencies. Everything is sealed against critters.
posted by tilde at 12:36 PM on July 9, 2013

There are so many really awesome bean dishes, including great bean soups. They come in an infinite variety. They are filling and delicious and made from inexpensive ingredients. My recommendation is to cook a big pot of one on Sunday, and then dump a generous serving into a Lunchbot, which in turn goes into your backpack or panniers. Keep a microwavable bowl, a spoon, and a container of plastic wrap at work, and just zap and enjoy your lunch each day. Salad might be nice on the side -- you could prep that the night before in a portable container like this one or these.

Oh, and this is what I do for work each day. I bike or take the bus, so I too need to keep the bulk down.
posted by bearwife at 12:42 PM on July 9, 2013

Re: salad, I'm the same way. When I say salad, I mean about 4 cups of lettuce or spinach, half a can of beans, half an avocado, meat, fruit, cheese and a bunch of veggies. I eat it out of a mixing bowl or a huge tupperware container. It runs 700-1000 calories, but all of it of healthy, delicious stuff.
posted by decathecting at 12:44 PM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am super boring, but I've brought pretty much the same lunch to work for years:
  • Yogurt (whatever type was on sale that week, but I like the Greek ones)
  • Piece of fruit (I'm partial to pears because they don't brown and I feel like I don't get enough fiber in my diet, but sometimes I mix it up with plums or again, whatever's on sale)
  • Leftovers from the previous night's dinner
The leftovers are the key to not getting bored. I try to plan our dinners in advance and do all my food shopping on the weekend, so I make sure that for the days I go to the office (I work from home a couple days a week), I have made something suitable for dinner the night before. It's just my husband and I at home, and most recipes make 4-6 servings, so there is plenty left after dinner for us to each pack for lunch the next day.

Like you, I have a small kitchen at work, so I stick my bag in the fridge until lunchtime, and have access to a microwave if I've brought something that needs to be warmed up.
posted by LolaGeek at 12:57 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really HATE prepared foods, the frozen gack depresses me. That said, my Kroger had a Gluten Free/Organic enchilada pie thing for $2 on clearance. That worked great! It was tastier than it had a right to be, and if they have more, I'll buy more.

I find that I can tolerate Amy's frozen stuff and some of the weirder brands of organic things. (I think I don't like eating fake cheese.)

If I could tolerate gluten, I'd do burritos, because I love them!

So my suggestion is to experiment around with higher quality frozen things. Even if you find 1 or 2, that can really make your life easy on busy days.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on July 9, 2013

I make extra for dinner and have it for lunch. Some things that work well for me (even when I was commuting by bike):
- Stir fry on the drier side so the sauce didn't get everywhere
- Chicken Salad
- Small wheat pitas + peanut butter (very good if you toast the pitas before adding the PB)
- enchiladas & tamales
posted by RogueTech at 1:12 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suggest storing your (pre-sliced) bread in the freezer. If I make the sandwich the night before, the sandwich bread defrosts in the fridge overnight just fine.
posted by oceano at 1:13 PM on July 9, 2013

Yeah, I should mention that I invested in one of those cooler-lined lunch bags, and do not use the fridge at all at work. It's waaaaaaay too crowded. The lined bag will keep your items plenty cold until lunch.
posted by LN at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2013

Progresso reduced-sodium soup, supplemented with hard-boiled eggs.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:31 PM on July 9, 2013

Usually I eat leftovers, but if there's a menu for the week where I'm unlikely to have leftovers I'll make what we call nobeagle-kibble.

I start with 1.5 cups of dry lentils in the rice cooker with 4 cups of water. After 10 minutes I add between 0.5 and 0.75 cups of brown rice, and let the rice cooker do it's magic. I'll drain and rinse a can each of black beans and chick peas. When the rice cooker is done, I mix everything together with mixed frozen vegetables (unmeasured amount; probably about a pound) and a lot of salsa (I used to use spaghetti sauce, but find I enjoy salsa much better).

This will usually fill 5 containers of healthy, tasty (to me) food. Keep it in the fridge at home, leave it in a lunch bag at work. Maybe microwave it for lunch, sometimes I just eat it somewhat chilled from the few hours warming up since I arrived at work.

As you might be able to tell, I'm not a big fan of spending lots of time towards lunch. If I don't have the ~40 minutes to let the rice cooker work, I'll forget the rice and use a drained can of lentils. This won't make as much, and the texture/taste of canned lentils I find inferior to cooked lentils, but you can whip up a batch in minutes. If you want to make it more filling, add some meat (canned chicken?), but then it might be getting close to hot dish instead of kibble. I find the combination of veggies and legumes filling enough.

It really doesn't look that good, but a number of people have tried it and have reportedly been surprised to find they liked it. I think this was probably 80% of my meals during my sophomore and junior year internships.

If you don't want the same thing every day, make it once, and put all but one container in the freezer. When you take one container to work, move a freezer container to the fridge and it will be header in a few days, and keeps at least a week in most fridges.
posted by nobeagle at 1:42 PM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: tilde: "Don't take up a ton of space, you will get people grumpy"

I forgot to mention this, but for some reason, there's a mini-fridge in my office, in addition to the office's two gigantic communal fridges. Fridge space isn't an issue (though freezer space is somewhat more finite).

This is at a workplace that's too cheap to provide water coolers, and makes us pay for coffee... Go figure.
posted by schmod at 1:51 PM on July 9, 2013

I'm back at work this week after a long absence, and what I did this week was bring half a grocery store chicken and an asian coleslaw kit. I'll have three lunches from that and don't really mind having the same thing each day.

Other times I will bring in a head of lettuce, washed and chopped and top it with whatever I've had for supper the night before, or add a small tin of Italian tuna. I eat a lot of leftovers, which makes cleaning up from dinner and packing for lunch happen at the same time.

And I like to have a few boil-in-the-bag Indian meals on hand for when I just can be arsed to think of a decent lunch.

A co-worker makes himself an egg sandwich in the microwave every morning. That'd be a a good lunch, too.
posted by looli at 2:04 PM on July 9, 2013

Make too much dinner and take left-overs for lunch. I do this as often as possible.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:08 PM on July 9, 2013

For some reason (childhood trauma?) I hate lunch boxes, but my kids who are both big eaters, love them. THe big one packs her own now, but I still make them for no. 2.
They both like leftovers - and I feel that must be a good concept for a single person with a microwave at work? We plan for those: noodle-fries, fried rice, rich soups, lasagna, other pasta-dishes with "wet" sauces, drum-sticks, home-made burgers, (but actually not many other sandwiches, I have no idea why they are not popular)
I regularly cook a strong meat/chicken broth and freeze it in portions, because specially no. 2 loves a soup with lots of vegetables and pasta, and I can make that in 15 minutes with the broth as the foundation, and then pour it in a thermos. I chop the vegetables very finely into cubes (five min) and add them to the boiling broth, cook for five minutes, then add some sort of soup pasta, boil for five minutes more (max). Veggies and pasta finish in the thermos during the day before lunch. A good chunk of sour-dough bread, fruit and a little sweet goes with it in the lunch bag.
Another favorite is a rich (vegetarian) pasta salad, which I also cook in the morning. Leftover meat on the side, not in the salad. Use penne or similar short and thick pasta types. I sometimes put that in the thermos as well, again a little undercooked, so it finishes during the day, this doesn't work with cucumbers in the salad, though.
My elder daughter has developed this into a passion, and loves to provoke her anoretic co-workers (fashion business) with grand lunch-packs. She packs a whole array of little dishes in small tupperwares - leftovers, little salads, hummus, bread, fruit, sweets. But then, she doesn't have anything else in her bag. For me, that would be irritating.
If I want to save money, and I often do, I buy a big container of cottage cheese for our office refrigerator and bring leftover meat, tomatoes and avocados from home. I don't get bored, because I'm usually quite busy at lunch and not thinking much about food.
posted by mumimor at 2:42 PM on July 9, 2013

I keep peanut butter, jelly, and bread at work, as well as salt, pepper, and olive oil. I can have a quick pbj when all else fails.
posted by michellenoel at 6:10 PM on July 9, 2013

I'm more than slightly ashamed to put this on the record but I've been really happy for the past few months having my work lunch be a modified version of the Starbucks protein box. Basically it's a mini bagel (a sack costs $3 and has 8 or 10), a packet of peanut butter (I've settled on Jif in individual tubs. The bagel dips easier than with a full jar and I like it better than the more natural peanut butter that comes in packets), a boiled egg (Costco - insanely cheap and ready peeled), a nice piece of cheese (I've gone super low rent up to pretty fancy and settled on nice mainstream cheddars - Tillamook or Cabot sharp), a bit of fruit (grapes are what Starby's provides and are my default, but I've done lots of different seasonal things. Whatever looks good!)

Pros: cheap (cheap enough that I still buy lunch maybe once a week and don't bear myself up about it), easy, not abjectly UNhealthy, enough variables that it stays pretty interesting. Your interest may waver, obviously.

Cons: you can shift some variables around but it still is what it is. It's NEVER exciting. Also, the egg is kind of a drag. I'm more tired of it, by far, than anything else. I've tried to replace it, or even just mix it up, with other things (lunch meat, jerky, baked tofu) but so far nothing works better. The egg is still ok, but if this lunch has an Achilles heel, it's the egg.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:25 PM on July 9, 2013

Oh, I hasten to clarify about the Jif peanut butter: I'll occasionally feel bad about that variety of peanut butter (sugary, salty, etc) and try to replace it with natural stuff. But I don't like it nearly as much and so I don't bring my lunch and instead I eat chicken fried steak for lunch. The Jif isn't particularly healthy but it is healthier than THAT. Buying healthy food I won't eat is the surest way for me to eat crap. When I'm honest with myself about what I like I eat better and more consistently. Maybe you are more grown up than me.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:29 PM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Did you know you can freeze sandwiches? Yes, you can. Make a bunch of sanwiches and freeze them, and they should be thawed by lunch if you pack in the morning/night before. If you want sandwiches with lettuce, pack the lettuce seperately- thawed frozen veggies are soggy and weird.
posted by windykites at 7:21 PM on July 9, 2013

Dirtdirt, I think you need to pickle that egg.
posted by windykites at 7:23 PM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

About the peanut butter packets: Justin's sells packets of nut butters now and they are amazing. I also keep packets of trail mix (Costco sells a really delicious box of individual trail mix packets) and dried fruit (good deal at Trader Joes) to quickly throw into a lunch bag.

This article and this article from Mark Bittman in the NYT have lots of good ideas that can become lunches.

And I threw out all of my old tupperware containers and bought three sizes of deli containers. One lid size fits all and you can freeze small amounts of meals for lunches or quickly throw some dinner leftovers into one for lunch the next day. They are life changing.

Fill a medium-sized one with rice (or, if you really want something fast, Trader Joes sells frozen bags of rice that you steam in the microwave), a little vegetable and protein on top (for something different, make a thin, savory omelette, chop it up, and put it on top), drizzle with some ponzu or sriracha and it's delicious.

Or tartines: you can bring the ingredients and assemble them at lunchtime. Fettunta with a mint and pea spread and shaved parmesan on top is outstanding.

And remember, you can always eat breakfast at lunch.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 9:19 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I eat it for breakfast many days but it's okay for lunch, too -- peanut butter jar, two dollops of non-fat unsweetened yogurt, half package stevia, mix that in. Mix in steel cut oats, give it a good twirl.

I squeeze in half a lime but you'll find your way; I just love limes is all

I put in half a ripened banana and twirl it in, then blueberries and twirl them in, three spoons of flax seed and quinoa ground not to dust but enough to open those seeds, so my body can use the goods, twirl that in.

Put it in the fridge overnight, tomorrow morning add some crunchy cereal. Cinnamon is good on it, but find your own way.

This is really filling, tons of good protein, good guy fat from the flax seed, etc and etc. Go wild, make it your own -- raisins, nuts, maybe almond milk, whatever. It's good stuff. You can pretty much make 3-4 days worth when you whip it up.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:48 PM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with decathecting: salad can be quite caloric and filling. My typical salad might include greens, cherry tomatoes, a whole avocado, corn, cheese, grated beets, walnuts, dried fruit, and olive oil. Except for the greens, those ingredients can be divided neatly into the ones that are mostly fat and the ones that are mostly sugar. Add a hunk of bread on the side and you have the caloric equivalent of a Big Mac, only more nourishing.

But my favorite easy filling lunch, the one I can happily eat day after day, is a tomato sandwich on about nine inches of French bread richly spread with mayonnaise. This requires no embellishment.
posted by aws17576 at 12:37 AM on July 10, 2013

You guys, cooking salmon in the microwave in a covered tupperware box with a dash of coconut milk never hurt anybody.
posted by Acheman at 1:59 AM on July 10, 2013

I tend to bring in a pack of bagels (or a single bagel from the freezer in the morning), a pack of pastrami or similar, some rocket (a bag of rocket lasts all week), squeezy mustard and a jar of gherkins. It's easy for me to carry on the bus or train so will be fine for your bike. You just toast the bagel, slap on some meat, rocket and gherkin, squeeze on mustard and bob's your uncle.

Not havign to go out and choose what I want for lunch each day from the sandwich shop is great for me, but then I might be weird like that.

A co-worker makes himself an egg sandwich in the microwave every morning. That'd be a a good lunch, too.

Like fish, eggs need to proceeded with carefully in the workplace microwave. i actually changed which train I got in the morning as I'd always end up sitting next to a guy who ate egg mayo sarnies with his mouth open; I can't imagine how bad they'd have smelt hot, or even on a hot day.
posted by mippy at 7:22 AM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if others would find this too appetizing, but I eat the same thing every single day. It takes less than 5 minutes to prep: a half cup of cottage cheese mixed with a whole avocado, 2 cheese sticks and an orange. Done. I eat low carb, so this works really well for me and I never get sick of it.
posted by kitcat at 8:43 AM on July 10, 2013

You can make a mess of burritos, freeze them, and nuke 1 or 2, depending on the size, when it's time for lunch. A burrito is pretty much anything you want to put in a tortilla and wrap up, but I like to fill mine with refried beans (heated up to make them easy to spread) or canned black beans, shredded cheese, and seasoned chicken (easy version: shred a rotisserie chicken, season with cumin and lime juice). Pack a side salad or frozen vegetable of your choice for a quick, well-rounded meal, carry a few taco chips to work along with it for crunch.

My husband also adds salsa to his burritos to spice them up. You could stick with bean and cheese burritos, or get taco seasoning and ground beef and make beef filling instead of chicken (add a can of diced tomatoes wile cooking it for extra numminess). Use canned black beans instead of refried. Add corn, diced cooked potatoes, or pico de gallo. Add hot sauce. Or bring avocado and fresh vegetables, unwrap burrito after nuking it and add them. Make breakfast burritos with a combo of your choice of scrambled egg, diced cooked potatoes, bacon, sausage, cheese, and/or salsa. You're pretty much limited only by (a) what heats up well in the microwave and (b) what size of tortilla you have.

To wrap and freeze, prepare a sheet of plastic, wax paper, or parchment paper for each burrito. Get a tortilla--preferably fresh from a store that makes them, as they'll be pliable, otherwise you'll have to heat them up to avoid cracking them--and put the fillings in a line down the middle. Make all folds as tight as you can without squishing out the filling. Fold the bottom up over the fillings. Fold in the two sides. Fold the top down over everything. Immediately put it, seam side down, on your prepared plastic or paper, and wrap it up. Put all the burritos into a freezer bag or container and freeze. Take them out one or two at a time, nuke in the wrapping (hence wax or parchment paper, if you're concerned about heating plastics) for 1-3 minutes, depending on the level of frozenness and the wattage of the microwave.
posted by telophase at 12:44 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

slap on some meat, rocket and gherkin

I had no idea that what you call rocket is what I call arugala. Neat!
posted by dirtdirt at 5:39 PM on July 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you normally cook dinner for yourself? If so what about leftovers? Cook a bit extra, store it up in some tupperware and microwave it the next day!

Or you could make a whole week's worth of salad on Sunday and store it in 5 different boxes in your fridge.

Or you could make a week's worth of steel-cut oatmeal on the weekend and microwave one for lunch every day. Oatmeal is an awesome base--you can add fruit, nuts, cinammon and even savory toppings (I learnt this through being in college) frankfurter sausages and an egg with a pinch of salt works great too in oatmeal too! Healthy and yummy.

Or you could buy pre-made meals at a nice food store, there are weightwatchers meals in my fridge all the time and I microwave them when I can't be bothered. They are not super healthy, but at least they are not packed with salt and cholesterol and taste okay. Similarly, stuff like sushi boxes are often affordable at supermarkets and will last for a couple of days.

Smoothies are unconventional but you can make really nourishing smoothies with protein in them for lunch at the push of a button. You can buy fresh ingredients but mix up the combinations so that you use them up at the end of the week.
posted by dinosaurprincess at 12:27 AM on July 11, 2013

The key to workplace salads, i think, is the dressing! Try and find a little container to bring salad dressing in, because otherwise it all gets soggy and wilted and gross. I find little travel toothpaste containers work well. Or small vanilla or caper jars.

Then, in the morning, I just add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of vinegar and some salt and pepper.

If you have a minute, then add a slice of shallot, that way it infuses all day, and a drop of mustard to help emulsify.

Once you've done that, then all you do is bring a tupperware of lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, nuts, whatever you have lying around and the dressing makes it delicious.

For texture, I bring a Wassa cracker and, at lunch, crumble it over top like a crouton.
posted by cacofonie at 2:26 PM on July 13, 2013

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