What do you eat for lunch? Tell me.
October 28, 2017 8:59 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for more ideas for things to take in my lunches, but I find myself coming up blank. More details inside.

I'm a graduate student and often spend very long days out of the house, and like to pack lunches that are filling and will last me a long while--no salads, cheese and crackers, etc unless there's also a main course.

I also don't much like sandwiches or typical 'lunch foods'. I have access to a microwave, but not much room or patience to do any assemblage. My usual lunch is something that I can make ahead and reheats well enough in the tupperware I carried it in. Some examples:

(a) pasta with meat sauce
(b) risotto with a lot of stuff in it
(c) curry with a lot of stuff in it
(d) potato salad with a lot of stuff in it
(e) fried rice

(One issue I run into a lot when I take leftovers is that most rice isn't so great reheated unless it's pretty well sauced.)

So, I know this is very open-ended, but that's my problem--my requirements are so vague that I'm just sitting here thinking, "Well, you doofus, you could make anything? Why's it so hard to think of something?"

I'm turning to you. Do you have any dishes that work particularly well in lunches? What makes you look forward to opening your lunchbox instead of feeling like, "ugh, I guess I should eat it..."
posted by Kutsuwamushi to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Daal over rice (the daal being on top keeps the rice from drying out)
Pasta and chickpeas - If you want to add veggies you could easily wilt some spinach in the last minute of cooking or add some roasted cauliflower, etc
kimchi soup
Israeli couscous with feta, almonds, and artichokes - Add chickpeas for extra bulk. I use frozen artichokes and whatever israeli couscous is at the grocery store.
Cauliflower farro casserole (this is amazing, it's just an unexciting name)
posted by (Over) Thinking at 9:11 AM on October 28, 2017 [5 favorites]

Chili! I like vegetarian chili (with beans and lentils), but meat-based chilis are also filling and reheat well. Similarly, I like to do a sort of burrito bowl with things like brown rice, black beans, refried beans, corn, guac, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.

I also find couscous with roasted vegetables (such as yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, red bell pepper) to be pretty satisfying. You can dress up the couscous itself with green onion, mint, and chopped dried apricots.
posted by neushoorn at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I pack a container with cooked short-grain brown rice (which seems to reheat well for me) and roasted veggies on top. At work, I heat the rice and veggies in the microwave and then slice a hard-boiled egg or two into the mixture. I sprinkle with some kosher salt that I keep in my desk, and eat. This is my lunch every day, but I vary the vegetables and I stay happy. :-)

(My rice is from Lundberg Family Farms. Their short-grain brown rice is grown in California and tests low for arsenic, so I’m not as concerned about eating it everyday as I would be otherwise.)
posted by wyzewoman at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2017

rice isn't so great reheated

Even when it's been frozen? I've heard from multiple people who much prefer frozen rice to refrigerated rice.
It would be nice if rice would work for your requirements, because IME it's the most filling option.

What makes you look forward to opening your lunchbox instead of feeling like, "ugh, I guess I should eat it..."

My favorite "trick" for interesting lunches is variety. Think bento boxes. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 of your box with rice, with toppings if desired. Fill the rest with various [separate] proportions of meat and veggie servings--for me this is often tasty leftovers, like a little bit of fried chicken, roast meat (salt-roast pork tenderloin? soy-marinated tri-tip?), steamed or roasted or stir-fried vegetables, tamagoyaki, mushrooms, tofu...

I've also done home-made pizza, quiche, savory bread pudding, and soup as go-to lunches, mostly because they're so easy and flavorful.
Tip for soup: Freeze soup to prevent spillage. Optional: Before freezing, pack the top of the soup container with rice to act as a sort of plug.

If you have a sweet tooth, a little dessert might add some joy to your lunch. (One of my favorite take-out lunch places in SF had a combo option. My favorite bits were the desserts--I have been on a minor quest to replicate their buttermilk pie and almond cake ever since trying them for the first time there. Ditto for the magical chocolate chip cookies from my childhood school cafeteria...)

I also don't much like sandwiches or typical 'lunch foods'. [...] So, I know this is very open-ended, but that's my problem--my requirements are so vague that I'm just sitting here thinking, "Well, you doofus, you could make anything? Why's it so hard to think of something?"

Think of what lunches excite YOU. Which takeout places are tempting? What was a recent lunch you really enjoyed? What about food do you like (flavors, textures, cuisines, etc.)? What is it that you find dull about current lunches? If you can come up with what you DO want, you could try replicating those dishes or ask us for variations and tips.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 9:44 AM on October 28, 2017

I pack miso soup with tofu (all the ingredients in a jar, add hot water when ready to eat) and rice with a small (2 oz or so) piece of poached salmon, pretty much every day. I cook a weeks worth of rice and salmon on Sunday. I reheat the rice (I use sushi rice, I find it reheats fine?) but not the salmon because I'm not a monster. I eat that cold. A little furikake shaken over and it's delicious. The tofu and salmon and soup aspect makes it a very filling, high protein meal.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:50 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cold sesame noodles! They're my happiest lunch. Very forgiving if you don't have all the ingredients, and you can also sub in leftover spaghetti (I do this a lot). I usually bulk them out by adding in some lightly-cooked-from-frozen green beans and some bell peppers in thin strips. Maybe some leftover chicken or what-not on top, if I have it.

Leftover quinoa mixed with leftover cooked veg, salad greens and nuts/cheese is also a filling lunch that need not be reheated. I make extra for lunches, whenever I cook it for dinner.
posted by halation at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I really like quiche (I make it crustless, often in my rice cooker) and a salad with strong tart/acid elements that gets smoothed out by the eggs.

Just Bento is a fantastic (rabbithole!) resource overall, but her tips on prepping and freezing rice might be helpful to you in particular.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Canned soup. I really LOVE Amy's Chunky Vegetable, Amy's Lentil, Amy's Golden Lentil, and Progresso's Sausage Gumbo. I'd happily eat any one of these with some baked Tostitos chips, veggies & hummus, and fruit for dessert.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:52 AM on October 28, 2017

Oh, and here's a thing I made the other day that was surprisingly good: a bag of Uncle Ben's Jambalaya rice (cooked in microwave.) Stir in 2 T of classic-flavor hummus, 1 T hot water and a cup of steamed broccoli. I threw this together out of stuff I happened to have at work, and liked it so much I made it for dinner the next day. My husband really liked it too.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2017

A quick tip for your rice issue. When you're reheating something that isn't very saucy, take a paper towel or napkin and soak it in water. Lay it across the entire bowl of rice, covering it. Then microwave as usual. Rice usually takes at least a minute or two to warm up, so give it time. The water will rehydrate the rice so it's fluffy and delicious!
posted by hydra77 at 9:56 AM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

I made this from Budget Bytes, and it's great: roasted cauliflower salad with lemon tahini dressing
posted by O9scar at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Quinoa is so much better than rice for this. Healthier, more satiating, re-heats well, and picks up flavor like rice. I grill chicken or a pork tenderloin, add some veggies, and sauce it up. You can make this any flavor of Asian, Mexican, Curry, etc.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain; I'm working FT and a phd student and some days I'm packing all three meals up...

Quiche has been mentioned, and this quiche is a little fiddly to make but holds up as leftovers and reheated REALLY well; it's super sturdy, probably because of the béchamel. Make up a pan Sunday night and hack off hunks all week.

Taco bowls are good - roast a pan of veg, cook up your protein of choice (I've got no shame about using those precooked chicken strips), go ahead and toss on sour cream/cheese/salsa, and then they're ready to nuke.

If you want vegetables, non-lettuce salads (like Greek salad) keep a lot better.

I carry a lot of food that is its own packaging - I have weeks where I'm living on bananas and clementines.

Don't be afraid to embrace your inner second grader - if buying individual cups of applesauce means you'll eat some fruit, then do it. They recycle most places.

On the same front, don't be afraid to buy the occasional good quality microwave meal or can of soup. Amy's stuff is pretty good and not horrible for you, for example. Yea, it's more expensive than scratch cooking, but cheaper than running to the campus adjacent sandwich shop every day, and it will help break up the "dammit, I have to feed myself again?" feels.
posted by joycehealy at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2017

This will sound boring, but I eat the same thing for lunch every day: egg white omelet with oatmeal and greens (spinach or kale). I add dry seasonings or sauce as I feel like it: soy sauce, hot sauce, always salt and pepper, taco seasoning, Jamaican jerk, ras-el-hanout, etc. You could sub in a carby vegetable or two slices of bread for the oatmeal.

I settled on eating the same thing every day after trying to make my lunches on the weekend and bring them to work, trying to make extra dinner for leftovers, buying pre-made lunches, all of the tricks and tips we all hear about. It takes 10 min to make every morning - eggs in the oven at 350 for 10 minutes and oatmeal in a rice cooker, though you could make that in advance.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just in general, the key for me when I want more than fuel for lunch is to make it as sensory an experience a possible to differentiate if from the rest of my day - either lots of spice or very rich or both. So for example, full-flavored Indian or Mexican ; something extra cheesy or creamy or hearty ; or both. Whatever will boost your focus on the food and let the rest of your day fade for a bit.
posted by ClingClang at 11:03 AM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I love to bring burrito bowls for lunch. Rice, black beans, salsa, cheese, pickled jalapenos. The salsa and bean sauce keeps the rice the right consistency and it microwaves well.
posted by gatorae at 11:27 AM on October 28, 2017

Amy's frozen burritos are my answer when I can't cope with packing lunch. Not exactly cheap, but way better than buying lunch out.

Otherwise, I'm big on entree salads. Something like quinoa, chickpeas, kale, tomatoes, nuts, olives and lemon-olive oil dressing. A batch of that will hold well for 3 days and be edible for 5.

Quinoa made in the style of fried rice is also a good option to take to work. Add lots of veggies, edamame, pineapple and cashews. It's great!
posted by snaw at 11:31 AM on October 28, 2017

I make breakfast burritos, freeze 'em, microwave them at lunch under a damp paper towel. There are a tonne of recipes out there for freezable one so you can have lots of fun experimenting. Also as they freeze they're handy to grab when you're stuck for ideas.

Also short grain rice freezes better than long as it holds the moisture better. Try sushi rice maybe?
posted by wwax at 12:00 PM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Savory oatmeal; steelcut oats cooked in chicken broth. Filling and amazingly adaptable to different flavor profiles, such as:
Avocado/guac and poached egg
Blueberries and bacon
Bacon, maple syrup and walnuts
Baby kale and red pepper flakes
Spinach, garlic, parm flakes and poached egg
Ham dice and poached egg
Pico de gallo and black beans
(Pico: diced fresh tomatoes salted and drained, one or two jalapeno peppers chopped very fine, onion dice, lime juice, cilantro or parsley)
Sausage and cherry tomato
Corned beef hash and poached egg
Pineapple and black beans with cumin
Caramelized onions
Green chili salsa
Dried apricots
Medjool dates
Golden raisins and rosemary
Scallions and toasted sesame seeds
Sweet potato
Blackberry jelly, yogurt and walnuts
Peppered salami, olives and fresh ricotta
Artichoke hearts with artichoke hummus
Miso and shiitake mushrooms
Sesame/chili marinated tofu and scallions
Berbere toasted chickpeas
Tuna, canellini and capers with lemon juice

A batch of oats will keep well in the fridge for at least 3-4 days. A poached egg can be cooked in a microwave in 50-60 seconds.
posted by vers at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

Corning makes this cup, it holds a goodly amount of soup, stew, whatever, and when you heat your food up, you are not cooking plastic just porcelain. Ziplok makes screw top containers just the right size for heat and serve. If you run hot water over the frozen content for a few seconds, it will slip right out of storage and into this cooking mug, that doesn't leak, and fits right into most chill lunch bags. I always make soups and stews, enough for two servings hot same day and next, then four servings into the freezer in those screw top plastic containers. I don't like to reheat in the plastic. Chili verde with black beans and pork, or chicken. Easy stew with organic stewed tomatoes, corn, black beans, and pork or chicken. Sweet and sour cabbage with sausage, and tomatoes, kind of like goulasch. Piti, the Azerbaijan version with saffron. Buy a large pizza your favorite. Have 2 pieces the day you buy, wrap the rest individually in parchment paper. Pizza reheats so nicely wrapped in parchment. Pasta dishes of all kinds.
posted by Oyéah at 1:16 PM on October 28, 2017

Honestly, the thing that makes lunch most bearable for me is a constant stream of ever-changing snacks. My formula for work lunch most days is as follows:

Main dish: Other people have already given you good guidance on this, nthing quiches and frittatas.
Salty snack: Cheese crackers, pickles, chips, jerky, nuts, pretzels, dry roasted chickpeas, edamame (get the frozen ones and heat them up in the microwave), etc.
Piece of fruit: Most often an apple, but sometimes kiwi, applesauce cups, a Tupperware full of berries or cherries, or whatever else is seasonal. I find that peaches, pears, and bananas break and ooze out in my lunchbox too easily, but YMMV.
Can of seltzer
Dessert: Most often store-bought cookies, but sometimes candy or a piece of a homemade baked good.

Optional extra protein snack for long days: Greek yogurt cup, peanut butter with crackers or fruit, hard boiled egg, additional higher-protein items from the salty category.

Even if I eat the same leftovers or sandwich type for days, I find that having a huge supply of snacks around and switching them frequently cuts down on the "omg not this lunch again" factor.
posted by ActionPopulated at 1:55 PM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

When reheating rice (or pasta, or other grains) in the microwave, add between a teaspoon and a tablespoon of plain tap water to it. You can just put it in the rice, or you can put it in a small microwaveable container next to the rice, whatever. The rice (or other grain) will heat more evenly with the water steam in the microwave, and it won't dry out and get gross that way. I don't even measure, I just run the tap for half a second into my rice, and then nuke it. MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

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