Need more variety for work-from-home lunches
April 30, 2022 10:48 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest some lunches for a couple working from home. The main constraints are time and simplicity. We’d like to spend up to about five minutes preparing that day’s lunch, or about 20 minutes if we can make a batch ahead of time to serve us for at least a few days.

One or the other of us doesn't care for:
* Cottage cheese
* Eggs
* Mushrooms
* Peas

Here are some lunches in our current rotation:
* Canned soup
* Cheese and crackers
* Grilled-cheese sandwich
* Hot dog
* Hummus on naan or pita
* Quesadillas
* Tossed salad
* Tuna-salad sandwich
posted by NotLost to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, any temperature is fine.
posted by NotLost at 10:50 PM on April 30, 2022

My go-to lunch is rice + something: avocado, natto, and canned fish all work. I also do beans and rice for lunch a lot, but that might not count as a 5 minute meal.
posted by mustard seeds at 11:38 PM on April 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also do the rice combo thing like mustard seeds. I make a bunch of rice at the beginning of the week, buy various flavored tuna packets and warm up the daily serving rice and tuna together. Then I add rice vinegar and avocado. Sometimes I also chop cashews to go on top or crumble in a piece of dry seaweed. Lately instead of plain avo, I have been using guacamole.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 12:09 AM on May 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Buddha bowl - pre-prepared quinoa or couscous, salad leaves + vinaigrette, a spoonful of hummus, some roasted peppers & red onion, sliced avocado, shredded carrot, beans/chickpeas, whatever else you like.

You'd need to have pre-made the couscous or quinoa (cooking it in stock, rather than water for extra flavour), and pre-roasted the peppers & onions (or else use roasted peppers from a jar) and on the day the only work involved is using a box grater to shred the carrot and putting it all in a bowl.
posted by essexjan at 12:28 AM on May 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: California roll salad: chunks of cucumber, avocado, and shredded imitation crab meat with mixed greens or cabbage or a combo. If you can find toasted nori, crumble some up and sprinkle on top, if you have furikake or toasted sesame seeds sprinkle that on too. Find a good sesame dressing you like, I really like the kewpie deeply roasted sesame dressing. You can also use Japanese mayo and mix it with a little toasted sesame oil, sugar, and rice vinegar, which you can make a batch of and keep in the fridge for a while. If you have rice cakes and there are a bunch of crumbles remaining in a bag, dump those like croutons on top.

Marinated chickpea salad: drain cans of chickpeas and mix with diced red onion, a minced clove of garlic, a jar of your favorite kind of pitted olives (I like a mix), and if you want to bulk it up do cauliflower florets. Mix with a dressing of red wine vinegar, good olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, cumin and turmeric, or whatever spice mix you favor. Let it sit in the fridge overnight or throughout the week. Scoop a bunch out onto a bed of greens with cherry tomatoes or peppers or carrots or whatever fresh vegetable you like - green beans are good but can be fussy to prep. You can also eat this with pita and not bother with the greens, or heat it up and put it on a grain bowl, or wilted spinach, or add feta… it’s a good thing to prep and you can make it faster with more precut or jarred things or spice blends. Should last at least four days and get more flavorful over time.

Expanded cheese and crackers: when making your plate, add pickles, carrots, celery, some fruit preserves (fig is amazing with cheese, also try strawberry!), nuts and seeds. If you are having fresh cucumber or tomato, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Try slices of radish on your cheese crackers (great with sharp cheddar). You can add cold cuts to this too, just cut some into pieces about the size of your crackers. Even faster is pre sliced salami, at which point we get to Fancy Lunchables so go ahead and have a capri sun.
posted by Mizu at 1:09 AM on May 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, thought of another fast prep: topped baked potatoes. If you bake a few on the weekend you can store them cooked in the fridge and then just slice them in half and microwave or put them in the toaster oven to heat them back up. Top with sour cream, cheeses, fresh herbs, frozen veg like spinach or stir fry mixes, leftover meats, stews, chili, etc. It takes longer than 20 minutes to bake a potato but the time you need to be in the kitchen is minimal, just scrub the skins clean, poke with a fork, and stick in the oven. You can also keep chopped scallions prepped for the week in the fridge to mix with your sour cream for a no cook topping.
posted by Mizu at 1:42 AM on May 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

We like to poach a whole chicken (amazing, underrated AND you can do it from frozen) and shred it and then make tacos from it all week - our lineup is corn tortillas, sour cream, sliced avocado, some store-bought pico de gallo (salsa is fine!), cheese and cilantro. It's superfast and tasty.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:52 AM on May 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

As we head into the warmer season here, our current lunch rotation after grocery shopping day is:
-three days of deli sandwiches (1 lb makes about six sandwiches) with varying condiments/veggies and pretzels on the side,
-two or three days of platter style lunches of pita&hummus or baguette&brie with a side of dried fruit, nuts, pickles, olives, etc
-one to two days of yogurt and cereal, or canned soup
posted by donut_princess at 4:05 AM on May 1, 2022

Best answer: Can you get fresh ravioli where you live? They take three minutes to boil. In the meantime, gently heat olive oil with some garlic and chili flakes (or finely sliced fresh chili). When the ravioli are ready, turn them gently in the oil, et voila!

Also I agree with the poached chicken, though I would use it for different things during the week, some days tacos, other days a salad, other days a chicken and bacon sandwich. You could also just buy a rotisserie chicken for the same purposes.

Noodle salad TBH I just cook some noodles, drain a rinse them in cold water, and then mix them with a dressing made of soy sauce, lemon and chili flakes, then add cucumber and sesame seeds.
posted by mumimor at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

My go-to work from home lunch is a plate of crudite with smoked salt (all veggies that need no chopping - baby carrots, mini cucumbers, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, plus pickles) followed by peanut butter toast (you could obviously switch peanut butter for any toast topping you feel like).

I sometimes switch out the peanut butter toast and have either leftover pizza, vegetarian pork buns, or ikea veggie meatballs as my main, but those require having something pre-made on hand, which only happens once in a while.

If you like the tuna-style sandwich concept, there's a chickpea version that's really nice and might be good if you're just looking for a little more variety (sunflower seeds, onion, celery, carrot, apple cider vinegar - pulse in the food processor til finely chopped; add chickpeas, mayo, and salt & pepper, then pulse to your desired consistency. You can add some nori or dulse flakes to better emulate tuna but I prefer it without, celery seeds are a nice addition too).
posted by snaw at 4:26 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I just went through my once-in-a-year must only consume salads phase. This may be more on the expense/convenience side than you're looking for but I made all my coworkers jealous af last week holding my lunch up to the camera.

Costco has a "dill pickle" bagged salad kit that is easily my favorite bagged salad I've ever had. Comes in a double-wide. (The avocado ranch is good too, but is a far second to the dill pickle.) Contains no actual pickles, it's just the flavor.

I got several bags of that salad, plus a flat of salmon. Break the salmon down into servings, then baggie those.

For each meal, take a salmon section out of the fridge and plop it into my air fryer (on a square of foil for easy cleanup. Olive oil, salt, pepper, and lately I've been going real hard on the Ajika seasoning from Trader Joe's. Air fryer at 350 for 6-8 mins depending on thickness.

Then I dump a whole salad into a mixing bowl and toss it up. The thing says it feeds 3.5 servings but ok whatever.

By the time I let my dogs outside and get my beverage sorted the salmon is done. Chuck it on top of the salad and boom you're done.

This could easily be shortened to tl;dr get an air fryer and a quick cooking low prep protein.
posted by phunniemee at 4:34 AM on May 1, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: If the five minutes doesn't include baking time, you could make pita bread or English muffin pizzas. If using English muffins, toast them for a few minutes so they don't get soggy. Aside from that, add bottled sauce, toppings (you can prepare those in advance), and cheese. For English muffins, bake at 425 for 10 minutes. For pita, 400 for 7 minutes. (I'm finding different times and temperatures online and are adding these here for convenience. You may need to experiment.) I like the pita ones better, but grew up with the English muffin kind. There are lots of recipes for both online if you'd like more specific instructions.

I mostly make a stew on the weekends and eat it with rice during the week. That tastes better to me than any canned soup I can buy. Because I couldn't just run to the store during the pandemic, I started buying peppers, carrots, and celery, chopping those up in advance, and keeping them in small bags in the freezer ready to go. So it's pretty quick for me to make a soup or stew or chili by throwing a bunch of stuff in the InstantPot. But I'm not sure if it's under 20 minutes (and it might be quicker for me because I don't eat meat, so I don't have to worry about browning anything). I've just started experimenting with using dehydrated onions because the shoppers who pick out my groceries bring me so many rotten onions (what is it about onions?). That's also a time saver.
posted by FencingGal at 4:58 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Grocery stores sell a variety of pre-cooked sausages that are alternatives to hot dogs.

Store-bought meatballs plus a tbsp of bottled sauce plus a bun is a meatball sandwich.

Eggs, a variety of ways. A one-off omelet plus an English muffin in the toasted plus brown'n'serve sausage patty in the microwave puts you in Egg McMuffun territory.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:00 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Generally speaking, the Budget Bytes website is amazing for things you can make in big batches on the weekends, freeze, and heat up for your lunch.

If you have a slow cooker and an immersion blender, you can whip up the Cuban Black Bean Soup, which I just loaded into the slow cooker myself this morning.

The consistency is more of a paste than a liquid, and the leftovers taste good cold. We will use it for multiple lunches as a dip, or as a wrap filling with tomato and microgreens (those are really easy to grow yourself on a windowsill), or we can fry up some quesadillas.
posted by champers at 5:09 AM on May 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Tomato basil mozzarella sandwiches on a good bread.

If you can set a timer for boiling pasta, mixing it up with pre made pesto is under 5 min active prep.

Again, if passive time doesn’t count, roasted vegetables in the oven with some olive oil.

Some pickled carrots and cabbage made on the weekend will top off your hummus sandwich nicely.
posted by redlines at 5:17 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Scrambled egg on toast of your choice. I quite like to sauté chopped bacon or chorizo with chopped onion, mushrooms or peppers and then stir the eggs into that. Topped with cheese if I feel fancy. Keeping a few chopped ingredients on hand would also allow you to add a bit more interest to any other quick meals on your list.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:18 AM on May 1, 2022

Do you… not eat leftovers from last night's dinner? Sorry if that's too obvious, but it's what I do 90% of the time. Usually I prefer to eat the dinner from two nights ago, or even a frozen serving from a month ago.

This is guaranteed to be fast, and within your dietary preference. It may require some change to your dinner regimen or getting some more/nicer storage containers, but I think it's the most efficient and tasty way overall.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:29 AM on May 1, 2022 [6 favorites]

Avocado toast with za'atar spice. Store bought pesto on toast or pita. Tortilla chips and 7 layer bean dip. Make a bean/quinoa/texas caviar salad in bulk. Charcuterie/cheese/cracker board. Order the extra large pizza, eat the left overs. Stuff for sandwiches -- a nice bread, ham, cheese, mayo, a fun spread. Get a pack of frozen bean patties or chicken strips, bake/toast when you need some more protein.

Keep on hand some easy things to "add on" to your meal as a side. Some chips, oranges, apples, a bunch of nuts, a few bites from a fancy chocolate bar.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:15 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wraps. Leftover or pre-made meat, hummus, or tofu, like shredded chicken, taco beef. Leftover or pre-made rice and mashed beans, salsa. Then start adding things like peppers, onions, avocado, baked sweet potato, spinach, corn, leftover veg, incl. roasted, cheese, sour cream. The mashed beans and rice help absorb some liquid and provide some bulk. I usually add salsa unless I use typical salad ingredients like cold cuts, when I'd add mayo & mustard. Anything you might put in a sandwich can go in a wrap.

I love breakfast wraps any time of day. beans, rice (potato), salsa, scrambled egg, sausage. Cheese & sour cream are nice additions.

In the UK, canned baked beans on toast is a classic.

BLT. Tomatoes are coming in to season. Use good bread, thick bacon.

Keep some stuff around to perk up sandwiches and wraps like quick pickled red onion (use the leftover juice from pickles), capers, arugula, horseradish, jalapenos, cilantro, pesto.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you get some fresh Chinese noodles (this is the brand I find here in NYC but you may find others), they take about 3 minutes to boil and you can do a ton of things with them -- scallion some silken tofu, throw some spinach in with them for the last 30 seconds as they cook, mix in leftovers, put some Lao Gan Ma on top, whatever. Here is a basic sauce concept from Kenji but feel free to vary/omit ingredients per your preference, you can go as simple as a Kikkoman bottled teriyaki sauce if you want. If you have your sauce pre-made you can do 5 minutes easily, otherwise it will take 10. Leftovers aren't as good (the noodle texture is worse) but are still tasty for a week or so.
posted by goingonit at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2022

I love eating ramen noodles without the soup part.
Boil water, toss in some cut veggies (carrot, kale, broccoli) and then a park of ramen nooodles (no seasoning). Cook it for just a couple minutes til the textures are good, then plate (discard the water).
Top with a sauce:
A tablespoon each of peanut butter + honey + soy, microwaved
Soy sauce and sesame oil
Any other sauce you’re into.
A runny egg is great too if you like eggs.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:37 AM on May 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Wraps? I just do coleslaw and some kind of lunch meat and usually add avocado slices. It takes 4 seconds.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2022

You could sautee a couple of chicken tenderloins with a few strips of bell pepper and onion, and put it on a bun with some cheese and sauce for a hot chicken sandwich. Probably more like 10-15 minutes rather than 5, but still pretty low effort.
posted by ambulatorybird at 8:03 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]


Tortillas put in the toaster oven, covered in what ever you like. Beans, rice, lettuce, cheese, avocado, feta, weird greens, etc. Pretty much my spouse and son's lunch/afterschool/late-night snack, (eggs and mushrooms are involved in some of those as well).
posted by Windopaene at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2022

I'm really enjoying lunchmeat oven-roasted turkey sandwiches for lunch. I like mine on wheat with mayo, a tiny bit of mustard and shredded cabbage for crunch. My husband likes his on white with mayo, lettuce, cheese and pickles.

Hot ham and cheese sandwiches
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Chicken salad - add mayo to shredded chicken, fancy it up with celery, grapes, chopped pecans. Eat in a sandwich or scoop onto a bed of lettuce for a salad
Leftover chili heated and dumped over a bed of salad greens, for a Wendy's-style taco salad. Add whatever salad fixings you like, sour cream, cheese and serve with tortilla chips
Quesadillas - made with just cheese, or add leftover shredded chicken
Fish sticks & french fries - cook in air fryer or oven
PBJ is fun for something different. Maybe with a can of chicken noodle soup to make it more of a meal
A big salad if you like salad - you can pre-prep cut veggies to go on top, then add nuts, berries, shredded chicken, cheese or whatever to make it a substantial meal

I like to keep a variety of chips and crackers on hand to serve alongside the above. Raw veggies with hummus or ranch dip makes a good side dish as well. Fruit for dessert (fresh or canned) or something simple like a cookie or ice cream sandwich if you like sweets.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2022

There is a restaurant near me that will sell you bags of frozen empanadas (in multiples of 4) plus their homemade awesome salsa. They're kind of expensive, but after you heat them in an oven for 15 minutes, they are so so SO good. I don't like spicy food, and these are mild so it's not a problem.

So... I don't know if Bolivian restaurants in general are more likely to do this, but it's worth thinking about.

Another thing we'll do is order a bunch of Chinese food, store it better than the horrible clamshell things they somehow think will work (everything dries out, film at 11) -- actually we might put it in our Anchor-Hocking glass bowls with plastic lids -- then heat up a portion for a lunch. Or a breakfast, honestly.
posted by amtho at 8:31 AM on May 1, 2022

Best answer: Fish tacos with frozen fish sticks (hands off time in oven or toaster oven), pre made slaw, your preferred salsa. You might make a crema ahead of time, with mayo, sour cream, lime, hot sauce. You can do tortillas on a pan or in a toaster. (I like flour ones in a toaster.)

You can do the same/similar with frozen chicken tenders (which are fine in the microwave), canned refried beans, or whatever.
posted by vunder at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2022

If you are willing to prep and have a microwave and/or air fryer both Pro Home Cook and Joshua Weissman have great tips on prep help and specific recipes on Youtube. Pro Home Cook's "15-minute meals" are particularly inspiring.
posted by kschang at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2022

Best answer: broiled open face sandwich - Take half an English muffin, top with sliced tomato, deli meat and cheese (in that order), broil for about 2 minutes

quick nachos - Put some corn chips on a baking sheet, grate a lot of cheese onto them (or use pre-shredded cheese), sprinkle on some pulled pork (that you bought already prepared) or cooked ground beef or whatever else sounds good to you. Put in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and everything is warm. You can put some salsa on them after you take them out.

oatmeal or plain yogurt with berries, raisins, etc. mixed in

Use graham crackers and peanut butter to make sandwiches and dip in milk. (Maybe this is only good if you remember having it as a kid, like I do.)
posted by Redstart at 9:51 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Make this Chinese scallion-ginger sauce and eat with chicken, rice, noodles, eggs, tofu, sandwiches... it is easy, keeps for a week, and just so so delicious. It’s so good you can put it on super bland food and it will taste like an event. It’s not too gingery, mostly just an intensely savoury addictive punch in the mouth.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This tuna and white bean salad checks all my lunchtime boxes: easy, healthy, filling, and keeps well in the fridge. I swap the watercress for canned artichoke hearts to make it fully a pantry meal. If you buy quartered artichoke hearts, you don't even need to do any chopping.
posted by leeloo minai at 1:53 PM on May 1, 2022

So basically I dump a big bag of frozen chicken thighs or country ribs into the instant pot on Sunday with some seasonings. I also roast a pan of veggies, usually with a vinaigrette salad dressing for flavor.

In the pantry I have par cooked rice, canned beans, salsa, premade pesto or other sauces. In the fridge I have salsa, sour cream, creamy salad dressings, pickled veggies cheese and tortillas. In the freezer I have frozen veg like corn, spinach and peas and then riced cauliflower.

Dommer = some meat + beans/rice/cauliflower + veg + sauce. Most of the time it all gets dumped in a bowl and microwaved. Sometimes I put it in a tortilla.

For lunch I pretty much have a container of greek yogurt + chia seeds + protein cereal. If I want to change it up I'll have peanut butter on whole grain bread or on frozen waffles. Bonus points for having bananas on hand. I also try to keep fruit that'll keep on the counter. So apples, oranges, grapes tend to make it a week for me.
posted by kathrynm at 2:38 PM on May 1, 2022

Tasty Bite makes some fast microwave vegetarian Indian food packs that have become one of my I-have-5-minutes-to-cook meals.
posted by fings at 6:05 PM on May 1, 2022

Response by poster: Thanks! You have given us many tasty and quick options to try! I appreciate all of them, and plan to eat our way though most of them.
posted by NotLost at 8:13 PM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: PS, SaltySalticid, leftovers are seldom available.
posted by NotLost at 8:48 PM on May 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

I do meal prep on Sunday and make either chicken salad, tuna salad, salmon salad, or shrimp salad. Then for lunch I ether scoop it with crackers or plop some on toast open-faced. I add some fruit on the side.

There are obviously a zillion recipes for these types of salads, and it depends a lot on your tastes and preferences. Things I like to make include
- Shrimp salad with mayo, ketchup, chopped pickles
- Shrimp salad with mayo, lemon, pepper, and chopped celey
- BLT chicken salad
- Chicken salad with mayo, pesto, and chopped celery
posted by radioamy at 3:28 PM on May 2, 2022

Another suggestion: frozen dumplings/shumai/buns (like dim sum kind of stuff). You put them in a steamer, frozen, let them cook for 10-15 minutes and then you eat them. I use an old rice cooker to steam mine. If you have an East Asian market anywhere near you they will have tons of types of dumplings, but even white-people supermarkets will usually have at least a few.
posted by mskyle at 3:58 AM on May 3, 2022

I usually have a sandwich or similar for lunch, with similar "I would like this to be ready in no time flat" preferences. With apologies if the UK-specific ones aren't helpful, off the top of my head:

Bread rolls or sandwich bread with:
- smoked salmon with lemon juice and black pepper
- sliced roast chicken breast (I can buy this as is, I don't have to have roasted a chicken first) and interesting leaves
- honey roast salmon flakes, lemon juice and interesting leaves
- ham, mustard and interesting leaves
- cheese spread (Laughing Cow) and interesting leaves
- bacon (but this takes slightly longer, because it needs cooking)

Thick-sliced crusty bread with:
- cheese
- ajvar
- gravadlax
- marinated anchovies
- bierwurst / extrawurst / schinkenwurst
- Serrano ham / parma ham / salami / prosciutto
- a chopped avocado, mixed with a packet of coldwater prawns, with malt vinegar

Toasted crumpets with:
- Bovril (or Marmite, or English mustard) and thinly-sliced cheese
- cream cheese and smoked salmon

Toast with:
- tinned mackerel mashed up with malt vinegar
- potted shrimps
- Gentleman's Relish

Most of these do not include any vegetables. I consider cherry tomatoes, bell peppers or mini peppers an acceptable low-faff accompaniment to any of them.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:28 AM on May 3, 2022

Costco rotisserie chicken comes to about fifty cents a serving. Slice some off and add your fave dressings - avocado, tomato, dates, onion, etc! Poached chicken mentioned above is also good, but Costco cooked chicken is actually faster and cheaper.
posted by storybored at 1:58 PM on May 5, 2022

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