September always brings talk of back-to-school lunches for the kids. But what about us working adults? We're also away from home at the noon hour and need sustenance to get through the day. And turkey on wheat bores us, too, day after day.
Toting a sack lunch to the office is a long-held tradition in the American workplace. It's cheaper than going out, and refrigerators and microwaves in break rooms allow for lots of menu choices. Open any office freezer and you're likely to find a stack of Lean Cuisines, Weight Watchers or some such microwave meals. Around here, they are emblazoned with a name to prevent filching or accidental eating.
Sometimes we rely on prepackaged meals because they are easy, but a little planning and a lunch box full of ideas can make the midday work meal a real occasion. OK, maybe you're not lighting candles at your desk. HR isn't too keen on that. Still, a little effort can bring a welcome and delicious break before the last push of the day.
A few tips for putting together a perfectly wonderful work lunch:
Pack croutons and dressings separately. This will keep croutons from getting soggy and dressing from turning your greens into an unappetizing mess.
To keep sandwich bread dry, line with lettuce leaves. Tomato slices or pickles should be between leaves or packed separately.
Food headed for the microwave should be in appropriate containers. And do co-workers a favor and cover food with a paper towel so it doesn't splatter in the appliance.
Remember to bring something to drink. No, not a beer. A flavored water, juice or a soda.
Keep plastic utensils in your desk drawers. Or better for the environment, bring flatware and tote it home dirty.
Consider your podmates when you plan your meal. They have to smell what you're eating and not everyone loves sardines. (The burned microwave popcorn is bad enough.)
Find a sturdy container for your lunch. If you don't have an office refrigerator, get an insulated bag and add an ice pack.
25 simple ideas for totable work lunches
The following will lift you from your noontime rut. Who knows? The person to your left might just start paying you to bring extras.
Hummus with pita chips and carrot sticks, plus some kalamata olives and a clump of red grapes.
Bowl of Comfort
Leftover chili with shredded cheddar and crackers. Make your version meat or bean only.
Salami slices, cheese cubes and crackers. Apple slices.
Oh, and a cookie.
Sweet and Crunchy
Spinach salad with feta crumbles, dried cranberries and pecans dressed with raspberry vinaigrette.
A cold meatloaf sandwich on bread of your choice with yellow mustard.
Tuna-salad sandwich with bread-and-butter pickles on bread of your choice. Pack the pickles separately so they don't get the bread soggy. Chips!
Fresh sliced mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar on a 6-inch length of baguette. Cantaloupe and honeydew melon slices or chunks.
OK, not exactly, but peanut butter, sliced bananas and drizzle of honey on whole wheat. Feeling decadent? Add the potato-chip crunch, or just eat them on the side.
Perk yourself up with a roast beef, havarti and horseradish-mayo on marble rye. Cool down the spicy sauce with cold, crunchy lettuce. Pickled veggies on the side.
Wrap it Up
Pack grilled chicken strips, lettuce, Caesar dressing and grated Parmesan separately, then make yourself a wrap. Terra vegetable chips bring crunch on the side.
Salami, roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill-pickle slices and yellow mustard on a length of Cuban or French bread. Cut the breads into 1-1/2-inch slices and you've got finger sandwiches. Heat black beans and rice in the office microwave.
Chicken salad made with rotisserie chicken, mayonnaise, sliced almonds and cranberries. Forget the fork; scoop it up with sturdy crackers such as Triscuits. Bring a banana and a baggie of grape tomatoes.
Tortellini pasta salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette mixed with a bit of prepared pesto sauce. Load up the salad with some favorites, among them halved grape tomatoes and diced carrots. Grated Parmesan or small diced mozzarella cubes, too.
Get Your Fiber On
A bowl of cooked brown rice is a blank canvas for lots of toppings. Consider sauteed mushrooms; smashed black beans and avocado chunks; sauteed garlic spinach and chickpeas; diced tofu, soy sauce and crunchy veggies. Peeled and diced mango to go with.
Make your own veggie sub of Jack cheese, julienned green peppers, sliced tomato and cucumber, shredded lettuce, pepperoncini (or pickled jalapenos), onions (if you must) and black olives with a splash of vinaigrette on a hoagie roll.
Egg salad is often an overlooked
work lunch, but you can pack it in a container and pile it on a croissant or between slices of a thin bagel. Carrot sticks, too.
Smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. Hold the red onion for the sake of your podmates or the colleagues in the afternoon meeting, though a few capers would add a nice tang.
Cinco de Monthly
Guacamole mixed with shrimp salad and scooped with tortilla chips. Papaya and mango slices on the side.
Leftover slices of flank steak over Caesar salad with big garlic croutons and shaves of Parmesan. Pack the croutons, meat and dressing separately.
Appetizers for Lunch
Cold shrimp and grape tomatoes with a dill dipping sauce (1/4 cup each mayo and sour cream plus 2 teaspoons dried dill) and a corn muffin.
Restaurant Dinner Redux
You went out last night? Pack up your leftover chicken strips, pizza, lasagna or pad Thai. Perfect for the office microwave.
The Diet Plate
Hard-boiled egg, fresh cherries and celery, carrot and jicama sticks with dip made of 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream and 1 tablespoon dried herb blend.
Heat a baked potato (bake an extra one the night before) in the microwave, then stuff with shredded cheese and cooked broccoli, and zap again until cheese is bubbly.
Jazzed-Up Turkey Sandwich
If you must, consider smoked turkey, hot-pepper cheese and a slather of cranberry sauce on sourdough. Crunchy Romaine adds texture.
Deskside Chef's Salad
Lettuce in one container and then add cheese, ham and turkey plus halved hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and cucumbers when you're ready to eat. Bring along a container of Thousand Island dressing.
St. Petersburg Times food and travel editor Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler(at)sptimes.com.
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