For Bon Appetit, by Julia Kramer.
Imagine an office meal you’re actually excited to break for (no hard feelings, turkey sandwich) — think fiery Asian noodles, lemony avocado toast, or spiced soup dolloped with yogurt. With a few strategies, a bit of planning, and a little sea salt in your cubicle, weekday lunch can be as delicious and exciting as any meal of the week. Here’s how to rethink the way you brown-bag it.
1. NEVER EAT OUT OF A PLASTIC CONTAINER
Why does everyone have a “favorite” coffee mug but shovel pasta salad from an old takeout container? Keep a real bowl, plate, glass, and set of silverware at work. We’re not talking porcelain, but it’s practically scientific fact that food tastes better when eaten from a legit plate, with a fork that won’t snap when you stab a piece of chicken.
2. STOCK YOUR PANTRY (YOUR DESK-DRAWER PANTRY, THAT IS)
- MUSTARD: A dollop adds bite to salad dressing; a spoonful and you’re halfway to a ham sandwich. If you prefer, find some real estate in the office fridge.
- SEA SALT: Oh, weird: That’s what all the food from the cafeteria was missing. Jacobsen and Maldon both make tiny office-friendly tins.
- TOGARASHI: Think of it as salt, pepper, and chile flakes in one. Sprinkle over rice bowls, hot soups, or leftover veggies.
- VINEGAR: Punch up everything from slow-cooked beans to blah deli meat.
- OLIVE OIL: Drizzle on soups, toss with grains, or whip up an on-the-fly vinaigrette.
- PEPPER GRINDER: Because you won’t find much flavor in those little paper packets.
- MARCONA ALMONDS: Great for snacking or for making the lunch bowl of your dreams.
- HOT SAUCE: El Yucateco, Texas Pete’s Cha!, Cholula. That’s just a sample of theBA office hot-sauce cache. Apply liberally.
- WASA CRISPBREAD: A blank canvas for open-face sandwiches. Or top with peanut butter for a snack that beats the vending machine.
3. KNOW WHEN TO DRESS AHEAD
“If I’m bringing a salad to work, it’s got to have spunk — that means bold flavors, like olives and salami — so I’m not bored halfway through. And it has to be hardy enough to dress in the morning: I’m not interested in soggy spinach or in carrying an extra dressing container to the office. So I seek out kale, chard, radicchio: the rugged ones. I especially love adding bread to soak up the extra dressing and to bulk it up.” —ALAINA SULLIVAN, JUNIOR DESIGNER
4. WHEN IN DOUBT, DO AS THE FRENCH DO
For a virtually no-prep meal that nonetheless feels like a special treat, bring in slices of good hard salami, some cheeses (you’ve got some nubs in the fridge, right?), and a hunk of baguette. It’s effortless yet dignified — a.k.a. very French.
- Bring in a small cutting board and you won’t remember what you did without one.
- Keep a small, sharp knife for slicing. Anything too big and you’ll just scare people.
- Throw in some fruit, olives, or nuts and you’re basically on the Riviera.
The Lunch Bowl Is Your New Go-To
Stroll through our offices around lunchtime and you’ll see our staff mixing and matching grains and greens, vegetables and meats, nuts and herbs. Call it a revolution? Fine by us. Just don’t call it a salad.
Choose grains, greens, or both. Keep some prepped in your fridge at home for fast assembly.
GRAINS Stick with whole grains — freekeh, farro, red quinoa (color!), and brown rice (white rice doesn’t hold well). Unless you’re going to reheat the grains, dress them at home so they can absorb some flavor. Here’s everything you need to know about how to make them.
What do you call a lunch bowl without a protein? A snack.
EGGS We try to have hard-boiled on hand, but when we’re time-pressed, the Fluffy Omelet (i.e., the lazy man’s version) takes just five minutes before work.
SPICY GARLIC CHICKPEAS You could use plain chickpeas (or beans), but they’re not this addictive.
LEFTOVERS! Yes to day-old roasts or braises (just shred them, discarding fat).
SMOKED TROUT All the benefits of canned tuna, without the coworker glares over the smell.
The Good Stuff:
Fatty, salty, crunchy mix-ins like cheese and nuts are the difference between satisfactory and satisfying. Choose at least two.
ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES Cooked with olive oil and herbs, they burst and release tomatoey juices for an extra layer of seasoning.
ZA’ATAR PITA CRISPS Your new, improved crouton.
SAVORY GRANOLA A restaurant trend worth bringing to work; use it as you would nuts.
SEEDS A sprinkle of toasted sunflower, pumpkin, or sesame seeds works especially well when there’s a creamy element (like cheese or avocado) for them to stick to.
RAW VEGGIES Julienned beets or carrots, sliced snap peas, fennel, cabbage: They’re excellent sources of crunch (and, you know, nutrients).
FRESH TENDER HERBS Keep the leaves whole; chopped herbs will brown by lunchtime.
FETA This feisty and crumbly cheese is our first pick for salads. Other punchy cheeses (think aged cheddar or blue) will work, too.
JARRED PEPPERONCINI Spicy, tangy, and not just for sandwiches.
MARCONA ALMONDS Any nut adds substance, but rich Marconas make lunch feel decadent.
It’s the (delicious) glue that binds the whole bowl together. Our suggestions:
6. OPEN UP TO THE OPEN-FACE SANDWICH
Just because an open-face sandwich doesn’t transport well—or at all—shouldn’t mean it gets kicked out of the lunch club. Do as the Scandinavians (and lots of us) do: Grab some good bread (dense rye is ideal), something spreadable (ricotta, mustard, hummus), and produce and/or protein. Pack the components separately—slice them at home or at work (your call). You’ll have a freshly made sandwich that didn’t spend the morning getting soggy in the fridge and somehow looks...sophisticated.
A Few Ideas to Get You Started:
- Best-quality ham + unsalted butter + Parmesan
- Smoked trout + labneh + fresh dill
- Sliced hard-boiled eggs + salted butter + radishes
- Hummus + avocado + dressed shredded carrots
7. THINK TWO MEALS AHEAD
“I’m not a morning person; it’s a victory for me to get out the door kind of on time. So I cook for lunch during the weekend, making lentils, baked pastas, or soups like this one, which I’ll portion out into jars. It tastes even better the next day and makes plenty for the week (I just freeze any I don’t get to). So when I’m bleary-eyed and undercaffeinated, all I have to do is literally grab and go.” —DAWN PERRY, SENIOR FOOD EDITOR
Get the Recipe: Spiced Fava Bean Soup with Rice and Tomato
8. THE CONTAINER COUNTS
The right container — nice to look at, easy to carry, spill-resistant — takes the hassle out of getting lunch from home to work. After rigorous testing, we found a few favorites:
Available in several shapes and sizes, Wean Green  (from $23; weangreen.com) and Kinetic Go Green GlassLock Food Storage  ($35 for set of 3; surlatable.com) locking tubs are super-reliable and microwave-safe.
Got soup? The screw tops on Ziploc Twist ‘n Loc Containers  ($4 for set of 2; amazon.com) make them good for packing liquids safely.
If you don’t like your rice touching your tomatoes, try a tiffin like this three-tier metal lunch box  ($9.50; pearlriver.com) or the sleek LunchBots Bento Trio  ($28; lunchbots.com), which has compartments.
And for the serious lunch aficionado, there’s no choice but the Zojirushi Classic Stainless Lunch Jar  ($69; amazon.com), an insulated cylinder with three microwavable bowls, chopsticks, and a strap for transport.
9. AS FAYE WOULD HAVE IT
No BA staffer is more committed to lunch than assistant managing editor Faye Chiu. She brings a multi-course home-cooked meal daily, and eats at a table away from her computer, like a table for one. Here’s a week of her meals.
- MONDAY: Chicken salad with oregano on sprouted toast; warm sautéed kale and roasted kohlrabi; hot water with lemon and ginger
- TUESDAY: Black beans with oregano over wild and brown rice with avocado and broccoli; cilantro tisane
- WEDNESDAY: Black beans with garam masala over quinoa and wild and brown rice; garlic kale and steamed chicken dipped in garlic mayo; dark chocolate
- THURSDAY: Homemade wontons in chicken broth
- FRIDAY: Gluten-free fusilli with scallion-ginger pork (leftover wonton filling), cilantro, and garlic kale; mint tea
10. BRING AN AVOCADO AND YOU HAVE LUNCH...
We know people who simply throw an avocado in their work bag and figure out the rest later. Rich, filling, and versatile, the avocado needs only a couple other ingredients to make a complete meal. Some suggestions:
- Mash onto crackers (or toast), top with a squeeze of lemon juice.
- Slice onto steamed rice and sprinkle with togarashi and a few dashes of soy sauce.
- Halve and drizzle with lemony vinaigrette.
- Make a salad of cubed avocado and sliced cucumber; drizzle with olive oil and lime juice.
11. ...AND THE SAME GOES FOR THE HARD-BOILED EGG
Hot on the tail of the avocado as our lunch MVP is the hard-boiled egg. Boil a batch on Sunday and you’ve got an in-a-pinch protein for the week. It’s the solution to the perennial problem: “It’s only 11 a.m., so why am I already starving?” And it magically turns a hodgepodge salad or a leftovers grab bag into something cohesive.
12. DON’T BE A SLAVE TO THE MICROWAVE
“When I traveled in Asia, cold noodles were a daily joy — one that translates beautifully to lunch in New York. Because it needs no reheating, I’m eating the dish as it’s meant to be eaten, not trying to resuscitate it in the microwave. Lately I’ve taken my cues from China’s Sichuan Province (my jar of homemade chile oil isn’t going to drain itself). It’s like I’m at that Chengdu teahouse all over again, without having taken a trip to our slightly scary office kitchenette.” —MATT GROSS, EDITOR, BONAPPETIT.COM
Get the Recipe: Noodle Salad with Chicken and Chile-Scallion Oil
13. GIVE YOUR DINNER A MAKEOVER
The key to keeping leftovers interesting is transforming them. Don’t settle for last night’s chicken breast when you can have today’s chicken banh mi. Here’s how we revamp a few regulars:
- Leftover chicken + celery + harissa mayo = CHICKEN SALAD WITH SOUL
- Leftover pasta + beaten eggs + cooked over medium-high heat until set = IS THIS FRITTATA LEGAL?
- Leftover steak + horseradish sour cream + a roll = ROAST BEEF SANDWICH WITH A KICK
14. COME ON, DO YOUR DISHES
“So, you brought your own dishes. It makes eating at your desk feel almost civilized, doesn’t it? Here’s the bummer — the kind that comes with adulthood: Now you have to wash them. (You’re not the slob who’s left his or her bowl in the sink for the past three weeks, the soapy water turning gray and, finally, green around the food-flecked edges? Didn’t think so.) Even if your mother did work here, she shouldn’t have to clean up after you. Make a designated dish kit, putting a brush and soap in a plastic takeout container. Civilized indeed.” —CHRISTINE MUHLKE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR
15. FINALLY, LISTEN TO OUR BOSS: YOU DESERVE A BREAK
“Yes, I realize this entire article is about eating lunch at your desk. But you know what’s depressing? Eating lunch at your desk. You’ve got, what, 30 minutes, maybe 45? Use them. Go sit in a park and eat lunch (one that you made yourself!), or even grab a chair in one of those office-building atriums. Just get up and go — somewhere. Your mind will thank you, your body will thank you, and if I’m your boss, even I will thank you.” —ADAM RAPOPORT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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