As food enthusiasts, we’re endlessly curious about what other people are eating. And after learning how people’s breakfast habits have changed since the pandemic, we’re moving on to lunch. Is the sad desk lunch a thing of the past?
For people who already worked from home, COVID meant cooking lunch for spouses and children who also were suddenly at home. Others took the opportunity to support local businesses during this time of uncertainty. And some people stopped having a regularly scheduled lunch hour altogether.
Below, people break down their pre-pandemic and post-pandemic lunch routines.
Marlynn Schotland, cookbook author, writer and photographer in Portland, Oregon
“I worked from home before, so the main thing that has changed about lunchtime is that now there are three of us eating lunch together. My husband works from home now, and my son is still going to school online, so we eat lunch together (our daughter is back to going to school in-person). I used to make what only I loved for lunch that nobody else would eat, and now I have to consider what my husband and son would also want to eat. I also used to go out to lunch a lot for business meetings and social gatherings, but that has almost completely gone away since the pandemic started. I’ve saved money by not eating out much, but our family grocery bill has definitely increased.”
Andrea Kroetz, fisheries biologist in Panama City Beach, Florida
“Pre-pandemic, I would make myself healthy lunches such as salads with grilled salmon or chicken, or pasta with veggies and homemade pesto, to take to work. I would take an actual lunch break at the same time every day and then snack periodically throughout the day on fruit or nuts.
“When the pandemic started and for a good year into it, I noticed that my eating habits started to trend towards the unhealthier side. This is mainly because I felt pressured to always be accessible and at my computer, so I was working more and taking very few breaks. This resulted in not breaking for lunch, and I tended to eat quick meals that were not well-rounded, such as canned soups, grilled cheese or canned tuna with crackers. I would also typically eat lunch later in the day, around 1:30 or 2 p.m., because I would get busy at my desk and just forget!
“Now that we are two years into the pandemic, I’m still working from home, but I’m making a more concerted effort to take a proper lunch break (among other small breaks!) so that I can prepare healthier food for myself, and it really makes a difference in how I feel and how I do my job. My favorite lunch is a spinach salad with bell peppers, tomatoes, feta and grilled salmon.”
Karam Kim and Chachi Prasad, co-founders of BlueCut in Los Angeles
“Unlike many Americans who were able to transition to remote work during the pandemic, we still go into our ‘office’ (i.e. our design and production warehouse) daily. Between sketching new designs and testing out new products, our days start early and are jam packed till the last hour of work. We try to pack a healthy lunch on most days but also enjoy stopping by our local shop to get something quick and easy. It’s a great alternative to fast food, as tacos are made fresh and ready in minutes.
“The biggest change to our lunch routine has been supporting restaurants that are hyperlocal to us, meaning within a five-minute vs. a 15-minute radius. Prior to the pandemic, we would drive out to a new restaurant to try something new and treat ourselves to a longer lunch when we had a little extra time in our schedule. Now, we prefer to support the hyperlocal businesses that rely on support from companies like ours, given the fact that our office is based in an industrial setting. Furthermore, we now spend more time tackling pandemic-born supply chain and labor challenges, which makes a quick and nearby lunch even more beneficial!”
Kristen Baker, teacher in White Plains, New York
“Last year I bought a mini Crock-Pot to heat up leftovers. I plug it in when I get to work in the morning and it heats up my lunch in just a few hours. I did this to avoid touching the same microwave as everyone during the height of the pandemic. Other than that, my lunch habits have not changed too much, since I am back to my normal routine. When I was working from home, I definitely ate at random times throughout the day and ordered out a lot less, since I had access to everything in my fridge.”
P.K. Blake, freelance photographer in Panama City Beach, Florida
“I’d say that the pandemic gave me a great opportunity to think about my eating habits. Instead of walking to a downtown sandwich place for lunch near my old office, working from home gave me time to make salads and learn how to bake bread for the first time. My fiancé and I agreed that if this was a true global crisis, then it was time to drink the good beer and wine we had saved for no real reason. And we continue to enjoy the nice food and drinks we buy instead of saving them.
“I still get hungry and eat at the same times as I did before the pandemic, and I don’t think the amount of food has changed. These days, I’m more likely to reach for fresh fruit and veggies because of how much canned and frozen food we had to eat when grocery stores had limited hours. We started a pretty good garden and got a lot of fresh food that way when the grocery stores were closed.”
Mason H., communications director in Memphis, Tennessee
“First off, I should say that my productivity didn’t fall off while working from home, but I did take a few liberties that I wouldn’t have been able to, had I been going into the office. I usually spent the beginning of my day at my desk busy with calls and emails, but my lunch looked a lot more like dinner. Rather than a quick sandwich or something fast from a restaurant (which is my usual routine when working in my office) my wife and I would actually cook meals that included sides, and I’d even often enjoy a (single) glass of wine with my meal. While I was still never far from my phone, this midday break was huge for de-stressing, and gave me time to appreciate the moments that I would otherwise rush through. I carried a bit of that ease through the rest of the day, using my laptop to work on presentations from the couch for a change of scenery, and taking or making phone calls in the backyard.”
Mary Montalvo Braun, chief marketing officer of Golden Rule Spirits in San Francisco
“Like many people, I transitioned from a two-hour daily commute to working from home full time. With that time back I was able to make more quality meals at home. I really clung to mealtimes as work-free zones that helped me create some distinction between work time and family time. I also started meal-prepping more involved lunches and now I keep homemade ravioli in the freezer, ready to go. I also enjoy an easy WFH happy hour by keeping canned cocktails in the pantry.”
Rose M., registered nurse in upstate New York
“Honestly, I don’t think my lunch habits have changed much. As a nurse, when and what I eat for lunch (and even dinner) varies widely, since some days I don’t even have time to eat when I’m super busy. I typically have something simple like a premade salad that you can buy at the grocery store.”
Alice Cherng and Belinda Wei, co-founders of Dear Bella Creamery in Los Angeles
“We’re best friends that went into business together because of our love for discovering new foods. We always look forward to enjoying something new and special on our lunch break and supporting other AAPI-owned businesses! We love to explore omnivorous restaurants and food spots that offer plant-based options, and discover new wholesome Asian comfort food dishes and vegan dishes from other cultures.
“Eating out has become even more convenient because of curbside pickup, which allows us to move quickly throughout our day, while still grabbing something delicious to eat. It also became more important to support local businesses we love during the pandemic to help them stay open, especially other AAPI-owned businesses.
“Some major changes we’ve made include making a more conscious effort to eat with reusable utensils from home to minimize waste from the increase in takeout. We also travel with a folding table and chairs in our car for when dining in isn’t an option. This allows us to set up our own al fresco dining experience right outside of the restaurant.”
Meredith Price, plant-based registered dietitian in Brooklyn, New York
“I used to rely on leftovers from dinner before the pandemic so that I could quickly pack up what I had the night before and bring it with me to my office. Now that I mostly work from home, I give myself time to prepare lunch during the day so that dinners stretch out over two nights. I like that it gives myself and my husband more time to relax after work and be with our two little kiddos.
“My lunches now are quick but fresher than previously. They’re usually either a plant-based sandwich or bowl. For sandwiches, I’ll either have a BLAT with homemade tempeh bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomatoes on sourdough, or a Just Egg veggie scramble with a side of fresh veggies like cucumber or sugar snap peas. For bowls, I’ll cook up quinoa or rice, and roast some veggies like sweet potatoes and red onion, and throw a protein in like beans or Trader Joe’s pre-baked Sriracha tofu, and top it with fresh greens and dressing. I’m really into vegan creamy dressings from Trader Joe’s right now.
“The amount of food that I eat hasn’t changed, but the flavor has improved and I love that we don’t have to cook a new dinner every night this way.”
Justina Nielsen, CEO of Forte Mare publicity agency in Los Angeles
“Pre-pandemic, there were a lot of scheduled lunch meetings and lunches out at restaurants. The beauty of those was that it got us out of the office, but the downside was that it took up a significant amount of time out of the day. Post-pandemic, I find myself eating more at my desk at home or office, choosing healthier meals to help me power through the day, and trying to finish work early to sneak away with the family for a beach walk or bike ride. The lunch hour is no longer a thing post-pandemic. I now eat a meal just to keep my energy up. I also used to have an occasional midday glass of wine with a client, but now meetings are virtual and I save the glass for the evenings. My go-to recently are chef-prepared meals like Farm Box. Convenient, delivered to my door, but healthy and made with natural and in-season ingredients.”
Jennifer K., writer in Long Island, New York
“Pre-pandemic, I was mostly preparing lunches to bring with me to work, but a lot of times I would get food from the food truck that comes by my office or order takeout. During the initial phases of the pandemic when I was WFH full-time, I found myself preparing much healthier meals (really balanced with protein, healthy carbs, lots of fruits and veggies) and ended up losing a lot of extra weight because I had more time and energy to prepare healthy meals at the time I would be eating them. Now that I’m primarily back in the office, I’m so drained that I find myself grabbing frozen meals, protein bars –– anything quick and easy that doesn’t take too much thought or effort.”
Melanie Sutrathada, on-air host, content creator and actor in New York City
“The biggest change I’ve seen in my lunch routine is the way in which I actually eat lunch. I used to always be on the go during lunch and would pick up something quick and eat it while I was at my desk, or I would take a few bites in between takes on set. Now, I take the time to really enjoy my meal. I love whipping up a yummy salad or sandwich and heading outdoors to the park for some fresh air and sunshine. Lunch is now a fun part of my day that I really look forward to and is easily one of the highlights of the afternoon!”