Nearly everyone has fallen victim to the sad desk lunch — all of those tasteless salads, calorie-ridden frozen microwavable meals, soggy paper plates and broken plastic utensils really get old after a while.
There's even a Tumblr blog dedicated to the trials and tribulations of eating bland, boring lunches at your desk every day. But eating lunch in your office doesn't have to be a bad or unhealthy experience. If you're willing to skip the fast food in favor of healthy, home-cooked meals and snacks, and make a few changes to your routine, you can turn your formerly sad desk lunch into a tasty, relaxing break from the work day.
Here are six tips for planning and enjoying a full week of healthier, happier work lunches.
Invest in better containers
First things first: Before you can even think about packing the perfect work lunch, you need to have the right containers to put your lunch in. Sandwiches can get squished in plastic baggies, and cheap plastic containers can melt in the microwave, leak or crack, if you're not careful. If you plan to pack your lunch often, be sure to invest in better, more sustainable food containers in a variety of sizes, like mason jars; bento boxes; and sturdier, spill-proof containers that can withstand your trips to and from the office. If you're not sure what kind to buy, check out this roundup from Good Housekeeping. A reusable, easy-to-clean, insulated lunch bag to keep cold foods cold and warm foods warm can't hurt, either — plus, it looks a lot more put together (and is more environmentally friendly) than carrying your lunch in disposable brown-paper bags.
Plan and prep meals on Sundays
Things get hectic throughout the week, and if you're not careful, by Wednesday, you'll end up finding some excuse not to pack your lunch and spending more money on food during your lunch break. By planning and cooking ahead of time, you eliminate those excuses and solve that problem. Before the workweek starts, plan out your menu, and get all of the ingredients you need together. Then, cook everything that can be cooked in advance, and if need be, freeze foods for later in the week. If you have enough containers available, it's also a good time to pack your lunches for the week so you can just grab your lunch and go in the morning. If not, pack your lunch for the first day, and for the rest of the week, just assemble the next day's meal at night. Need help planning? The Daily Burn has some handy tips to help speed up the preparation process. Pinterest is another great resource. [Good Morning! 7 Ways to Jump-Start Your Productivity ]
Use staple ingredients in different ways
Don't like eating the same meal twice in one week? No problem. You can still cook nutritious staple ingredients like chicken, tofu, hard-boiled eggs, grains and steamed veggies in bulk — just don't assemble them into the same meal. Use different marinades, sauces, spices and various other ingredients to mix things up. Food items like grilled chicken and broccoli can be repurposed into stir fry, salad, pasta and more with just a few small changes and additions. Epicurious has some great ideas for reusing ingredients to add to your weekly meal plan so that you never have to have the same boring lunch again.
Keep real dishes and silverware in your desk
Few things are more unappetizing than eating a meal out of a takeout container with a sad, flimsy plastic fork that's likely to break as soon as you take your first bite. Make your lunch hour a little happier (and a lot sturdier) by ditching the cheap plastic utensils and keeping a bowl, plate and set of silverware for one in your desk. It may require a little extra effort — you'll obviously have to wash and dry your dishes after you eat, unless you're lucky enough to have a dishwasher in the office — but because you won't be throwing out plasticware at every meal, it's more environmentally friendly. And, you can cut into your food without breaking your cutlery. No more sad plastic desk lunches for you.
Stock up on spices and condiments
If you really want to elevate your work-lunch experience, dedicate a small section of your desk drawer or cubicle to keeping pantry items like condiments and spices. Keep salt and pepper shakers and any seasonings or toppings (think granola, nuts, croutons, etc.) you regularly use in your office. Even things like honey, olive oil and vinegar, and spreads like nut butters can come in handy. This way, if you find your meal needs to be refreshed or spiced up by the time you get to your lunch break, you can do so with ease. Alternatively, if you don't pack your lunch one day and you find your lunch-break purchase is a little bland, you can kick it up a notch or two. Try these suggestions from Bon Appetit magazine.
Stretch out leftovers
Going out for dinner? If you don't usually finish your whole meal, try eating half at dinner and taking the other half to go — it makes for a quick and easy work lunch for the next day, and it can help you get more for your money. If you're cooking dinner, you can still find ways to stretch your meal into leftovers for the next day, or even several days, if you prefer. If you're making foods like pasta, for example, just cook a few extra portions to use for future lunches. You don't have to make the same meal with it, either. You can set aside the pasta to use in another pasta dish or use it to bulk up a salad — just follow the same process you would when reusing staple ingredients, or check out these tips for stretching out leftovers from Popsugar.