I have a neighbor whose child eats lunchables every day. She knows these convenience lunches are not the greatest, but feels she just doesn’t have the time to pack more appealing brown bag lunches.
I used to feel that way, too. When I first moved to a big city and was temping full-time while looking for a permanent job, I thought I didn’t have time to consider my lunch options. I packed the same lunch every day: turkey sandwich on wheat (hold the mayo), carrot and celery sticks, and an apple. It was easy. I didn’t have to think about what I was making, I could go grocery shopping on auto-pilot, and this fare tasted fine. For the first few days. Soon enough, there came a point when I never wanted to see another carrot stick again. Ever.
That’s when I decided that my lackluster lunch situation called for drastic measures. I identified some fool-proof, low-maintenance brown bag ideas that continue to serve me (and now, the hubster) in good stead:
Make your lunch the night before
I’ve never enjoyed slathering mustard on bread at 6:30 in the morning. Maybe it’s just me, but the smell of mustard before I’ve had my oatmeal just doesn’t appeal. And the idea of chopping vegetables or spooning out cottage cheese – enhanced by a dash of pepper – is equally as unappetizing at o’dark-thirty.
So I prefer to make weekday lunches the night before. My mornings are full with quiet reading time and prayer, working out, getting ready, and commuting to work. No need to throw mustard into that mix.
Make your brown bag experience more pleasant
When packed the night before, sometimes pre-made sandwiches can be a touch soggy. But you can easily make that same lunch experience more pleasant by packing your bread in one food storage container and your meat, lettuce, and other sandwich toppings in a separate container for easy assembly at the office. Not only will this require you to take a few moments away from your desk to prepare your cubicle picnic (read: take a forced break), but some office kitchens feature toasters that will make your non-soggy bread all the more enjoyable.
Would a small side container of salad dressing or sauce make humdrum raw veggies more palatable? Then, dip in!
One friend keeps a cloth place mat, china plate, and stainless steel utensils at the office so she can enjoy “civilized” lunches. I’ve followed her lead. You’d be surprised at what a difference this touch of ambiance can make in your level of brown bag enjoyment. Plus, you don’t have to worry about breaking the plastic knives from the office cafeteria every time you want to cut your food.
Dinner leftovers make great lunches
There are entire books, magazines, and websites devoted to lunch food ideas. While I won’t attempt to capture their wisdom here, I’ll offer my scientific observation that dinner recipes make great lunch leftovers. Profound, I know. Regardless of whether you’re cooking dinner for one or ten, make enough food so you can serve the leftovers for lunch the next day or later in the week.
AND…while you’re cleaning up from dinner, grab some containers so you can simultaneously store the leftovers and make lunch. Super simple.
I think I was living under a rock during the aforementioned boring turkey sandwich phase. Eventually I realized that the chicken and asparagus leftovers from dinner on Monday make for a lovely lunch on Wednesday. The leftovers from a tuna-topped spinach salad on Thursday evening make for a great Friday lunch…as long as the dressing is on the side. (Who likes wilted greens?) And after eating lunches of this nature, I soon found that I wasn’t eyeing my office stapler every afternoon around 4:00 because I was so hungry.
Bliss in the middle of a workday
Tonight when you’re making dinner, double the recipe so you can brown bag it later this week. Then take a moment to consider the stillness you may savor if you eat this brown bag lunch in your office on a china plate with the help of actual utensils. Bonus points if you plan ahead and bring a cloth place mat and/or napkin to the office. Extra credit if you minimize your work documents and email Inbox for at least 20 minutes while eating.
Consider what it would feel like to express a little grace on your own behalf, and treat yourself to a little extra helping of peaceful, organized living – at no added cost – in the middle of a busy workday. I love it – and hope you will, too.
p.s. I wasn’t surprised when I re-gained my appreciation for carrot sticks. It’s wonderful what a little food variety will do.
* Photos by Jonathan Eggers