It happens – more or less – seven times a week. But organising lunch somehow seems to create more of a struggle than is strictly necessary. So please perform a drum roll of your choice while I whip back the curtain from the Lunch Box Generator. This pleasing piece of kit is about to take the indecision away from lunchtimes. It offers you a series of small feasts, all of which are reasonably healthy, and which are designed to stop that despairing lean on the fridge door while you try and figure out what to assemble from the unedifying collection within.
Plan for lunch Choices
I don’t want to kid you that you can achieve this without any planning whatsoever. But I do promise that a little forethought will have you veritably sprinting to unleash the treasures contained within. So grab a pen and the planning accessory of your choice, and let’s make a list.
First up, are you expecting to eat out this week? If so, great, that’s less to trouble the Lunch Box Generator. Secondly, are you eating at home or out? Some things only work at home, or if you have a microwave at work. What’s the weather forecast like? Beautiful salads can be ambitious when you’re chilled to the core. With that in mind, here’s are the options.
But don’t yawn yet. Ramp it up a notch by buying some decent bread, and more interesting protein and accompaniments. Think about your favourites, and keep the ingredients on hand. Here that means Fria’s gluten free fibre loaf, which comes frozen so there’s no waste. Or Newburn Bakehouse’s wraps. As for fillings, I’m currently loving cheese and chipotle chili jam, or cheese and apple, cheese and cress (did I say I like cheese?), houmous or tuna mayo with peppers and a grind of black pepper, ham with homemade coleslaw, and even the good old peanut butter sarnie. The knack of getting more interesting fillings is to treat yourself to the equivalent of the handmade sandwich shop by buying the extras with your weekly shop. Maybe even stick your own sarnie menu up inside the cupboard door, so you can check it when inspiration fails.
There are a couple of options here. Firstly ready made, which could range from the comforting snuggle that is Heinz tomato, to the herby chicken and lemon of a pot of Rod and Ben’s. Whether this is portable does really depend on your eating arrangements. A thermos is possible, of course, or one of those plastic microwave containers. If it’s forecast to be a cold week, time to check your soup stash.
There’s also the option to make it yourself. And it’s not an arduous task. If you’re quick with the knife skills, the chopping can be done in five minutes, then it’s simply a matter of watching boil down to simmer, and leaving it to do its own thing for twenty minutes while you do yours. This is a great way to use up those bits and pieces in the vegetable drawer. Favourites here include parsnip and apple with turmeric, a minestrone using peppers and courgettes with a handful of pasta added to the pan (that’s a great and filling option), cauliflower and cheese, mushroom with tarragon, and possibly a little rice thrown in if very hungry, a gazpacho with tomatoes and peppers, and the classic potato and leek Vichysoisse. All my recipes run pretty much the same. Chop, saute briefly in the pan, add water and stock, bring to the boil and leave to simmer. If it’s not minestrone, I’ll tend to blitz it with the stick blender after twenty minutes of simmering. Make a litre, and you’ll have a spare bowl, or lunch with a friend.
Don;t forget the extras. Something to swirl, like yoghurt or cream. A grind of pepper. Some crackers to crumble and scatter or bread to dunk.
But not boring ones. Think about the type of salads you’d go for in a restaurant. There’s the classic Waldorf, full of walnuts, apples and raisins, possibly with chicken. Then you might have a Mexican bowl, stuffed with beans, corn, avocado and salsa. Homemade coleslaw tastes so much better than many bought options, and you can finesse the contents to your own specifications; for me, that’s the chance to have it dairy free. Or the Cobb salad, with lots of lovely chopped ingredients. A salade Nicoise with green beans, potatoes, tuna and olives (and a brilliant way to corral leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner.)
At this point I can hear you sighing, and cursing my audacity to suggest that you might have time in the morning. I can accept that to some degree. But I promise you that these salads can be made very quickly, even by me. And I have pretty bad knife skills. Some stuff can be made well in advance too. While you’re making dinner, shred or chop some extra carrots and red or white cabbage. That’s the coleslaw base sorted, and it will keep for a few days in the fridge.
Finally, don’t forget the humble Ploughman, who might of course be French (saucisson and brie) or Greek (olives and feta), and also the pleasure that is a plate of chopped peppers, celery, radishes, cucumber, sugarsnaps and other things that crunch, served with houmous to dip.
Some like it hot
And if they do, there’s plenty of time at home. I’m a big fan of eggs for the quick lunch. There’s the classic omelette, perhaps with mushrooms or even a little smoked salmon. Or a frittata, stuffed with greens like courgettes, peas and spinach, which is another great way to deal with your leftover vegetables from the night before.
Or a big Spanish tortilla, which I make cheat style, using frozen chopped onions and by slicing small potatoes for a 4 minute ping in the microwave, cutting down the preparation time considerably. Add some heat with smoked paprika, and throw in six whisked eggs. This will take a while to solidify, and then brown the top under the grill, which is way easier than trying to use a plate to turn the beast. This will satisfy two or three hungry people, or is lovely cold for lunch tomorrow.
Stuff your tortilla in a crusty roll for a really filling lunch. And, of course, no one is going to tell you off for adding the extra vegetables you love. We often add peas, sweetcorn, courgettes, peppers and mushrooms. You can either saute them first in the pan, or employ the microwave cheat, and give them four minutes of softening time there.
Finally, I’d suggest stir fries. Again you can do the preparation in advance, and it’s a ten minute cook at the most. If you don’t have any suitable protein on hand, I recommend a few peanuts for crunch and taste. We’ve always got tamari and sweet chilli sauce in the cupboard, and rice noodles to rehydrate in boiling water if a filling lunch is needed.
All Day Breakfast
Lunch also seems a great time to bring out the not as naughty as it seems food. If you were bad enough to skip breakfast, you could have a relatively healthy lunch of the good bits of a cooked breakfast. A modest amount of bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and beans feels way more sinful than it is. Then there are things on toast to be had: cheese (maybe even a Welsh Rarebit with mustard), bacon sarnies, and any sort of Croque, whether Monsieur or Madame.
The Treat Table
I know it’s not necessarily wise, but lunch to me seems much more rounded when there’s some small element of a treat to be had after the main event. Whether that’s a single lemon cookie, a couple of dates, a nectarine or a yoghurt, that all goes towards stopping me picking at things during the afternoon, and holding out for dinner.
The Hydration Station
While lunch is getting prepared, don’t forget something interesting to accompany it. If you like water, maybe add some citrus slices or soft fruit. Ferret around in those fruit teas that live in the cupboard but never get used. Shake up an iced coffee, dissolving good quality instant in a bottle of cold water adding ice cubes, milk and some sugar if desired. Use the best tea bags.
Shop wisely And Prepare Lunch Beforehand
Before you do your shopping, whether online or in the supermarket, let your brain run over the possible menus this week, so you can check ingredients. We usually have the ingredients in stock for some favourite lunches: small tins of tuna in springwater, packets of green olives with lemon, bread in the freezer, a collection of fruit bars in case we want something sweet.
Try to factor as much of your prepping as possible into times when you are already cooking dinner; get an extra pepper chopped and ready, shred more cabbage for coleslaw, make a salad dressing while you are waiting for something to boil. I promise you that a little bit of forethought will make lunch way more special, and possibly much healthier. Life’s too short for boring food.