Do your 2020 goals include eating better or saving money? Packing your own lunch is an excellent way to help achieve both. I’m often asked for ideas for easily packable adult lunches, and I know from years of “brown bagging” that easy, along with tasty, is indeed key to ignoring the impulse to simply buy your lunch.
I know some people aren’t going to like this, but leftovers are the easiest lunch around. If you have access to a microwave, extras from yesterday’s dinner can become today’s lunch. Make sure that your lunch will be something to look forward to — if your leftovers are just meh, save them for dinner, when you can jazz them up a bit. No dinner leftovers? Make a batch of a grain-and-bean salad, which holds up well in the fridge. Use whole grains — farro, brown rice, quinoa and unpearled sorghum are a few — and beans, lentils or chickpeas. Add sturdy veggies of choice (raw or cooked), some fresh herbs and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.
Prefer leafy salads? Create an at-home salad bar. On Sunday, prep, wash and chop salad greens and your favorite raw veggies. Then get one or more protein sources ready — rinsed and drained beans, grilled chicken, baked tofu, hard-boiled eggs or canned or pouched tuna — along with any extras, such as cooked whole grains or roasted vegetables. Store everything in airtight containers in the refrigerator, then quickly assemble into your lunch container the night before. Hearty greens like kale can stand up to being dressed in the morning without being limp by lunch, but if you lean toward delicate greens, pack your dressing in a separate, tiny container until you are ready to eat (or keep a bottle or jar of dressing at work).
Wrap sandwiches are easy to make, easy to transport and are virtually mess-free, especially when using fillings like tuna or chicken salad. My favorite is to spread a whole-wheat tortilla with hummus, add slices of leftover grilled chicken, cucumber spears and well-drained slices of jarred, roasted red pepper, and roll up. Or use peanut butter as the spread and roll it around a peeled banana before cutting it into bite-sized chunks — pair with celery or carrot sticks, and another source of protein if needed — perhaps a yogurt or a hard-boiled egg.
Brown bagging isn’t just about the food. The right lunch bag — not an actual brown bag — will help prevent squished sandwiches or spilled soup. If you commute to work by bus, train or feet, make sure the handles are sturdy and attached securely (I’ve had a handle detach while walking to the light rail). There are various brands of neoprene (think wet-suit material) lunch sacks that have integrated handles, so they’ll never detach. If you’re walking with your lunch sack, choose one with a structured form to help prevent containers from shifting around as you walk. No refrigerator? Opt for an insulated lunch bag, perhaps one that can also hold a blue ice pack.
Glass storage containers with plastic snap-on lids prevent leaking while in transit, and are safe for microwaving (leave the lid off). Mason jars with plastic screw-on lids (not the two-piece metal lids used for canning) work similarly, especially for leftover soup. Pack a cloth napkin, which does a better job of protecting your work clothes than a paper napkin — especially if the weather’s fine and you’re able to enjoy your lunch break outside.