Claer Barrett (a writer whose work I like reading) was asking her Instagram followers what were they putting in their lunch boxes.
I have also been having a few questions about my own lunch boxes (and how good they look 😎) at the office since I started working from there again recently, so I wondered: why not share my tips on how I prepare lunch boxes here?
I generally put a salad in my lunchbox. They’re the easiest solution, as you can eat them directly from the box and they also don’t depend on whether the microwave at the office works (if you are lucky to have such a device at your office).
So these are my tips to make salads:
- Almost anything solid can be put into a salad. Vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, eggs, pasta, bread, rice, nuts, seeds, cheese… ANYTHING… that you can eat at room temperature.
- To avoid going to the salad bar, turn your fridge into a salad bar. It takes less time to make a salad at home than to pop by your favourite sandwich/salad shop at lunch time, queue, decide, order and wait. You can use the time to go for a walk or coffee, or even eat more sedately and appreciate your delicious salad.
- Get a few airtight/waterproof containers, if you don’t have them yet. One will be your actual lunchbox, the other ones are for prepared ingredients, so they keep well for longer in your fridge.
- Each time you cook something, cook a little bit extra and set it aside, so you build a stash of things you can use later. E.g. if you’re going to boil potatoes, add a couple more and use them later in salads. I call this interleaved batch cooking as opposed to “batch cooking for the whole week in one day”, which is not possible given the size of our fridge and our time availability. Also: there’s no shame in using pre-prepared ingredients. Tins of chickpeas and sweetcorn are widely available, cheap and easy to use, for example.
- Learn different techniques to cook vegetables nicely and make the most of each of them: parboiling, boiling, roasting, stir-frying…
- Learn to slice and chop in different ways: cubes, strips, fine strips, shred… Gadgets can help if you’re time limited and money rich, but a sharp knife and a cutting board can also go a long way.
- Learn different dressings. Start with how to make a basic dressing first, with olive oil and a dash of vinegar with salt and pepper. Then think of variations: with tahini, or lemon, etc. “Exotic” dressings using soy sauce, sesame seeds, sesame oil, spring onions, etc, can be really nice but take longer to master (at least for me). Leave those for later.
- Look around. If you’re feeling stuck or devoid of ideas, Honey & Co, Ottolenghi and Meera Sodha are authors with inspiring recipes. I also have noted a few salad recipes here. Alternatively, pay attention to what you’re eating already: when you get a salad somewhere, how are things presented? What is the dressing made of? Try replicating at home what you liked elsewhere.
- Reheating leftovers using the office microwave and/or making sandwiches at home are also perfectly fine options! Additional smugness points if you make your own bread, but if you’re short in time, maybe don’t go that route.
- It’s also OK to get something made for you from time to time. I like being deliberate here, and decide in advance which day I’ll get “take away” food. So you get to mindfully experience a different type of food than you’d eat otherwise.
And also… other positives about bringing your own lunch:
- It reduces packaging waste. I know of very few places that will take your own box rather than their own packaging (in fact, I can only think of one right now and I’m not even sure they’re still doing it after the Coronavirus crisis).
- You’ll probably eat better quality food and it might be easier to find the provenance of what you put in your box.
- You’ll probably save money too 🤑
As an experiment, I tried to list here things that I’ve put in salads, roughly sorted by category.
Some things arguably belong to two columns, such as vegetables, because they’re composed of fibre and carbs, but they are in the column to which they contribute the most in my view.
For example, I consider lettuce’s most significant contribution to a salad to be fibre rather than its small amount of carbs in proportion to its volume. Likewise, non split pulses like lentils or beans have a good bunch of fibre due to their ‘skins’, and could also be in the carbs column because they do contain a substantial amount of carbs, but I list them under protein because it’s why I put them in the salad.
Cabbage (raw, shredded)
Spinach (roughly stir-fried or par boiled)
Green beans (cooked)
Onions (stir fried or roasted)
Radishes (sliced / diced)
Artichokes (nice ones, boiled/roasted, or preserved)
White / red / black beans
Semi hard / hard cheeses like emmental, Jalsberg, Goat cheese, Feta
Hard boiled egg
Peanuts (fried or baked, crushed)
|Carrots (raw in slices, shredded, or diced and boiled)|
Sun dried tomatoes in oil
Red pepper (raw or roasted)
Green pepper (raw)
Sun dried peppers in oil
Sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squashes (roasted)
Pasta (in a salad, I like small pieces that can be picked with a fork, so not spaghetti)
Bread (diced and lightly fried, for croutonising it)
Noodles (like soba, washed after cooking so they’re not stuck)