We’re not big fans of buying lunch at work. The results are often disappointing, not to mention expensive. And while spending all of Sunday afternoon cooking up chicken, roast veg and other meal prep staples is admirable in theory, in practice, who honestly has the time? Instead, try these easy ideas that require very little or zero extra preparation, and you'll never be stuck with a boring lunch again.
Get the kids to help with making lunch. Photo: White Packert/Getty Images
Bread freezes really well, but did you know you can freeze entire sandwiches? Spend 20 minutes on the weekend prepping some sambos and lunch is done for the week. There are a few things to keep in mind for frozen sandwich success:
- Stick to heartier fillings. Think ham & cheese, chicken schnitzel & pesto, falafel & hummus, or roast meat & chargrilled vegetables.
- Avoid ingredients with high water content. Things like tomato, iceberg lettuce and cucumber will become a bit mushy when defrosting.
- Use the drier ingredients as a barrier between the wetter fillings and the bread, eg dollop chutney between the ham and cheese rather than spreading directly on the bread.
- Make sure your bread is fresh. Freezing bread won’t magically make it less stale.
- Wrap your sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap or an airtight bag to avoid freezer burn.
Best for: parents who do double duty for school and office lunches.
Pro tip: a good smear of butter will create a seal to stop the fillings from making the bread soggy.
Hearty kale is the perfect ingredient for a make-ahead salad. Photo: Gary Friedman / Getty Images
Salads are usually something best prepared immediately before serving, as the whole thing can quickly turn into a sad mess. But if you choose the right ingredients, a make-ahead salad will transform your office lunch rotation. Skip soft lettuces which will go limp in a few hours and instead try shaved Brussels sprouts, cabbage or kale. In fact, kale is actually better the day after being massaged well with olive oil.
Best for: people who want something fresh and light, but have no time in the morning.
Pro tip: create a super salad using a few key building blocks: hearty greens (see above), fruit (dried cherries, dried cranberries, apple tossed in lemon juice), nuts (walnuts, roasted almonds), and cheese (parmesan, haloumi).
Curries, stir-fries and quiches are all excellent next-day lunches. Photo: Brett Stevens / Getty Images
Double your dinner
This is probably our laziest tip (and therefore one of our favourites). “I usually just cook for myself, but it’s actually easier and more economical to cook for two,” says Foodiful Editor Alison. “So I just double whatever I’m making for dinner and then I have lunch for the next day.”
Best for: people who usually only cook for one or two.
Pro tip: pack up the extra portion as soon as you plate up dinner – that way you won’t be tempted to pick at the leftovers. Also, splurge on some decent containers; you deserve it.
Always keep salt and pepper in your desk drawer – you'll be surprised how it can transform your lunch. Photo: skodonnell / Getty Images
Keep a mini desk pantry
“I often don’t have time to do something gourmet,” says Foodiful Content Director Alix. “So I keep a mini pantry in my desk drawer to make a quick back-up lunch.” You only need to keep a few small shelf-stable ingredients, and you have an emergency anytime lunch, or a speedy dressing to jazz up a salad. Here are a few things Alix recommends:
Alix’s office pantry
- Olive oil
- Balsamic glaze
- Salt & pepper (essential!)
- Can of tuna (Alix prefers the ones in chilli oil for a ready-made dressing)
- Can of chickpeas
- Can of corn kernels
- Can of beans
- Microwave rice or quinoa
Best for: anyone who’s ever had to eat ‘al desko’
Pro tip: for an easy lunch made entirely from your mini pantry, put 1/2 cup couscous in a bowl with 1/2 cup boiling water (straight from the kettle) and cover with a plate. Stand for 5 minutes, fluff with a fork, then toss with corn, chickpeas, canned tuna with oil, a squeeze of balsamic glaze and a little salt and pepper. Voilà!