10 Lunch Survival Skills Every Cook Should Know

Essential Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

When it comes to lunch, what are the most basic survival skills a young cook should know before leaving the nest (or the dorm room)? I think that lunch is the first meal a lot of us actually make on our own as kids; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, anyone?

Last week we gave you our take on the 10 essential breakfast skills every cook should know. Today, it's lunch! Have you mastered all 10 of these lunch basics?

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1. Make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

The perfect grilled cheese: crispy on the outside, gooey inside. It reminds me of after-school snacks and weekend lunches after playing in the snow. The ultimate lunch comfort food.

2. Realize tomato soup doesn't have to come out of a can.

Tomato soup, grilled cheese — they go together like peanut butter and jelly! But as much as I feel a nostalgic fondness for Campbell's, tomato soup doesn't have to come out of a can. It's a grown-up treat to make it yourself.

3. Learn which dinners make the best leftovers.

But of course, lunch is quite often not about homemade grilled cheese or soup, but about dinner leftovers. So a key lunch survival skill is learning which dinners last well in the refrigerator. Personally, I think lasagna just gets better as it sits, as do some other pasta dishes, and hearty braises. Here are a few favorites that make great lunches.

4. Build a salad that actually makes you feel full.

Salad is the lunch of first resort for many of us, but when you're just starting out sometimes you make the mistake of tossing greens and dressing and not much else. You need to bulk up that salad to feel more full! Here are a few ideas for making a salad that sticks with you.

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5. Discover the thrill of homemade freezer burritos.

Burritos are another packaged convenience food that you ACTUALLY can make yourself for pennies on the dollar.

6. Prepare lunch components on Sunday night.

A key skill for making and eating a healthy lunch is to prepare components on Sunday night for the whole week. Read how one of our writers does this, and what she makes:

7. Make a great tuna sandwich — with or without tuna.

And while everyone has their own favorites for lunch, we really do think tuna should be one of them. It's an economical protein and so delicious. But what if you're vegetarian? Well, then you should be eating Chickpea from the Sea!

8. DIY one of your lunch basics.

Once you've mastered a few basics, it gives a real sense of accomplishment and fun to make one of your lunch staples, like sandwich bread or peanut butter. Both are more tasty when made at home, too.

9. Learn to remember your lunch.

But all your lunch skills are for naught if you forget your lunch. So perhaps the most important lunch survival skill of all is just to remember the darn thing! Readers have shared some goofy yet smart tricks, like leaving your keys in the fridge on top of your lunch. Here are some more:

10. Eat in a civilized manner at your desk.

Once you've made it to work, lunch in hand, triumphant, how do you eat in a well-mannered way at your desk? We suggest keeping a few civilized tools at work, like a set of real utensils and some basic dishes. And don't forget the lemon.

Those are our essentials — I'm sure, though, you could come up with a lot more. What would you call your essential lunch survival skills?

(Image credits: Bethany Nauert; Emma Christensen; Dana Velden; Faith Durand; Gina Biancaniello; bikeriderlondon/shutterstock)

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