For many years I worked in overnight retail management. Let me tell you, it was as glorious as it sounds. Dirty boxes, dim lighting, long hours and in general, a lack of anything non-consumer based — it was every girl's dream job. Working odd hours is rough to begin with, but having something fresh for lunch (at 2am) was tricky and I'm here to share what I learned along the way.The break room was full of employees who had prepackaged meals that had been bought and everything always looked so heavy and greasy. Working a swing shift requires a great deal of energy and so we turned to salads. They were easy to make, quick to throw together and always left us with a fresh burst of energy. Here's how we managed to make something new and different each "morning" before heading out the door to work, with a few extra steps on Sunday:
1. Wash and Portion Greens: Although it seems obvious to wash and portion out your salad, we know how tempting it can be to just keep things in a salad spinner. While there's nothing really wrong with that idea, if we were running late, it often deterred us from taking our lunch with us.
We washed all of our greens at once, making sure to hand tear things to keep browning to a minimum and spun them out to dry. Next up put them into individual containers, each with a paper towel in the bottom. Even though we spun our greens out, condensation can form over the week and the paper towel absorbs things while keeping everything super fresh.
2. Prep Add-In Ingredients: The key to eating salad everyday is to not eat the same salad every day. So instead of chopping up 12 hard boiled eggs to top off our leafy greens, we simply did 4, enough for just a few salads, leaving the other days open for other things.
Roasted vegetables deliver great flavor as do finely diced fruits (plus both of them can be used in other dishes for breakfast or dinner). Nuts, dried fruit, vegetables, cubed or sliced meats... whatever your heart desires. Try making a long list of every topping you love and then choose a few for that week (which also makes your shopping list and prep time easier).
3. Invest In Small Dressing Containers: Dressing a salad before you're ready to eat it is just begging for a soggy mess, even if you don't use much. Use smaller containers (we like the kinds meant for toddlers snacks) to hold just the right amount of dressing, be it homemade or premade. Sure you can keep a bottle in the fridge at work, but that means every salad you eat will taste pretty much the same. By taking your own dressings each day, you can mix and match, especially if they're already filled and chilling in the fridge ready to go.
4. Store Ingredients Together: No matter if you use containers or plastic bags to hold your salad toppings, the key to quick assembly is having them all together. Though containers are quicker to access, zip top bags can easily be placed in a bowl, keeping all ingredients together.
Though it can be temping to shove your salad toppings to the back of the fridge, try placing them on the middle shelf near the front. This will those delicate pieces from freezing with as little condensation as possible. Plus it means you're not digging behind the old meatloaf or under last nights sea bass to find what you need. Add them to your container of greens (after removing the paper towel) each morning, that way your tomatoes don't start to taste like your roasted garlic and like wise.
5. Remember It Only Takes 60 Seconds: Most of morning lunch making is a mind game. You're still in a fog from waking up, worried about getting out the door with everything you need or making that 8am conference call, so when you don't think you have time to assemble things, remember — it only takes 60 seconds.
From the time you pull your container of greens out and your add-ons ingredients as well, it takes literal seconds to open and toss in a small handful of each and return them to the fridge. With your dressing all ready to go, that's all she wrote and you're off!
In Conclusion: Although this process really only takes 30 minutes from start to finish and we used a great deal of words to explain it, it's something that's well worth your time. Salad travels well and can give you variety from day to day. It's an easy routine to get into and one we used for over 3 years (though there could have been a cheeseburger or two in there occasionally). Plus, if you forget your lunch one day, you always have a 60 second dinner when you return home!
• Related: Bring Back the Green! 20 Fresh Spring Salads
(Image: Flickr member EraPhernalia Vintage licensed for use by Creative Commons)