In January I announced that one thing I'd like to do more in 2016 is bring my lunch to work more often. I wasn't trying to do it every single day — just four times a week. I thought this resolution would help me eat better and save a little money, but I didn't anticipate that it would also have a bonus side effect.
Like I said in my initial post, I wanted to be more practical about taking my lunch to work. I didn't want to set myself up for failure by promising something elaborate for lunch every day. Instead, I wanted to focus on taking big green, grain salads to work. This is something I would usually order out anyway, so it made sense to try to mimic these lunch choices.
I received some great advice from readers who are either good at taking their lunch to work, or are also working on this habit like me.
Don't forget about the tools and utensils that will make eating and making lunch at work more enjoyable and possible—like keeping a large bowl at the office if you plan to fix hearty salads. I like to bring my own salad bowl, utensils, knife, cutting board, olive oil, and salt if the office doesn't have these things on hand. It's a lot easier to enjoy your Mason jar salad (and want to continue the habit) if you don't have to try to fish your lunch out of the jar with a plastic fork! – mloeffler
It may seem obvious, but figure out what you really like to eat for lunch. For years I would buy ingredients to make salads, because it seemed like the most obvious lunch choice. But I'm just not really a huge salad eater so I always had trouble motivating myself to make my lunch (and actually eat it if I did manage to bring it.) I'm also not a fan of food reheated in the microwave, so I'm not that crazy about most leftovers for lunch. - cookingthehardway
Last month, I can proudly say that I only ordered lunch in once. Now, there were plenty of business lunches I went out to last month, and a couple office lunches as well. But every other day (except one) I was able to bring my lunch to work. I'm pretty pumped about that.
The recipes I was most inspired by last month were simple. I stuck to an easy Southwestern quinoa salad, a red lentil soup, some leftover Indian food, and a curried chickpea salad from Food52. I took a big carton of greens with me to work every week to create hearty salads. I never got bored. I made everything in bulk and would bring a big thing of arugula to the office on Monday.
Here are the tips that worked best for me.
- Keep lunch simple.
- Eat the things you actually want to eat for lunch.
- Prepare foods in bulk and bring it all to the office if possible.
- Set specific days of when you will bring lunch into work.
- Set up everything the night before so you don't rush in the morning.
- Give yourself a break if you can't bring lunch to work.
- Bulk your lunch up with greens.
My predictions were right: I mostly felt better about my eating choices, and I saved some money in the process.
Two things arose, however, that I wasn't expecting. First, I'm happy to report I ended up cooking way more last month. As I was gathering my supplies for lunches on Sunday and Wednesday night, it was easy to just pick stuff up for dinner and cook those nights as well. I struggle to find time to cook as much as I like, but this added pressure to make lunches really helped expand my time in the kitchen.
The negative side effect of making my own lunch every day wasn't what I thought it was going to be: I realized that when I make my own lunch, I'm not eating enough calories in one sitting, and so I get snack-y around 3 p.m. every day. My snack choices at the office aren't as ideal as I would like. There's a lot of chocolate hanging around my desk, or samples of cheese that happen to linger around from a photoshoot. Instead of keeping me energized and focused, the sugar-high left me feeling not so great.
My options are to work on bulking up my lunches so they are more calorie-dense, or try bringing healthier snack options to work. I've never been much of a snacker, but I'm still leaning towards the latter option. It would be great to make my own granola bars or have some fresh fruit in the middle of the day.
Overall I'm super excited by my progress is this small resolution. I'm committed to sticking to this simple habit for the rest of the year and beyond.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)