The 5 Best Ways to Avoid a Soggy Lunch, No Matter What You Pack

updated Aug 17, 2020
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Whether you’re back in the office or taking calls from your corner (bedroom) office, lunch hour is always the best hour. That midday meal is the energy boost you need to finish the day strong — but not when it has turned limp and soggy. Whether the culprit is water-logged bread or over-dressed greens, there are super-simple strategies to avoid a soggy lunch, no matter what is on the menu.

1. Add a layer of fat.

The meat, tomatoes, roasted veggies, sauces, and jellies that make a sandwich truly satisfying are also its Achilles heel. The few hours between assembly and eating are all it takes to turn the sandwich into a sad, soggy mess.

Tip: Before you build your next sandwich, spread a moisture-safe barrier of fat on the bread before adding any fillings. Fats like mayonnaise, olive oil, and nut butters keep the bread from turning soft and add flavor.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

2. Cook pasta until al dente.

Pasta salad is a great option; you can mix and match noodle shapes, vegetables, proteins, and cheeses into a lunch you can eat all week long. But if your bowtie pasta is bloated by midweek, it’s time to rethink this one-dish meal.

Tip: Keep the integrity of pasta intact by cooking it “to the tooth,” or al dente. Overcooked pasta soaks up sauces and dressings, leaving you with a soggy salad. Maintain a slight bite to the pasta and the noodles will maintain their integrity all week long.

3. Choose crunchy veggies.

Grain bowls and salads are easy mix-and-match meals that can fill you up and use what you have in the fridge. But not every piece of produce is right for the lunchtime bowl. Fragile greens and tender herbs can turn soggy and darken in color when left out too long.

Tip: Crisp veggies like celery, carrots, fennel, cabbage, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, radishes, and beans are just right for make-ahead lunchtime salads. They keep for days in the refrigerator — even when paired with juicy cooked chicken or a flavorful dressing.

4. Build salads backwards.

To avoid overpriced and overdressed bowls of greens from takeout spots, you should pack your own salad bar-style lunch. But if you mix greens, chopped vegetables, and dressing together in the morning, by noon you’re sure to sit down to a limp lunch.

Tip: Build salads backwards to keep them fresh. Instead of starting with the greens and finishing with a vinaigrette, add the dressing first to the bottom of a glass jar, then layer with hearty vegetables and proteins. Complete the salad jar with delicate leafy greens and herbs. When it is time to serve, simply shake the jar or decant into a serving bowl to mix.

5. Choose compartmented containers.

Are you still brown-bagging your lunch with zip-top bags or flimsy to-go containers? If you pack in paper bags and flexible containers, tender greens are sure to bruise and the sandwiches will inevitability end up smashed.

Tip: Use compartmentalized containers to keep ingredients separate for easy, in-office assembly.

Your turn. What is your secret for the perfect packed lunch?