7 Ways to Make a Better Work Lunch

7 Ways to Make a Better Work Lunch

Now that more people are returning to the office, we all have to remember how to pack a lunch again.

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man eating sandwich at desk
Treat yourself
Photo: Lipik Stock Media (Shutterstock)

Like many office workers, we at The Takeout have returned to in-person work. We’re back to our old commutes, re-acclimating to the joys of crowded public transit, and most importantly, we’re back to bringing lunch to the office. For me, unfortunately, the office lunch transition has been rough. I’m... not exactly a morning person. Asking me to do anything more than get dressed and out the door usually results in some form of catastrophe, which means sometimes I leave the house empty-handed.

I am determined to fix this. If I only ever bought lunch within a mile of the office, I’d be broke in a week. It’s rare finding food in this neighborhood that costs under $10 per meal (it’s usually pushing $15, not including tip). That isn’t sustainable unless I win the lottery, in which case, who needs a job?

For all those who might be struggling with the same issue, here are some tips that make bringing lunch to the office office a little easier. These all work well for me, even though I still find myself placing mobile pickup orders sometimes.

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Meal prep, if you’re so inclined

Meal prep, if you’re so inclined

I have to admit, I’m not much of a meal prepper. I admire those of you who can make a huge batch of chili on Sunday to eat throughout the week, but I get really tired of eating the same thing multiple days in a row.

However, even for people like me, there are ways to “prep” that don’t involve setting yourself up for monotony. When properly planned out, a Sunday grocery run can cover virtually everything you might want to bring to the office for lunch the following week. Even if you give in to some impulse buys, you’re still better off than spending $10+ per meal on office-area takeout.

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Leftovers are your best friend

Leftovers are your best friend

When planning out what you’re cooking for dinner, consider making a little extra for the next day. I’m not saying double the servings, necessarily, but maybe sneak in an extra chicken breast so you have something to base a meal off of tomorrow.

When you’re putting your leftovers away after dinner—and this is important—put them immediately into a single-serving container you can grab for lunch when you’re running out the door to catch the bus. Don’t forget to include a side, if you can.

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A partial lunch is better than nothing

A partial lunch is better than nothing

Even if you’ve got a lopsided amount of leftovers—one chicken breast, or a small portion of soup—bring it. Just bring anything. You can supplement your lunch with something store-bought and you’ll still be better off. The other day I brought in half a portion of leftovers, then bought a side of cole slaw from the sandwich shop across the street from the office. Did I spend money? Yes. But nowhere near what I would have otherwise.

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Compartmentalized containers = snack lunch

Compartmentalized containers = snack lunch

Bento-box-style lunch containers are a game changer. While they’re good at separating foods so they don’t all co-mingle to form a weird lunch slop, they are also a useful vessel for loading your lunch full of finger foods. Baby carrots, cheese cubes, fruit, hummus, nuts—these are all disparate items you might have sitting in your fridge, and you don’t have to get all clever about “transforming” them into a meal. With the right lunch container, you can package up all those scraps, bits, and pieces into a hodgepodge that looks and feels more purposeful. (Hey, Starbucks basically sells the same thing for $7 a pop.)

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Make lunch at work

Make lunch at work

Last week, I watched a coworker grab some deli meat straight from the office fridge. She then assembled a sandwich with meat, cheese, and mustard, right on the spot. That’s genius. Why haven’t I been doing this all along? Provided that your office has the fridge space for it, all you have to do is bring a grocery bag of food to work on Mondays and your lunch prep is set up for the week. You can either stash the bread in the freezer (it keeps well), in a shared storage spot like a cupboard, or even by your desk. No more sandwiches getting squished in your computer bag on the train.

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Keep instant products at your desk

Keep instant products at your desk

Instant noodles have come a long way; they’re super inexpensive and come in a range of satisfying flavors. Stash a couple of packets in your desk drawer just in case you’re out of options. I keep a pair of reusable chopsticks in my drawer just for that purpose. The hot water dispensers and/or electric kettles that most offices have around for tea drinkers make these meals even easier (no microwave required).

Here’s a hot tip: If you like Korean food, companies now sell shelf-stable instant meal kits that only require a microwave. I’m talkin’ stews, rice bowls with veggies, porridges, and more. A lot of them don’t even require adding water. You can grab them at your local Korean supermarket or at a big grocer like H Mart.

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Buy frozen meals you actually like

Buy frozen meals you actually like

I’m not a huge fan of most frozen meals with gloppy sauce and watery mains. But when I go to, say, Trader Joe’s, I like stocking up on their frozen Indian meals, because I think they’re a treat even when I’m eating them at home. It gives me something to look forward to at lunch, and if I’m planning ahead, I can bring multiple types to work (again, bring that grocery bag into work on Monday and you won’t have to bring meals the rest of the week). Plus, frozen meals always let you call an audible. If you don’t eat it this week, it’ll be perfectly available to you the next.

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