Wake Up Your Lunch

I have a friend who eats a turkey sandwich and an inordinate amount of carrots almost everyday for lunch. He explains to me that it is nutritionally sound and easy to prepare, two key requirements for a brown bag lunch. By now I’m pretty sure his taste buds have died of boredom from this mundane routine (which could explain why he likes my baking).

Maybe I get unnaturally excited about food but lunch is often the highlight of my workday so I want to relish in it, not dread it. As someone who almost never buys lunch and gets bored easily, I’ve come up with a few simple dishes that won’t depress you like cold turkey. They are capable of being made in bulk for the week, are easy to prepare, reheat well, require few ingredients, and are especially comforting in the cold months without weighing you down for the rest of the day.

Quinoa + vegetable: Quinoa is a protein rich food with a slightly nutty flavor. It’s easy to cook and is an excellent base to add vegetables (you can also add a protein if you would like).  I cook it up with a little red pepper, salt, pepper, and toss it with asparagus and some soy sauce but you can really add whatever you like (or whatever you have in the fridge)

Rice noodles + shrimp + vegetables + peanut sauce: Rice noodles (also available in brown rice) cook up similar to pasta but have a different texture and nutritional makeup as they are made from rice.  I like to add shrimp and firm vegetables (snow peas, water chestnuts, carrots) as well as either a simple homemade or store bought peanut sauce and a little siracha.

Polenta + anything: I’ve been on a polenta (also known as grits) kick lately.  I’ve made it creamy with goat cheese or with spicy shrimp under a friend egg.  Polenta is extremely easy to make (stir grits into boiling water, that’s all) and you add whatever you like to it. A traditional dish is polenta topped with spaghetti sauce and cheese, baked in the oven. This is very easy and cuts neatly into squares. Other options include adding black beans and salsa for a Mexican twist or red peppers and mushrooms. Its an easy base and a great way to clean out your fridge.

(photo: Shutterstock)


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  • We’ve banished quinoa from our cupboard. It tastes like little styrofoam balls. Like little styrofoam balls, you can flavor quinoa with other things, but then you just have little flavored styrofoam balls.

    Quinoa is pretty much the least-interesting food there is. It doesn’t taste bad, it just doesn’t taste—at all. I recommend eating legal pads on which you’ve spilled coffee as a more-flavorful alternative.

  • Jennifer Gumbel

    Love the topic and glad to see someone else whose definition of “recipe” is a formula. Sam’s right on the quinoa. Couscous on the other hand? Good stuff.