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Lunch: The worst meal of the day?

  • c

Why is it a constant struggle to have something good for lunch? What the hell do people eat? I'm getting tired of the deli meat, greens, tomato, hummus, bread variations. All I want is something delicious that won't make me want to curl up underneath my desk and nap all afternoon.

What are the best things to eat for lunch??

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  1. I pack my lunch for work, and I find that pasta salads keep really well. Today, for example, I brought a cold soba noodle salad with Thai grilled beef, and lots of carrots, daikon and mint.

    1. I agree with you. I'm left so unsatisfied by cold cut sandwiches that I often find myself bringing. I'll want to go and buy something for lunch but the options around my office are somewhat limited. I usually wind up at Go Roma, and their pizza and salad combo leaves me the most satisfied. (I know the pizza isn't healthy though, but it's quality pizza there!)


      1. Over the years there have been numerous threads about the "lunch" problem -- here's one to get you started: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/367657

        I'm not a sandwich person, so if I bring lunch from home it's usually leftovers (often on-purpose leftovers), or something like soup or chili that I made a big batch of. If I don't have time to make something in advance, I often start with a cup of soup or noodles base and then doctor it up with something fresh I have stashed in the office fridge. If you don't cook, some of the soups that come in the aseptic packaging are pretty good.

        1. Today I had some Trader Joes tomato/red pepper soup. Really tasty. I was too lazy to make my lunch this am- so I keep a stash of soup and crackers in the office for days like this.
          I love garden salads,so that is my go to choice lots of times- and I usually add left over protein from an earlier dinner. And summer is a great time to make fruit salads. They fill me up, satisfy my sweet tooth, and dont't make me drowsy.

          1. I bring those Indian packaged meals with me fo work to heat in a microwave. I carefully read the labels to avoid the ones full of sodium and/or fat. There is enough variety and good tastes.

            1. For some reason, pregnancy left me with a lasting aversion to cold cuts, so I feel the pain of lunch.

              I like to find something interesting to do with my leftovers. Example: I made roast chicken and roasted vegetables. The next day, I made a quick "raita" out of yogurt, cumin, some slivered onion and cucumber. I packed some cut up chicken and veggies in one container and the raita in another and then took a couple of flour tortillas. Heated up the chicken and veggies, put them in the tortillas and topped with raita. Delicious and different from just plain leftovers. I do alot of "sandwiches" with leftovers in tortillas and some sort of sauce. Pork is really good with some pineapple and a few pickled jalapenos. Any kind of beef is good with blue cheese, arugula and some grape tomatoes and a bit of vinaigrette. I've even wrapped up last night's stir fry and put some sweet chili sauce and sirracha on it for a sandwich. It gives the leftovers a bit of a change, but it's not complicated to pack for lunch.

              I try to cook enough for dinner to provide my husband and myself at least part of lunch the next day. And, when I just can't stand the thought of anything, I go for a PB&J. At least it's not lunch meat.

              1. And why must anything that is decent come in ECONO-SIZE!!

                While I am at work I don't want something so big that you are not hungry at dinner time. Trader Joe's Indian Masala and Vindaloo, and some of the asian things are good (Kung Pao) when you don't want to be stuck eating crap or too much food.

                It is trial and error to find the good ones though.

                1. Roasted a big chicken a couple of days ago. In this summer weather, cold roast chicken along with big chunks of tomato and cucumber for a salad is my kind of lunch.

                  1. Not sure why lunch would be a particular problem but not dinner? Why not just eat the same types of things? Who ever said lunch had to be a salad or a sandwich? Why can't it be lamb chops or yakitori or churrasco or groundnut stew? The only groundrules are imaginary.

                    It wasn't all that long ago that lunch was the big meal of the day. And many health advocates continue to believe it should be.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Panini Guy

                      It's a problem because most people are away from their kitchens and have limited time for lunch. I'm not sure where/how you would prepare lamb chops in the average workplace.

                      I am kind of a snacker/grazer anyway, so especially now that it's farmers' market season, I often just have a random assortment of stuff rather than a square meal--a yogurt or some hardboiled eggs, a couple of peaches, a box of blueberries, a whole wheat roll. Someetimes I get an ear of corn and cook it in the office microwave!

                      1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                        Since you asked about the lamb chops example, I'd go out. Generally speaking, lunch is a better deal at a good resto.

                        As for the time concern, this is CH, not Rachael Ray. If you're after good food, you find a way.

                        1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                          Never had an ear of corn in the microwave - do you wrap it in a wet paper towel and then zap it?

                          1. re: bworp

                            I cook my corn in the microwave - usually just wash it and place it on a plate or bowl without additional wrapping. The kernels contain moisture and they're self-wrapping - I like the way it cooks without leaching nutrients or flavor to steaming or boiling.

                        2. re: Panini Guy

                          Sorry Panini, but this is totally unrealistic. No one is making yakitori specifically for lunch -- at least no one with a job. Furthermore, few are looking to impress others so desperately that it would even cross their minds to make these suggestions. Most people have limited time and money at lunch, and, like me, are looking for something creative, healthy, delicious, and relatively easy. Elaborate meals and microwave dinners alike are not things most people will prepare and eat everyday.

                          Sharuf is definitely on the right track. Easy meals that can turn into great lunches when altered slightly and placed in the office fridge for at least 4 hrs....

                          1. re: cnale

                            The OP didn't put any conditions on what "lunch" meant. The OP clearly does not state that the intent was to only receive responses related to brownbagging one's own food.

                            There are many folks who can go out or order in for lunch. In fact, I'd guess the demographic here on CH is much more likely to do so than is the general populace. The purpose of this board is to provide a community for people who live to eat, not eat to live... http://www.chowhound.com/manifesto

                            If the question was "what do you make at home and bring to work for lunch" then that's a different question that should have been asked instead of "what the hell do people eat?"

                            1. re: Panini Guy

                              When it comes to lunch, I'm all over the map. Most of the time I'll bring something from home, but that could be anything from homemade sandwiches, to leftover dinner from the night before, to store-bought frozen dinners or grocery salads, to something leftover from a restaurant I'd been to. Every once in a while I'll splurge and go to a Quizno's or pick up some sushi for lunch.
                              I think the key, at least for me, is variety. I could never stand to have the same thing every day.

                              1. re: Panini Guy

                                going out for lunch every day is pretty much impossible as a CH if you live outside of a big city and are not wealthy.

                          2. I feel your pain. When I'm inspired to cook on weekends, I like sandwiches made with homemade chicken salad or meatloaf, or sometimes leftover zucchini pancakes or yam fritters. When I'm completely out of energy/ideas, there's always bread and cheese. This week has been brie with cranberry chutney, sometimes it's just a good cheddar sandwich, maybe with some soup.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Amuse Bouches

                              Yam fritters sound delicious. Will you share the recipe please?

                                1. re: Amuse Bouches

                                  Amuse, now will you share the recipe for zucchini pancakes? I have been looking for a recipe that is more savory than sweet.

                                  1. re: MysticYoYo

                                    Mystic, I'll share mine. I grate a few zucchini and pat it dry. I bind it and some green onion and feta together with some some stiffly beaten egg white, a couple of T of flour, and some salt and pepper. Basil or mint is good in this. I fry them in olive oil and they're nice and light.

                            2. If you have some weekend time, so good things to make ahead to freeze or refrigerate...

                              Ratatouille that I like to eat with some rotisserie chicken and some fruit for dessert
                              Roasted veggies
                              Turkey Meatloaf
                              Salmon Patties
                              Lentil Stew/Soup
                              Grain salads (couscous, bulgur, lentil, etc.)
                              Fruit salad w/ greek yogurt

                              1. When I have to pack a lunch for work I make it a picnic...
                                I bring 3-4 thin slices of ham.
                                A few slices of really good cheese that can handle being left out without getting messy (Machego; Lamb Ghopper; Kings Island Cheddar).
                                2 slices of already taosted la Brea Bakery Whole Grain Bread (use it like crackers)
                                Dried Cherries and Apricots (1/2 handful of each)
                                Cashews (handful)A kiki when available
                                An Apple (rarely get to that-save it for the drive home)
                                Treats (2 cookies or some chocolate)
                                None of it needs refridgeration...can be nibbled on througout the day...perfectly balnaced meal (well, could use some greens), keeps you full and healthy and looks so pretty when you eat it.
                                People always say "oooo, what a fancy lunch."

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tatertotsrock

                                  Oooo tater, that sounds so good, and fun to boot!! : )
                                  I'm going to try that for lunch.

                                2. When I work outside the home or home office, I pack a lot of leftovers, reworked creatively. Having many storage and packing options makes all the difference in this case--being able to keep hot things hot, reheat them at work, or keeping cold items cold, packing components separately and assembling at mealtime, that sort of thing. Also, if you have access only to a microwave, for instance, don't bring food that reheats poorly, etc. I tend to cook ahead, making pots of rice, noodles, or beans or soup that can be used in various ways to change the flavor and presentation throughout the week.

                                  On the sandwich front, it helps immensely to make the time to cook your own meats rather than use lunch meat. There are a few delis who actually roast their own turkeys and use fresh rotisserie chicken on sandwiches, but unless you work close to one, you may just have to do this yourself. Most lunch meat is appalling compared to what you can make yourself.

                                  I think one of the biggest issues with lunch is simply not having time or a good atmosphere to enjoy the meal. That's a big part of why lunch gets a bad reputation. I used to work for a corporation, but now that I'm self employed, I find I enjoy many meals more enjoyable simply because I can set my own schedule most of the time. See if you can sort out how to manage your time at lunch for more relaxation. I know it can be difficult at many jobs, but it might help to get out of the office or something like that.

                                  1. I hear ya, I can't eat sandwiches more than a few times a year now. For lunch, a couple things that I have done for variety:

                                    1/ Sweet Potato in the microwave -- it's weird, but a couple sweet potatoes will keep in your desk draw for quite a while
                                    2/ Salad and a protien: right now I am grooving on taco salads. A small bag of fritolays, a head of lettuce and little containers of black olives, grated cheese, salsas then nuking a pre-cooked container of spicy browned beef.
                                    3/ My desperation salad dressing is a bit of olive oil, some reallemon, a hot sauce packet and some maldon (OO and Maldon live in my desk and I can generally scroung the real lemon and hot sauce). Then I can go out and get a bag of arugala and a hunk of goat cheese and have a mouth-zinging salad.
                                    4/ Mushy foods seem to reheat well too so I will occasionally bring brown rice and dahl and nuke it up too, it's hearty but surprisingly doesn't make me sleepy.

                                    And one 'real' dish i.e. a china plate and proper silver ware help a lot.

                                    1. I'm on a self-imposed weight reduction regimen. I've reversed breakfast and lunch, and so far I'm down about 25 pounds with 25 more to go. Lunch is now old-fashioned oatmeal with craisins and cinnamon added using skim milk. It is cooked in our microwave nuker.

                                      Breakfast is a minestone of beans and barley with at least one cruciferous vegetable. You could call it 'orzo e fagioli con broccoli' when I use broccoli. Sometimes I use cabbage instead of broccoli. When I prepare this stuff, there's enough for 8 breakfasts. A bowlful is also nuked in the microwave for breakfast.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ChiliDude

                                        Given your CH handle, that has to be a painful regimen...

                                        And given cabbage and/or broccoli for breakfast, one would guess you're not carpooling ;-)

                                        I had to think back a few years to my own corp life before the coffeehouse (never a concern for lunch here).... and back in my desk job days, when I didn't go out for a sit-down lunch or to visit a salad bar, I recall making Indian meals to last a few days, including chapati so I could make what amounted to an Indian wrap or "soft taco" for lunch - just throw the stuff on the bread and nuke. Btw, chapati was all sorts of useful for a "go-to" bread/wrap for lunch - IMO, tastier than packaged tortilla shells.

                                        I bring that up because Indian lentil/veg dishes might be a good place to look for healthy dense flavor, assuming you are what your name implies.

                                        1. re: Panini Guy

                                          You are so correct...I'm not carpooling. I'll have been retired for 9 years on 01Sep07. Goodbye RAT RACE forever...I hope!

                                          BTW, one's digestive system adjusts to the beans and cruciferous vegetables after a while, the beans are 'resistant starches' that do not immediately convert to simple sugars in the stomach and small intestine.

                                          It has been an odd transition for a person whose auto license plate reads, 'TX CHILI.'

                                      2. ,",,All I want is something delicious that won't make me want to curl up underneath my desk and nap all afternoon..."

                                        In general, starches and sugars at noon can make people feel drowsy an hour later, while protein is energizing. Cut out all bread, pasta and/or sweets at lunch and you will feel more alert. You can add some of them back at dinner, when you want to relax and unwind. My favorite lunch is a main dish salad with meat or fish, cheese and an assortment of veggies. Easy to find at a restaurant and easy to make from scratch at home, plus there are tons of variations.

                                        For a beverage, drink low-sodium V-8. It tastes good, fills you up and has lots of potassium which is also energizing. Go easy on stimulants like coffee and cola, which speed you up only to let you down later. Chilled green tea tastes great, has less caffeine than coffee and contains theanine to balance your mood. I like bottled Trader Joe's Orange-Bergamot green tea chilled.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Moka

                                          Many years ago, in the days when nobody but the Japanese had heard of sushi, I got into the habit of eating at a small Japanese restaurant near the place where I was working. Much to the amusement of the clientele, I was usually the only non-Asian there, but soon got to try, and like, most of the menu items.

                                          Since then.Japanese food has been a favourite lunch of mine - a few sushi, some kaki-age (chopped shrimp and onion fried in a tempura batter on rice, or a bowl of tekka-don (slices of maguro or toro tuna on a bed of sushi rice) make a great lunch.

                                        2. I, too, feel your pain, and also agree with what other posters have said about atmosphere playing a huge role in the lunchtime doldrums. If I bring my lunch, I try to sit outside if at all possible; but sometimes I shut my office door and plop my little tray of china and utensils under the desk on a huge satin throw pillow I keep around the office. Sit facing a window if you can.

                                          I HATE eating sandwiches for lunch. I would just prefer to have some good, hot food. As a texan I have learned that anything can be made into a taco filling: indian food leftovers (maybe bring a separate raita of yoghurt+banana or yoghurt+cucumber for hot/cold contrast), leftover stew meat+sour cream, fried rice+sriraccha, fried chicken+mayo, you get the idea...). Good dried sausages and hunks of bread and cheese make a tasty lunch too. And it helps to vary your beverages: try different flavours of tea, sparkling water, etc.

                                          Its also making different (non-lettuce) salads: radish+cuke+avocado+chickpea, throw some sliced hardboiled egg on top w/mustard vinegarette=delish

                                          I have to say though the all time best lunch in the world is a bowl of leftover stroganoff over piping hot egg noodles... mm

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: femmenikita

                                            I'm having leftover barbecued steak today, complete with rice, green beans, and a bottle of A-1 Sauce!!! Sweet.
                                            (Don't forget your condiments when bringing lunch - sauces, mayo, sour cream, hot sauce - makes a lot of difference.)

                                            1. re: femmenikita

                                              yum yum yum...you do lunch like I love to do lunch.
                                              Today was an odd mix because I got to go home for about an hour...poached eggs over asparagus, corn, lima beans, and stewed tomatos...yummy, hot hardy and satisfying.

                                              1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                Oooh poached egg with lima beans? Never thought to combine the two; the rest of the combo sounds good as well, how was the stuff seasoned? You had a better lunch than I did today; end of our fiscal year, so all I had time for was some dilled popcorn while sitting in my coffin erm, i mean office he he

                                                1. re: femmenikita

                                                  Has anyone figured out how to bring poached eggs to the office for lunch?

                                                  1. re: aurora50

                                                    Snuggled in the stuff you poach 'em in...I poached my eggs in my succotash (?) yesterday kinda like when you make rancheros...don't fully set them, re heat at 50% for only 2 minutes...the food wont be totally hot but so yummy...no one wants rubbery eggs.

                                                  2. re: femmenikita

                                                    So simply, I just dumped 2 cans of stewed tomatos-I was making a succotash type thing cuz one of my clients brought me a glorious zuccini...
                                                    just a little flake salt on top.
                                                    I kind of went nuts for dinner-totally craving eggs from working out so much so since I couldn't decide how I wanted my eggs, I did the 3 ways: one egg scrambled with green onions, one egg fully set (poached in the succotash) one egg loosely poached, thrown on top of asparagus and all mushed up. Sounds gross by was so satifying and delicious.

                                                    1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                      TTotsRock, that sounds delish. I am a daily runner and thus eat lots of eggs as well. Can't get into the egg-white-only thing, though, even though everyone tells me that's the best after a workout. I am going to try your succotash idea (random thought: "succotash," should have added that to the thread about favorite food words...) and I can't wait to hit up the farmer's market this Saturday to find a good, fresh zuke. Lucky you, that your client brought you a beautiful one. Your meal doesn't sound gross at all, yum.

                                              2. i rarely have time for a real lunch break, and I've been bringing various types of frozen meals. this is going to wear thin soon, i'm glad to have found this post. at one point in college I brought salads with seared fish that had a vinegar-maple sauce. i'm no longer a fan of sweet things, though. most of what i make for dinner - vegetables with pasta or with risotto, toasted bread with stuff on it, does not translate well to re-heating.
                                                some good ideas here though.
                                                note: i too find the indian meals the best bet - "ethnic gourmet" is the brand and is sold at whole foods. also, not CH-ish, but if you need to buy frozen meals, stouffer's is much better than any of the others for american style food.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: fara

                                                  I have to give a plug here for Mr. Bento (google it) -- it's made bringing my lunch SO much easier. Fill all the containers and you're done.

                                                2. I live for the next meal, regardless of which....but agree with OP that post-prandial stupor at work is to be avoided. I find that tofu dishes are incredibly satisfying at lunchtime, give you that protien boost (and flavor, depending on how it's prepared), but doesn't invite coma.

                                                  I either prepare my own ahead of time or get a takeout order from a local Asian restaurant, Thai or Vietnamese or whatever. If it's from a restaurant, I've FINALLY learned to immediately stash half of it for home or next day, or I eat 'til it's gone, and there, again, we have the coma....

                                                  1. Lunch is dismal for me. First, anytime I've tried to bring it, I inevitably forget it and it sits in my refrigerator at home. I have no brain at 7am to remember to bring a meal with me for 6 hours later. Plus I work in a very small office. My boss has taken dibs on the small refrigerator which he stuff each day with his giant salad. Leaves little room for anyone else to put anything in it anyway <sigh>

                                                    So, I wind up each day scouring my NYC neighborhood for something edible. I'm not into fast food anymore, so that's not an option. I'm not big on sandwhiches either. Salads from delis are usually of poor quality. There's a few places I can find some semi-chow worthy things to eat, but after a while you get bored if eating the same things over and over again. Or, I wind up splurging and spending more than I intended.

                                                    It's a no win situation. I think I just need to suck it up, start just eating yogurt for lunch, get over it, and be done with it.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: sivyaleah

                                                      Blue Ice.
                                                      get an insulated lunch bag and park it next to the mini-fridge.
                                                      maybe you'll be an inspiration for your co-workers.

                                                      1. re: ICantRemember

                                                        Another tip:
                                                        - How about taping a BIG note on your fridge (or mirror, or whatever you look at frequently in the morning) to take your lunch??

                                                        1. re: aurora50

                                                          You know, THAT might actually work! Thanks for thinking about that! I could tack it to the door leading to my garage :-) Then I just have to worry about not leaving it on the train...

                                                        2. re: ICantRemember

                                                          Do those insulated lunch bags really work well enough to keep things chilled for that many hours? I leave my home around 7:15am, don't typically eat lunch until around 2pm (give or take).

                                                          1. re: sivyaleah

                                                            yes and freeze your drink..it will be thawed by the time you eat but will keep your food cold.

                                                      2. I make a most delicious quinoa salad that would be perfect for a take-to-work lunch. Dressing= 1/4 cup plain yogurt, 3 Tbls olive oil (I use half roasted garlic flavored), 2 Tbls lemon juice, S&P. Whisk it together and pour over cooked quinoa (1 cup cooked in 2 cups water). Add in whatever combo of veggies, fruits, nuts strikes your fancy. Most recently I prepared with a little green onion, roasted red pepper, sliced dates, and pistachios. Quinoa is high in protien, so this is a very satisfying grain salad.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: hollyeve

                                                          Quinoa is one of few grains that's just as delicious cold as hot--it's still flavorful and the texture doesn't suffer. (Maybe because it's really a seed or something, rather than an actual grain?) Anyway, it makes great salads. I'll try yogurt in the dressing, haven't done that. Thanks.

                                                        2. I always bring my own lunch to work...Sometimes it is leftovers from the night before, heated up in the microwave, and sometimes I just put whatever cheese, nuts, veggies, dip, crackers, or whatever I feel like in my tote bag...It is always better than whatever I can get in a hospital cafeteria, or order at a fast food place...

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: jinet12

                                                            I too always keep crackers or nuts around to take that edge off.


                                                          2. For lunch, I like to go to a decent restaurant and order an appetizer. Much more likely not to get too much food.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. Protein and fiber help you feel fuller longer. I would keep that in mind when planning your lunch :)

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: spellweaver16

                                                                Good advice!

                                                                I feel your pain on the lack of lunch ideas. I get bored easily at work, so I like having a bunch of things to snack on periodically during the day, vs. one main item for lunch. It's easier to throw a bunch of little things into a bag than to plan a lunch entree, and it's more likely to keep you full too. So I generally pack a couple pieces of fruit, a little bit of meat (e.g, 1/2 - 1 cup of roast chicken leftovers) or a boiled egg, some of last night's dinner (some stir fry/curry/stew), a carb (muffin, cookie, a couple slices of pita bread/tortilla/artisan bread), and a yogurt or cottage cheese or Jello cup.

                                                                It helps that I mostly eat Indian food for dinner and tend to cook decent quantities each time. Rice generally sucks when you microwave it, but if you pack some curry or dal with a tortilla or something, it's really easy and filling.

                                                                if you're afraid of the smell, then stick with the small foods idea. today, for example, i packed the following for my 9-5 job (it includes breakfast which I don't eat at home): 2 peaches, 1 banana, 1 packet of quaker instant regular oatmeal, a 100-calorie pack of chips ahoy, and some guacamole. I actually packed just the ingredients for guacamole (1 whole avocado, and a tupperware box containing some diced chiles and onions and some salt which I will use to make the guacamole when I want to eat it.) I like to eat the guacamole plain, but sometimes I throw in some diced roast chicken or some form of bread to dip in.

                                                              2. I was just thinking about this subject the other day, and realized how much I love to make Heidi Swanson's recipes for lunch: http://www.101cookbooks.com/index.html. Many of her rice bowls and noodle dishes make great lunches which are very tasty, satisfying, and healthy. Also, they can usually be made ahead of time and brought to work and re-heated (or eaten cold). Check under "Heidi's Favorites" and "High Protein Recipes" to name a few. I'd venture to say that 95% of her savory recipes make great lunches. I honestly have never made a bad recipe of hers, and I get a lot of great ideas from her. She really knows how to put ingredients together to make something spectacular.

                                                                1. Great ideas here and on the other thread.

                                                                  I bring my lunch every day, going out is for special occassion only. I very seldom eat deli meat. I think the secret is to plan your lunches for the week the way you plan your dinners for the week. Either build in leftovers when you cook for dinner or make something(s) specifically for lunch. On the weekend. I can't even think about preparing a lunch in the a.m. before I go to work. I can, however, pack a lunch if I have planned ahead.

                                                                  I also can't eat a lot at lunch or I am no good for the afternoon.

                                                                  I agree with the great ideas you already have here, especially with cold proteins like l/o chicken or meatloaf (although I don't do sandwiches as a rule); or egg salad or tuna salad or grain salad (try Trader Joe's Harvest Grain, cook in chicken broth, add frozen petite peas. Delicious at room temp dressed with some balsamic viniagrette)

                                                                  Add a piece of fresh fruit and you've got lunch. I could never eat the fried fish, tacos, chili fries, etc. I see people bring back and eating out in a resto every day is just not an option (although I dearly love the bistro across the street)