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Hot Lunch at your Desk

What do you keep at work to make for a quick lunch on those days when you can't/don't want to go out? We have a refrigerator/freezer available here at work, along with communal microwaves. Many people keep frozen entrees (like Lean Cuisine) in the freezer, then nuke them.

I'm lucky enough to have an electric hot water pot, so I keep packets of oatmeal in my desk drawer, and sometimes meals like Annie Chun's Soup bowls -- always careful about the high sodium content, though. I'm interested in suggestions that provide variety, or recommendations for convenience products you've tried.

What's in your desk drawer? Please, no lectures/suggestions about how I could make a 3 course, nutritionaly balanced meal at home and bring it in. 1. I'm lazy, and 2. that's a whole other post!

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  1. I make 1 big thing Sunday and split it and bring it to work every day. This week is a Japanese curry recipe I found on chowhound: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/275003

    4 Replies
    1. re: luniz

      luniz: but then you have to eat the same thing for lunch day after day after day after day. I'd rather do Lean Cuisine or something of that ilk.

      1. re: woodleyparkhound

        @woodley....not necessarily would you eat the same thing day after day...if you cook up a pot of black beans or chickpeas, those can be morphed into all different lunches: as a protein in a salad...added to a broth with some veg for a soup, mashed up and spread onto a corn tortilla and topped with cheese & avocado, etc....same with a roast chicken made on Sunday, it could be chicken salad...chicken added to a green salad...well, you get my drift.

        1. re: Val

          Did you all miss the fact that Patticakes said she doesn't want to cook at home and take it to work?

          1. re: dmjordan

            please excuse me, dmjordan...I was responding to woodleyparkhound, not OP. Thanks.

    2. Since my office's neighborhood is surrounded by fast food restaurants, I usually bring in a nice big salad for lunch. For hot meals, it's usually something left over from last night's dinner, e.g., chili, pot roast and veggies, and I nuke it in the microwave.

      1. I work a job where I can rarely leave the office for lunch. Additionally, I have dinners out a lot of nights, so I'm not at home making myself a meal to bring in. Sometimes I have leftovers, but most days I'm stuck trying to cook something at work.
        I have, at my disposal a fridge, microwave and a toaster.
        I have become the self-proclaimed queen of the microwave.
        I don't want to hear how I'm radiating myself, there are worse vices than microwaving some lunches.
        Now then, I most often will make myself an egg sandwich, I scramble eggs, microwave them in a bowl, toast some bread, cut up some tomatos and basil and voila. On some days, I include a side of vegetarian sausage, microwaved, or, when I want to torture my coworkers, I microwave some bacon.
        I also will keep a can of black beans on hand. microwave those and add some taco seasoning. Add salsa, lettuce, sour cream and you either have a taco salad or a veggie burrito. Works wonderfully, especially on my whole wheat high fiber tortilla, so I feel like I'm getting "healthy" Mexican food.
        I also, will microwave a veggie burger too, from time to time.
        Oh, and pre-made soups, preferably from some nearby markets, not from a can.
        Happy improvising!

        2 Replies
        1. re: hyacinthgirl

          I just have to say, hyacinthgirl, that you're amazing.

          I mostly make a big thing of rice every couple of days, keep a frozen bag of veggies in the freezer, nuke them both, and apply some sweetened soy sauce. It's not fancy but at least it'll last me until I get off work.

          I also keep a swiss army knife and a jar of peanut butter on hand, and bring in some apples to cut up if I start getting hungry again in the afternoons.

          1. re: evejou

            The Amazing Hyacinthgirl! I like it. Now I just need a cape ; )

            Very good call on the rice and I need to eat more veggies anyway, I'll try that one next week!

        2. This is intriguing. It reminds me that my dad gave me a bunch of MRE’s he got during hurricane Charlie.

          Some of those were Just Add Hot Water:


          1. Keep potatoes in your drawer and frozen birdseye veggies in cheese sauce in the freezer... bake the potato in the microwave add the veggies in there the last few minutes, split open the potato, top with the veggies and cheese sauce and VIOLA (lol) you have a healthy hot lunch

            (hey, don't judge... when I was poor and single it was better for me than eating ramen!)

            5 Replies
            1. re: cgarner

              I never thought of microwaving a potato, but that's a great idea.

              1. re: PattiCakes

                we mostly get lunch brought in to work from the pharma reps but if we don't I frequently nuke a potato and bring some canned tuna and mayo to mix in, or just some cheese. I have done the pot noodle ramen things (3 for a $1) on occasion, sometimes I make a sandwich, or I bring home cooked leftovers.

                1. re: smartie

                  Yes, there are also single-serve tuna salad packets sold in the stores now...I tend to stick with the sardines & kippers for the better Omega 3 yield but those tuna packets can be very handy.
                  AND +1 for the microwave potato idea...super! I usually bake mine over the weekend with whatever dinner I might be using the oven for...and bring 1/2 of a sweet or white in to combine with a green vegetable, but you can surely nuke a white potato in what, 4 minutes or so...just make sure to poke a few holes in it first.

                  1. re: Val

                    Love the potato idea.

                    But I worked in an adjoining cube with a guy who was into sardines . . . the smell was so bad we teased him every time he ate it. But levity aside, I had to leave when he ate those sardines. Tuna was ok, but the sardines were really smelly.. Luckily he took our hints and tossed the sardine can as soon as he was done in the outside kitchen.

                    1. re: gaffk

                      hmmm...I work with someone who said she hates sardines...tried one time bringing them to my desk (unannounced of course...LOL) and she later said she could *not* smell them...mine are in olive oil which I drain off (but I don't rinse them)...oh well...that's my own experience anyway...thanks, gaffk!

            2. PattiCakes, any possibility that you like sardines or kippers? Those are easy to keep in your desk and they are not stinky. Great on a whole-grain cracker with hot sauce or mustard...if you have a vegetable on the side or a salad, a very nutritious lunch. Or you could add the fish TO the salad. Just throwing out an idea here and both sardines and kippers are definitely convenience foods, sold in single-serve cans.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Val

                smoked mackerel in packets are also nice

                1. re: smartie

                  oooh, thanks...haven't seen those yet...will look for them, smartie!

                  1. re: Val

                    my neighbor gets them for me from WF. Though I have also seen them at Albertsons although they have mostly closed around south Fl

                    1. re: smartie

                      True about Albertson's down here in FL (sadly)...well, there is a WF almost right across the street here and I go there every week for my *fix* of frozen wild organic blueberries so I will check out the smoked mackerel packets...thanks!

                2. re: Val

                  Sardines, kippers, anchovies and the like are on my "Eeeyyeeww list", My hubby on the other hand, would kill for them.

                3. My lunches are almost always leftovers - if I don't have "last night's" leftovers, I usually have something in the freezer leftover from another day.

                  And when that fails me, well, there's a bagel shop down the road. . .

                  1. couscous is also easy to do at work... heat water, pour over couscous and let sit for 5 minutes. add frozen veggies if on hand, some dressed or oil and vinegar. voila.

                    freeze bowl portions of soup. and some cornbread. or bring bread.

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: Emme

                        I've done this as well. It really does work.

                      2. I'm lucky enough to have a full kitchen in my office but when I'm not reheating leftovers, I keep dehydrated black beans in my desk for a quick protein packed lunch. Also have a couple different kinds of rice and ramen noodles- I just throw out the seasong packs and splash in some soy and siracha, grab carrots, peppers, bok choy , ginger or whatever is in fridge at home on the way out the door and do a 3 minute stir fry on the stove or even in the microwave. Also keep a couple packets of chicken soup and and some all natural canned chicken for a quick soup. I always have a variety of hot sauces around top and sometimes do the sweet or baked potato in microwave

                        1. I think perhaps I was not clear in my original post. I'm not looking for things I can make at home & bring to work. I am looking for stuff I can keep in my cabinet at work & turn into a hot meal. Kind of like emergency provisions. I know, it's all that stuff that's not so good for you, but does anyone have suggestions for items that are not too bad & don't taste like cardboard? Today, for instance, I broke out a bowl of Annie Chun's Hot & Sour Soup & made it with hot water from my electric tea pot. It's accompanied by a nice hot cuppa decaf Constant Comment tea. Didn't even have to leave my office to make it.

                          FWIW, back in the day when we used to have those gigunda PC monitors, I'd often bring in something from home, well wrapped, and put it on top of that baby first thing in the morning. by lunch, it would be heated through. Hard to do with a flat screen.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            Amy's soups are very good- especially the light in sodium varities. A can has two servings- but I'll eat one can of the Chunky Tomato Bisque for lunch- it's about 300 calories. You can always bring/buy a roll to have along with it.

                            1. re: PattiCakes

                              Campbell's has some of their soups in small containers, able to keep on a shelf or in a desk, just pop the lid and nuke. Depending on what you like and where you are, you can also find Mary Kitchen Roast Beef Hash, Dennison's Chili Beans, Chef Boyardee pastas, just to name a few. Look for them in the Canned Meats or Canned Soups aisle.
                              Again, not the best or healthiest, but handy, and in keeping with your original request.

                              1. re: aurora50

                                Aurora50, I hear you when it comes to having some "pop the lid" microwavable food on hand. All of the items you mentioned are in recyclable cans (I hope your workplace has recycling containers---otherwise they can be taken home) but many of the shelf-stable stuff comes in only toss-away cups, boxes, etc.. I don't mean to sound like the 'environment police' when it comes to having easy choices, but it's a fact how much our "imprint" affects our society. If folks want to go with manufactured food for its ease, the largest sizes available can be portioned at home, put into recyclable containers and nuked, as you say.

                              2. re: PattiCakes

                                PattiCakes, I've seen the heat and serve packages of Indian food on the shelves in the Asian aisle in the grocery store, I did a quick google search to see if I could remember the name, the packaging for Kitchens of India looks right, I got the Palak Paneer, which wasn't bad but they have the spicy chick peas and veggie korma too,

                                that's tasty, shelf stable AND good for you!

                                1. re: PattiCakes

                                  I know what you mean; I usually bring food from home, either dishes I've made or leftovers. But sometimes I get around to it, so I keep a couple of things at the office just in case. There are some Thai food instant dishes; I don't remember the brand, but some are quite high in calories and fat, and some are not. Even better are the Indian packaged items. I used to only be able to get them at the Indian grocers, but I noticed yesterday that our local Target now carries three or four different brands. As with the Thai food, some of it is high in fat and calories, and some is not. But they're usually decently spicy, and for emergency backup, pretty good. And at least at the Indian grocers, and possibly elsewhere (I don't really recall who what which dishes), there are even some that you don't see at your local North Indian restaurant, so it's an opportunity to try new foods. I also keep the small (overly-packaged) containers of applesauce. I have oatmeal too, but funny how I rarely eat that.

                                  1. re: PattiCakes

                                    That's definately what I'm talking about- desk full of soups, rice noodles, dehydrated instant black beans, canned white meat chicken, crushed peanuts, soy sauce, hot sauces- it's great and easy- stove or microwave- if there are some veggies leftover at home or I can run in the Asian market next door, even better. In a pinch though I'm able to make some rockin, delish meals that are under 350 -400 calories and are satisfying.

                                    1. re: PattiCakes

                                      one last thought, Costco had a box of spicy chickpeas in individual serving packages last week, they were giving samples out. They were really good and it's a nice thing to have on hand in the desk drawere if you're hungry

                                      1. re: PattiCakes

                                        It looks like there is a Trader Joe's close to your town in PA. Just cruise the isles there and you will find a TON of shelf-stable products. There is a pre-cooked brown rice in a vaccum pack. I like to heat that up and top with one of their vac-pack Indian products (there is one with red curry & tuna that I love). Another fun one is to slice up their polenta roll & top with one of their jarred pasta sauces (if you have access to a refrigerator you can stash some cheese & melt it on top).
                                        Browse the store & be sure to ask some of their employees for suggestions -they are always helpful & knowledgeable about their products!

                                      2. I really like Amy's Organic black bean and vegetable enchiladas. They come frozen, two enchiladas in a box. Tastes great, relatively healthy, satisfying and easy to warm up in the microwave.

                                        1. Generally I try to bring lunch in such as tuna with crackers, chopped salad, sandwiches, etc, however, there are many times I’m either too lazy or just forget. I usually have one or two frozen dinners, Lean Cuisine, etc., in the company’s freezer (unless someone swipes them), but in my office I keep a few cans of Progresso soups, crackers, dried noodles, i.e., ramen, Chinese (Shrimp noodles), dry fruits & nuts, small bags of various chips, and Dark Chocolate Acai with Blueberries. I just purchased a few bags of miso/shio ramen for 99 cents at Marukia, so those will go in my office drawer.

                                          1. If you can invest the time to make a batch of Asian peanut sauce at home (or you know a good jarred brand), you can soak rice noodles in hot water, then stir in peanut sauce for- tada!- peanut noodles! There are shelf-stable tofu blocks you can dice in, plus you can stir in coleslaw mix, which wilts down pretty quickly into hot noodles (or you can nuke them a little to give them a jump start).

                                            You can open a can of chickpeas, drain, open a jar of Patak's simmer sauce, stir it into the chickpeas, and microwave easily. I'll often throw handfuls of spinach into this mix to wilt. Serve over pre-cooked rice.

                                            In addition to potatoes and sweet potatoes, a lot of other vegetables steam up beautifully in the microwave- zucchini batons/slices, baby carrots, baby spinach, snap peas, broccoli florets, etc. Just keep a stash of all-purpose seasoning at your desk, maybe a little bottle of extra-virgin olive oil and a lemon if you're feeling extra fancy. One of my friends swears by a product called True Lemon, which is dehydrated lemon juice....stirs it into water, and sprinkles it wherever she might add a spritz of lemon.

                                            As an "instant shepard's pie", in college, I used to make instant mashed potatoes (one of the "just add hot water" varieties, like Idahoan), and use it to top off a warmed-up bowl of Campbell's Chunky Soup. My favorite kind was the one with the mini "sirloin burger" patties. :)

                                            There's shelf-stable polenta, which you can loosen up with hot water, and then use as the base for a can of chili, a tomato sauce spiked with vegetables, etc.

                                            Wondering if you might be able to boil eggs in your hot pot? That opens up another realm of possibility....

                                            I used to work with someone who made Frito Pie by microwaving chili, throwing that into a single-serve bag of Fritos, sprinkling in grated cheese, and chowing down.

                                            I suppose a lot of my suggestions involve storing some raw ingredients in the fridge- forgive me if you were looking for only shelf-stable items.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: 4Snisl

                                              I love the instant shepherd's pie recipe - would work for dinner! Nice to see some creative people out there. My go to is a box of chinese noodle bowls under my desk with chopsticks. My staff know I have "the box" so when they forget lunch they come for noodles.

                                              1. re: 4Snisl

                                                I also love the mashed potatoes and sirloin soup idea, its actually making me hungry and I'd eat it now if I could!

                                              2. I was the queen of the food cubby when I was working, I had Thai soups, canned soup, and tons of condiments that i kept hidden in my little round covered basket.
                                                I used to keep peanut butter and a sleeve of crackers in a tin. I always had small Thai kitchen bags of soup and noodles, now they have so much more diverse little meals. Trader Joe's and most markets also carry the boxed soups, they're great for snacking on all day.

                                                1. Hey, PattiCakes did you see the CHOW article on this topic? Did you get interviewed?

                                                  7 Replies
                                                      1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                        It's not a "CHOW article." Several of the boards, including this one, have "digests." Chow editors select interesting threads from the boards, excerpt comments from those threads, and post them as digest entries. That's what this is. No need to get your noses out of joint, in fact you should consider it a compliment that your comments were considered worthy of being featured.

                                                    1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                      No, I did't get interviewed, and apparently the author not only lifted my idea from this post, but also lifted many of the comments verbatim. I'm glad someone thought the topic was a good one! (grin)

                                                      1. re: PattiCakes

                                                        I'm retired now.. but I used to make good use of the nuker and the toaster oven at work.
                                                        Not to mention the coffee maker.
                                                        We had a fridge as well so it was just a matter of putting it all together.
                                                        I used to torture my co-workers with home brewed bacon and or ham, roasted potato
                                                        wedges, sunny side up eggs all done in the toaster oven. Coffee made with home roasted beans.
                                                        Sometimes I would bring in chicken parts that I had marinated in yogurt with fresh
                                                        rosemary and thyme, also roasted in the toaster.
                                                        Some times marinated lamb.
                                                        I used to do ribeye and t-bone.
                                                        Raman chicken noodles with fresh shrimp and cilantro.
                                                        I did tacos in various ways.
                                                        Made salads.
                                                        It was fun watching the expressions of my co-workers as the aroma of what I was cooking
                                                        hooked in to their brains.
                                                        My one regret is that I didn't bring in an electric fry pan.
                                                        And.... I still got my job done. :-)

                                                        1. re: PattiCakes

                                                          I always thought my ideal job would be creating titles for articles, haha!

                                                        2. Can't believe no one's mentioned the George Forman - the office panini maker. Cheap, easy clean-up...perfect for office.

                                                          1. Progresso Soups. Almost all the flavors are pretty healthy. A whole can is a satisfying lunch for me.

                                                            1. since you've got a fridge, store some cheese and salsa. plate some tortilla chips, top with canned beans (black or pinto) and nuke for 30 sec, then add some shredded cheese, nuke til cheese is gooey. top with salsa and/or sour cream and/or avocado slice. Hot Nachos at your desk.

                                                              you can also make microwave quesadillas.

                                                              nuke some veggies (pre-cut, bagged) in some boxed miso soup. stir in some chopped (purchased) hard-boiled eggs.

                                                              1. When I get home at an hour when I can cook dinner, I bring leftovers. Recently, I've gone back to school and have been working way too many hours to do anything other than fix a nice adult beverage, lament my sorry state, and go to sleep. Even getting to the grocery store is difficult.

                                                                I keep several cans of soup in my desk drawer. My favorites are Muir Glen, Wolfgang Puck (not as much these days) and Pacific-something-or-other. I also throw in cans of veggies and fruits. I also try to buy snacky-type foods when I do get to the grocery store. Crackers keep for a pretty long time so I'll buy a round of brie or a fun cheddar (Guiness-soaked is really nice) and some chorizo. It's a quick dinner but you can also bring it into work. I'm a little paranoid about people dorking with your food in a communal fridge so I use a freezer pack and a little collapsable cooler.

                                                                I try to make sure and have a satisfying breakfast. That makes those quick lunches more manageable.

                                                                Oh, my desk drawer also has roasted almonds, Clif bars, gum, and green tea.