“I’ll start packing my lunches:” everyone says it with such great intentions, but so many people can’t keep it up longer than a week or two. It takes too long. It makes too many dirty dishes. Pack lunches are boring and flavorless. Or an emergency happens and they end up getting fast food and it all goes downhill from there.
Don’t let that be you! Here are 6 tips to make packing lunch less tedious, less time-consuming, and more delicious.
1. Minimize the Dishes
Between the lunch-cooking dishes and the lunch-transporting dishes, packing lunch can add up to a huge stack of pots and tupperware in the sink. And all that dish-washing time can be a huge deterrent to actually sticking with your plan to pack healthy lunches. It’s really annoying to feel like you’re spending your whole life washing out lunchboxes!
- If you usually use multiple containers per lunch, try a single container with different compartments.
- Leave oil and vinegar for salad dressings at the office. Packing a separate container of dressing with your salad leaves you with one extra container to wash out and deal with. If you have a fridge, you can also bring other long-lasting condiments or extras.
- Cut down on the lunch-cooking by cooking in bulk (more on this below). There’s no need to get whole set of pans dirty every day just for your lunch.
- Try packing more foods that don’t create any extra dishes. For example, canned fish (just recycle the can at work) or whole fruit (instead of cutting up apple slices or other fruit, just bring the apple).
2. Bulk Cooking is your Friend
There’s no way around this: home cooking takes longer than
Lean Cuisine. There’s no amazing magic trick to change that. (This is why people are willing to pay through the nose for pre-packaged food.) But bulk cooking can help cut way down that time commitment.
- Cook double at dinner and pack up the leftovers right away for lunch the next day.
- Use a slow-cooker to make a big pot of chili or stew over the weekend. Pack it all up for the week and you’re done.
- Roast a ton of vegetables (spaghetti squash, broccoli, beets, etc.) and a big chunk of animal protein (whole chicken, pork shoulder, beef roast). Add sauce(s)/seasoning(s) of your choice. Divide and pack.
A few more recipe ideas for bulk cooking:
- Slow-cooker beef and onion stew
- Chicken meatballs with marinara sauce
- Simple herb-seasoned carrots
- Slow-cooker herb and garlic roast beef
- Italian-style vegetable medley
3. Use Fat and Seasonings. Liberally!
Fat gives things flavor and different sauces can help spice up bulk recipes where you’re eating the same main protein/vegetable for a week.
For fat, use olive oil on your salads, butter on your vegetables, mayonnaise on cold chicken… This is doubly important if you’re reheating things in an office microwave. Microwaves do nothing for the texture or flavor of your food and they have some kind of secret black magic that lets them make some food dry and tough while also making other food soggy and mushy. Don’t make it worse than it has to be! (Speaking of microwaves: they also don’t cause cancer/autism/obesity/alien mind control – they might not make the tastiest of food, but they’re not dangerous).
You can also use seasonings to spice up bulk recipes if you get bored of eating the same recipe every day for a week. All it takes is a bulk recipe that can be easily changed with different dressings or additions. For example, cook chicken breasts for salad in bulk, but make one salad with cranberries and almonds over kale and another with raisins and walnuts over spinach. Some other sauce/seasoning ideas:
- Cranberry sauce
- Nut butters and nut butter-based salad dressings (like this one)
- Creamy coconut milk sauces (like this one)
- Mustard BBQ sauce
4. Don’t get Fooled by “Free”
Another barrier to packing lunch is the psychological lure of free food that’s already there. Office pizza. Catered lunch (if you’re lucky enough to get it). Random baked goods that people being in because it’s a day that ends in y. Candy bowls.
Free office food seems like a great combination of frugality and convenience, but in the long term, unhealthy food has a cost. Being sick is expensive. If something makes your health worse, then it isn’t free, even if you don’t exchange any money for it at the time you eat it.
It’s perfectly fine to cook your own lunch even if there’s pizza for the office. If you have a lunch meeting with absolutely no Paleo options, plan ahead and bring a snack for before and after. Obviously, there are workplaces where this is more difficult than others, but if you don’t make a big deal out of your dietary choices, it’s almost always possible to make it work. Unless you work as a professional Nutella taster, you shouldn’t have to choose between Paleo and your job.
5. Have a Back-Up
Even the most prepared and dedicated of Paleo eaters have emergencies sometimes. Be prepared for them so they don’t throw you off your game:
- Scope out the available restaurants near your office so you have a Paleo-friendly backup plan. Even 7-11 sells plain hard-boiled eggs; there’s almost always something that can do in a pinch.
- Keep a couple of emergency snacks (jerky, Paleo-friendly bars, nuts, etc.) at your desk in case you get unexpectedly hungry. If you’re a boredom eater, pick something tasty enough that you don’t mind eating it when you’re actually hungry, but not so tasty that you’re sitting there thinking about it all day. Canned meat is usually good for this, and you can get cans of chicken breast if eating tuna in the office isn’t an option.
6. Consider an Alternate Eating Schedule
There’s no evolutionary reason why people need to eat in the morning, around noon, and in the early evening. That’s just a cultural habit. Especially if you work earlier or later than 9-5, it can make perfect sense to not eat “lunch” in the traditional sense.
You could have a big breakfast, a small snack in the afternoon (maybe a couple hard-boiled eggs, something that’s really easy to pack and transport), and a big dinner. That solves a lot of lunch-cooking and lunch-packing problems automatically.
Some people also like to just fast until dinner (intermittent fasting). It’s not for everyone, but it’s also not dangerous at all if it agrees with you. Your metabolism absolutely won’t come stuttering to a halt because you didn’t eat for a few hours: that’s a complete myth and you can learn about it here.
Alternate eating schedules don’t work for everyone, but some people find them much easier to keep up with.