I thought I’d pull a Bittman and do a list of quick lunch ideas that are tastier than takeout and just as easy. After all, I’m in constant need of new ideas for this myself. This is not an exhaustive list—just some of my favorites. They’re divided into sections based on available equipment, and should save you some money without too much sacrifice.
Don’t forget to share your favorite quick lunches in the comments!
No refrigerator required:
- Peanut butter / nutella and honey / banana on whole wheat bread. You can keep jars of peanut butter, honey, or Nutella unrefrigerated in the office for crazy weeks when you know you won’t have time to think about bringing food in every day.
- Tuna wrap. Canned tuna (pop-top lids on small cans make life easy and make refrigeration unnecessary), a lime (for the juice), a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a tortilla or two, perhaps with some sliced up veggies on the side. Open the tuna, throw it in the tortilla, squeeze the lime juice over it, add the cherry tomatoes (maybe cut them in half, if you’re willing), and wrap.
- Prosciutto, hard cheese of some sort (cheddar, shavings of parmesan—whatever you have), tomato, avocado (optional), and mustard. Bring the tomato and avocado whole and slice at work, so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy. Prosciutto and hard cheese both keep well at room temperature. If you have a refrigerator, arugula is a nice addition to this sandwich.
- Baguette, a jar of good olives, a small hunk of hard cheese, and a tomato. This probably makes me happier than any other quick meal out there.
- Plain yogurt, almond slivers or granola, and jam or fresh fruit, for those of you who like something sweet for lunch. Just throw in a container, mix, and eat.
- Pasta or grain salad. This could mean a million different things, but that’s sort of the point. In the time it takes you to cook the pasta (or whatever grain you choose—bulgur or quinoa are both good options, but even rice will work), you can cut up interesting veggies that can be eaten raw, open a can of beans, and mix together a simple dressing. To make the dressing, stir together 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar (whatever your favorite kind is), and some salt and pepper. Toss all the ingredients together and refrigerate, and you have lunch the next day. Some good flavor combinations are olive and marinated artichoke hearts (perhaps with a bit of feta for protein), the classic tomato, basil, and mozzarella, or black bean, corn, tomato, and bell pepper. Grilled veggies and kidney beans also work nicely.
- Omelet. These can be eaten cold, are quick and easy to make, and go well with a simple side salad.
- Big salads. Put anything you like in these. I will either make something a little sweet, with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette (which I mix up and take on the side, in a leftover jar), or something savory, maybe with hard-boiled egg, cheese, and a bunch of veggies. Anything goes. Just make you take the dressing on the side and toss the salad at the last minute.
- Roasted veggie sandwich. The key to pulling this off is good crusty bread. Cut generous slices of bread, cover with roasted veggies of any sort, and spread with some sort of aioli (or take tomato sauce, maybe a kalamata olive spread, or a mix of oil and vinegar to sprinkle over the veggies right before you eat). For protein, add cheese, hummus, or another sort of bean dip. This works best if you make enough roasted veggies for the week and make several sandwiches.
- Feta, tomato, cucumber, and olive sandwich. I got addicted to these in Athens. The cucumber adds a fresh crunch, and the feta, tomato, and olive just go together, especially if you happen to get your hands on some good sheep’s milk feta. Just slice everything up and throw them between two slices of good, crusty bread.
- Grits with spinach, corn, Spanish paprika, and cheddar cheese. Yes, you may have to cook this ahead of time if you don’t have a stove at work, but it takes a whole 5 minutes, and it’s good for those cold and rainy days when oatmeal sounds delicious but is maybe not exactly what you want for lunch. You measure out the corn grits (I like Bob’s Red Mill) according to the instructions, throw your spinach, corn, paprika, and cheese in after a minute or so, and cook until the grits are soft and everything is hot. Then all you need to do is reheat. For the record, I had this for dinner last night, and it left me happy and stuffed.
- Broccoli, potato, and cheese. You can either use leftover roasted potatoes for this, or cut them into cubes and cook them in the microwave. The first option tastes better, but if you’re in a hurry, either option beats a microwave TV dinner. If you need to cook the potatoes, cut them into cubes and cook them first for 3-4 minutes, until the potatoes are fairly soft. Then cook the broccoli for a few minutes, until it’s hot but still a bit firm. Pour the broccoli over the potatoes, throw on a few slices of cheese, and cook for 1 minute more. With a bit of salt and pepper, you have a tasty lunch.
Larger initial time commitment:
This section is for those of you who don’t mind putting in a bit of extra effort on the weekend and eating the equivalent of leftovers during the week. I’ve chosen dishes that keep well and reheat well, though honestly, most leftovers make a pretty decent lunch the next day.
- Quiche, which is quite simple to make (especially with store-bought pie crust), and will make everyone in your office jealous if they smell it. Quiche can be eaten hot or cold with a bit of salad on the side. To make, choose your fillings (I like spinach and mushroom, so I’ll use that as an example). Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cook the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, perhaps with some onions and garlic, until they go golden. Add about a cup of frozen spinach (or 5 oz. fresh spinach) and let cook until either wilted or warm. Take off the heat and set aside. In a bowl, mix up 2-3 eggs, some salt, pepper, maybe some oregano or cayenne, depending on what you feel like that day, and 3-4 oz. grated cheese. Slowly mix in the spinach filling, until the veggies are all coated in egg, and pour the result into the pie shell. Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the egg is set. This will keep for a week in the fridge if you cover it well. If you get bored easily, make a few different versions and freeze whatever you won’t be able to eat right away. Some other good combinations: tomato, corn, and green chile; bacon and caramelized onion; broccoli and curry; feta, red pepper, and olive.
- Stews of any sort. These always taste better the next day. If you have a crock pot, you can generally make them quickly and easily by throwing all the ingredients in the crock pot and cooking them on the low setting while you’re at work. Then you have dinner AND lunch.