Too many people feel brown bagging lunch represents some sort of defeat, thinking it shows they can’t afford to go out or they lack enough time to step away for a midday break. First of all, that packing your own meal saves time and money are among the reasons you should do it. You can also add health benefits to the list of pros.
The only downside we see is the potential for taste to fall flat. The problem is most bagged lunches come together in less than 10 minutes the night before. If you want your lunch to taste great, you have to plan for it. With these six simple strategies, brown bagging will feel more like a feast.
1. Cook with leftovers in mind
What’s better than a sandwich made with roast beef from the deli department? A sandwich made with roast beef crusted with garlic and herbs you cooked over the weekend. The same goes for chicken, pork, or just about any other protein. You can even use cold stews and braises as fillings for burritos. For more ideas on meals you can morph into something else, check out some ideas from Real Simple.
The key to using leftovers in these delicious ways is to plan for it from the start. If you know you and your family will eat the entire roast chicken in one night, make two, then pick the second bird’s carcass after dinner. This tip is also great for anytime you’re making salsa or another type of cold sauce because you can usually double a the recipes without adding much more prep time.
If that sounds like too much planning, simply try making more meals that taste great without any repurposing. The Kitchn shared some great recipes for meals you’ll happily eat for lunch the next day.
2. Pack dressing and salad separately
If there’s one tip you take away from this entire story, make it this one. No matter how delicious your salad was when freshly tossed, it will never be as good by midday. The dressing will leech all the moisture out of the lettuce making the leaves slimy and watery, which is hardly something to smile about at work. The easiest way to get around this issue to pack your greens and dressing in separate containers, then combine them when you’re ready to eat.
Many companies now make small storage containers specifically for tiny portions of sauces, and you can often fit them right in the same container you use for your salad. Check out some these favorites from The Daily Meal to start stocking up. No fancy food storage containers? Try the same method using a zip-top food storage bag.
3. Add texture
Taste might be the most important factor to consider when packing a lunch, but you’d be surprised how much texture can make a difference. Think of the small touches restaurants use to make a dish pop, such as finishing a salad with a sprinkle of nuts or adding toasted breadcrumbs to a pasta. The method can work just as well for your midday meal. Even crushed potato chips can add a lot of excitement to an otherwise boring tuna salad. As with dressing, it’s usually a good idea to pack any sort of crispy topping separately to help retain texture.
4. Think beyond soup for your thermos
Today’s thermoses are a huge step up from whatever kind you may have used as a kid, capable of actually keeping foods hot. They’re also good for a lot more than soup. You can just as easily use the tool to pack chili, rice dishes, or macaroni and cheese. Most thermoses do an equally good job of keeping foods cold as well, so you can keep gazpacho perfectly chilled.
If you’re among one of the many Americans who rushes out the door without eating breakfast, a thermos can also help in this department. Just make a quick batch of oatmeal, then pack it to go. You can also try this for scrambled eggs.
Before you get too caught up in planning your meals, make sure you get a good quality thermos. Check out some of these picks from Heavy. Even if you’re sure you have the best model on the market, give it a test before using it on a workday. Your morning commute is not the ideal time to find out the lid doesn’t seal properly.
5. Stock up on bold condiments
The absolute easiest way to deliver a ton of flavor to your lunch without investing a lot of time is to use great condiments. We don’t just mean ketchup and mustard, either. Think beyond the basics so you can tailor your meals to your tastes. Horseradish, gochujang, pesto, and chutney are all fantastic choices. And don’t forget about pickles.
6. Keep a seasoning kit at work
There’s nothing worse than digging into a meal only to find it desperately needs oomph. You can easily overcome most taste issues by keeping a few fundamental ingredients at work. When a restaurant dish is lacking something, most chefs will tell you it needs salt, acid, or fat. With this in mind, keeping basics like olive oil, your favorite type of vinegar, and a salt shaker on hand will go a long way toward making your lunch infinitely better.
We also think spice is a great way to give a boring meal more of a kick. Think hot sauce, chile flakes, or cayenne. You can even keep a dried herb or two at your desk for a real flavor boost. Just keep in mind they don’t have an infinite shelf life. RachaelRay.com shared some great tips to make sure yours stay potent for as long as possible.
Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec