“What can I bring to work for lunch?” is a frequent question I hear. Women seem to find this meal especially challenging. Perhaps because it requires preparation in advance, plus the added difficulty of making something that will keep for a few hours and can be eaten as is or easily reheated. It’s well worth the minimal added effort, though—for health, economic, and taste reasons—and doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. I like to think in terms of a few basic “templates” within which there are many varied dish options. I rely on a few basic rules of thumb: I’ve said it before, every meal must have the “holy trinity” of carbs, protein and fat. I also believe lunch should end with a little something sweet (usually fruit, but sometimes a small square of dark chocolate—you can make that call). And, as with every meal, there should always, always, always be pleasure involved.
Within the templates I’ve listed below, you can mix and match, choosing options that suit your tastes and preferences. Use what you have at home, or look for other recipes on this site or in my books. For protein you can use 1-2 ounces of cheese, a hard-boiled egg, a yogurt, or a few slices of leftover fish, meat or poultry. For carbs, bread is an easy option, but you could also use a portion of leftover rice or a potato-based soup. Whatever you have on hand and tastes best to you. Since we’re still in summer, I’ve included a number of salad options and cold soups, but in the winter your tastes might run more toward a warm soup brought in a thermos or re-heated at work.
Template 1: Salad + protein + bread + fruit
Cucumber salad with goat cheese, 1 slice country bread, 1 cup blackberries
Salmon and Spinach Salad, 1 slice buttered whole wheat toast, 1 slice watermelon
Tomato and Mozzarella salad with basil, olive oil and vinegar, 1 slice country bread, 1 peach
Vegetables with yogurt dressing, ½ pita bread, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries
Arugula salad with vinaigrette and 1-2 ounces blue cheese, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 nectarine
Tomato salad, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1-2 ounces goat cheese, 3 apricots
Cold leftover steamed veggies with olive oil & vinegar, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1-2 ounces comte cheese, 1 peach
Green salad with vinaigrette, topped with 2-4 oz leftover sliced duck breast (or steak, chicken, or fish), 1 slice rosemary bread, 1 cup blackberries
Template 2: Soup + protein + bread + fruit
Cold cucumber soup with shrimp, 1 slice sourdough toast, 1 cup blueberries
Cold fennel soup with ricotta, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 peach
Vichyssoise, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries (no bread needed here since the vichyssoise has potatoes, but you can add if you like)
Cold beet and yogurt soup, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 hard-boiled egg, 2 plums
Ratatouille, 1 slice country bread, 1-2 ounces goat cheese, 1 nectarine
Template 3: Tartine (or any small sandwich) + salad or vegetable soup + fruit
Leek and salmon tartine, mesclun salad with vinaigrette, yogurt, square of dark chocolate (here I subbed in yogurt and dark chocolate for the fruit)
I have several tartine recipes on this website and even more in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.
Template 4: Potato-based soup + salad + protein + fruit/yogurt
Vichyssoise, arugula salad with vinaigrette topped with 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries
Remember, these are just templates, to give you ideas. Fill in as you like and have fun coming up with new options. Soon enough you’ll wonder how you ever ate the “usual takeout” every day.