When Nick and I were both working in downtown Boston, we found that we spent a silly amount of our budget on buying sub-par lunches in the city. A salad ran us each $10 which worked out to about $400 a month for what were usually the same boring salads with basic ingredients and yucky, prepackaged dressing filled with sugar and preservatives. So, in an effort to eat better and save money, I started making packed lunches.
Though I now work from home, I still like to make lunch for Nick whenever I can. It makes me feel like a good partner, sending him to work with something yummy to keep his energy up and his spirits high. Plus, whatever I make is bound to be healthier than what they’re serving at the hot dog joint where he’s working towards a plaque (don’t ask). So, on Sunday afternoon, I try to set aside thirty minutes to assemble lunches for the week. Now that I'm a mom, it helps to have lunches made for myself. Though I may be five feet from the kitchen, my hands are often fully occupied with Daisy. I'm lucky if I get ten minutes to feed myself during the day - I certainly don't have time to make myself lunch!
My salads often follow this formula, which I find never fails to deliver a filling meal with lots of flavor and great texture:
1 wheat/grain/whole wheat pasta (quinoa, wheat berry, farro, whole wheat orzo, soba noodles)
1 green crunchy vegetable (green beans, sugar snap peas, broccoli, asparagus)
1 green leaf lettuce (arugula, spinach, kale)
1 sweet, colorful vegetable (rainbow carrots, cherry tomatoes)
1 seed or nut (slivered almonds, pepitas, hemp seeds, chia seeds)
1 lean protein (grilled or rotisserie chicken, turkey, grilled shrimp, hard-boiled eggs)
… I line these up on the counter, layer them into a mason jar and pack them up with a container of homemade vinaigrette. Assembly doesn’t take long and it’s oh-so-satisfying to line your fridge with ready-made lunches.
In the fall and winter, I love to add roasted vegetables like butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts or fingerling potatoes. In the spring, freshly picked peas and asparagus and broccolini are available locally and are extra crunchy and delicious in salads. In the summer, I love to add raspberries for tang or make a simple salad with fresh heirloom tomatoes and sweet local corn.
My Favorite Vinaigrettes
Simple Lemon Vinaigrette
Meyer (or regular) lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.
Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinaigrette, dash of mustard, extra virgin olive oil.
Classic French Vinaigrette (please note: this is not "French Dressing". I don't know what that orange stuff they sell in the grocery store is but don't ever buy that and please don't ever confuse that with this, the best dressing ever. My old boyfriends still call for the recipe :)
Apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, sunflower oil, honey (or agave), minced tarragon & minced shallots.
Spicy Asian Vinaigrette
Rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, gojuchang, pinch of sugar, lime juice, sesame oil.
Lemon juice, champagne vinegar, extra olive oil, salt and pepper.
Carrot Ginger Vinaigrette
Grated ginger, carrots, rice vinegar and lemon juice whirred in a food processor.
Two of My Very Favorite Weekday Lunches
The Warm & Roasted Winter Salad Bowl comes from the Oh She Glows blog and I have made it probably thirty times since I discovered the recipe last year. It is full of fabulous textures - creamy avocado, crunchy pepita seeds, warm and salty roasted potatoes... Tossed with a tangy and zippy vinaigrette, this is hearty and filling but packed with superfoods. Make it, my friends. Please make it. You will make it again and again and again.
The Ideal Lunch Salad comes from another one of my favorite websites that I haven't yet mentioned here, 101 Cookbooks, by Heidi Swanson, who is a blogger, photographer and brilliant chef. This isn't the number one quickest salad to make, but, it is so worth it my lovely readers, I promise you I will personally give you back the thirty minutes it takes from you if you don't like it. It's literally impossible not to like it. Every friend I have shared it with has raved and raved and raved. The dressing alone is life-changing. It's creamy and garlicky and tangy and you will want to drink it from a bowl. The tender broccoli, crunchy celery, the salty purple olives (she says black olives - use kalamata), it is stupendous. And it can be made ahead - it just gets better.
I hope these tips and recipes inspire you to get excited about lunch - enjoy and let me know what you're cooking!