When it comes to lunch, are you a hunter or a gatherer? Hunters know what they want to eat, whether it’s a humble sandwich, a frozen entree or carefully hoarded leftovers. Gatherers, however, take a circuitous route around the kitchen. They browse, they graze, they brainstorm. Sometimes inspiration strikes; on other occasions, gatherers end up noshing on a meal’s worth of mouthfuls -- a handful of peanuts, some cold chicken, a slice of salami. Cheese. A clementine.
If you work from home, it doesn’t much matter which approach you use. But for gatherers, going back to a brick-and-mortar office might mean an end to their freestyle foraging. That’s why we’ve curated this collection of snacktastic options to stash in your desk drawer as well as suggestions for smart ways to satisfy your workday hunger. So break out the brown bags or dust off that insulated tote and let’s get started!
Raise your hand if you’ve ever plunked down $10 or $12 at the deli, only to get back to the office and find a sad, skimpy-on-the-meat sandwich. Avoid this disappointment by bringing your own ingredients. If there’s a grocery store near your office, zip in during Monday’s lunch hour. For the cost of one overpriced café creation, you can grab all the fixings -- sliced turkey or ham, hoagie rolls, cheese and mustard -- for the whole week’s worth of sustenance. Raid the salad bar for lettuce, onions and tomatoes, or pick up a bag of washed greens. Just because you don’t have access to a dream kitchen doesn’t mean you can’t prepare your lunch just the way you like it!
Another inspired in-office lunch idea starts at the supermarket, too. Most markets nowadays don’t just stop at the salad bar, but also offer hot and cold dishes like grain-based salads, stir-fries, sesame noodles, calzones and chicken tenders. That stuff can get heavy quickly, however, and because it’s priced per the pound, you may end up spending more -- way more -- than you intended. Get more bang for your buck at the Mediterranean bar. We’re talking marinated olives, artichoke hearts, sweet peppadews, fresh bocconcini, stuffed grape leaves and other savory, bite-sized noms. Round out this snacky spread with a small batard of crusty bread or pick up a bag of pita chips, and you’re ready to celebrate your own little Tapas Tuesday in between meetings that should’ve been emails.
Taking an entire bag of potato chips, a jumbo canister of mixed nuts or a big box of baby muffins to work with you can only mean one of two things: either you’re sharing with your coworkers, or you’re going to lose control and blow your daily calorie budget. A much smarter solution is to portion out individual servings at the beginning of the work week and simply grab one each morning as you head out the door.
If your office or cubicle has the space and your employer has no qualms, consider investing in a tiny fridge all for yourself. They’re fairly easy to find for a few hundred dollars or less. (Protip: check Facebook Marketplace or other classified sites beginning in late May, when college students are divesting themselves of dorm-room staples for a song.)
Being able to store a 12-pack of your favorite sparkling water or soda will seriously slash what you’re spending at the vending machine or the corner deli. Of course, it also opens up your brown-bagging horizons. Keep condiments for the aforementioned sammies or stockpile high-protein, low-cal Greek yogurt cups. Bring in a bottle of your signature homemade salad dressing and a selection of raw veg for an instant crudite platter.
No fridge? No problem. Folks who work in a climate-controlled office can get by without refrigeration. An insulated lunch bag or small cooler plus a few ice packs will keep your food cold until it’s time for chow.
For some people, there’s such a thing as snacks that are too easy to access. Granola, energy bars, trail mix, savory crackers, dried fruit, peanut butter, even a bag of croutons intended for adding to salads -- these are great staples to have on hand, but they can also be some of the most tempting noshes around. It might help to pack them away in a banker’s box or stick them at the very back of your filing cabinet. With a little experimentation, you might be able to identify foods that you don’t love enough to pig out on, but that will be palatable in a pinch.
Or outwit yourself by keeping your fruit bowl full. One study conducted by Cornell University found that people who kept fruit on their kitchen counter tended to weigh less than those who kept bananas behind closed doors -- by an average of 13 pounds!