Dining out or eating in the dining hall or workplace cafeteria can add up quickly – not only in dollars, but also in pounds. Below, guest contributor Daria Patrusheva highlights the benefits of packing your lunch, provides some friendly tips, and shares some of her favorite take-to-work recipes.
Tips for Bringing Your Lunch to Work
Guest Post by Daria Patrusheva
Let me just begin by saying, I am not one of those people who bike to work and eat kale for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I find many cookbooks overwhelming with their abundance of exotic ingredients and unrealistic preparation times. As a student, I juggled full-time studies, two part-time jobs, and volunteer commitments, which often resulted in chaotic eating schedules and dependence on frozen pizza and food from the cafeteria.
When I got my first full-time job almost three years ago, I worked in an office, but also acted as a tour guide on afternoons, and snacking on the go and buying expensive unhealthy fast food became a habit. When I moved on to a full-time at-the-desk position, lunches at work were still a challenge. I used eating out as an excuse to leave my desk and take a break, and viewed cooking as a weekend activity that required a lot of free time.
A couple months ago I realized that I was spending a lot of money on buying food I didn't even like. In many workplaces I've been part of this was a normal practice, but when I gave it some thought I realized that I was tired of eating overpriced sandwiches and sugary snacks during the day, only to come home to an empty fridge in the evening. So I started bringing homemade lunches to work every day as an experiment. I quickly noticed many benefits, and I wished that someone shared this information with me when I was starting my first grown-up job.
1. Saving money. This is an obvious advantage of homemade food. Depending on where you live and work, prices may differ, but it’s still cheaper to cook at home than to eat out.
2. Choosing what goes into your body. How many times do we buy pizzas, frozen dinners, and take-outs without looking at the ingredients? How much oil, sodium, and sugar goes into your lunch? When you cook your own food, you can control those things. I barely ever use salt when I cook, and my food still tastes great. You can make decisions on what to put in your meals based on your personal preferences and dietary needs.
3. Saving time. My office is fifteen minutes away from the food court, and that’s not counting the time spent in line-ups. That’s more than half an hour of my break spent running around and waiting. Microwaving your food gives you time to socialize with co-workers in the lunchroom without choking down your lunch in the last fifteen minutes of your break, and allows for extra time which you can spend on things like short walks and reading.
4. Improving your cooking skills. Since I began to cook more often, I quickly realized that I have to diversify my diet of pasta and, well, more pasta. There are lots of recipes out there which you can get for free and prepare in thirty minutes or less. My go-to sources for new recipe ideas are How Sweet It Is, A Beautiful Mess, and My Cakies, but many other blogs out there offer quick, easy, and healthy recipes. Use Pinterest to keep track of the ones you want to try.
Obviously, depending on your job, eating preferences, and other commitments outside of work, you will find that some of these things may not work for you, but here are some tips that can help you practice home cooking and healthier eating habits as a working girl:
1. Stock up on Tupperware. You will be needing a few plastic containers of different size, as well as one or two glass containers which you can microwave and use as a bowl. Alternatively, if your office kitchen does not come stocked with dishes, you can bring your own plate, bowl, and cutlery. If you like soup, keep jars from pasta sauce and use them to transport liquids.
2. Make breakfast at home. Tempting as it may be to grab a Starbucks drink in a to-go cup on your way to work, you will save time and money from making your own breakfast. Invest in a two-cup coffee maker, a thermos, and some instant oatmeal. If you’re looking for something healthier, buy smoothie ingredients and freeze them in Ziploc bags – all you need to do in the morning is add some juice and a banana.
3. Cook with a friend. You can swap recipes and teach each other new tricks. As a bonus, it will help you carve out some social time in your busy calendar.
4. Share. If you have a roommate or a work friend, why not cook for two? Making lasagna for one would mean eating the same thing for a week, but sharing with a friend and taking turns cooking lunch will make it feel less of a routine.
5. Freeze. Making big batches and freezing the leftovers will help you save time. Bonus: on those days when you don’t feel like cooking or grocery shopping, your fridge will never be empty.
6. Bake. We all crave something sweet from time to time. Baking is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth, always have snacks at hand, and utilize those bananas that began to turn brown. You can create healthier versions of any recipe by using brown sugar instead of white, whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and (my personal favorite) replacing half of the oil with apple sauce. It’s really that easy. Bonus: you can impress everybody at work with your healthy zucchini muffins or delicious whole what banana bread.
7. Add a salad. I know what many of you are thinking right now. You're not a vegetable person. And all that cutting and chopping? Busy working women don’t have time for that. Luckily, salads don't have to be time consuming, and you can use any ingredients you like. I almost always bring a salad to accompany my lunch, and it can also double as a snack if you're anything like me and get hungry by 11 am.
Here are some easy recipes for what I call my “two-minute salads” - because that's how long it takes me to make them in the mornings while I'm getting ready for work.
Strawberries and goat cheese salad
Ingredients: baby romaine, strawberries, goat cheese (I prefer mine coated in herbs, but you can use any kind), shaved almonds, raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I like using baby lettuce because it doesn't need to be cut, and lasts longer in the fridge. Put a handful of baby romaine in a Tupperware, cut 5-6 strawberries on top, add almonds and some goat cheese. I use mini-Tupperware for dressings and sauces, so that my salad doesn't marinade in them all morning, and lettuce remains nice and crisp.
Raspberry and avocado salad
Ingredients: spinach, raspberries, avocado, raspberry vinaigrette dressing
Mix spinach with raspberries and avocado. Add dressing. Enjoy!
Cherry tomatoes and avocado salad
Ingredients: baby romaine, avocado, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, sesame seeds
Mix lettuce and tomatoes (you can use whole tomatoes, or cut them in half), add cubed avocado on top and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Drizzle with olive oil.
You can create your own versions by mixing your favorite ingredients and experimenting.
Cooking can be fun and fuss-free, even when you spend a lot of time at work.