If you still need a New Year’s resolution, here’s a good one: pack your lunch.
The benefits of packing your own lunch are pretty obvious — it’s cheaper, and probably healthier and lower on single-use plastic. It’s also convenient, in that once you’ve packed a lunch, you can eat it whenever you’re hungry, which for me is usually around 11 a.m. The downside is that it requires planning ahead, which can be a pain.
However, I have recently discovered the best way to pack a lunch. Here’s what you do: Make a bunch of grains at the beginning of the week. I’m partial to farro, which I think of as a little healthier than pasta but better-tasting than quinoa, but you can use whatever you like (rice, couscous, even barley). Then, each day, mix some grains with whatever vegetables you have in your fridge. Maybe there’s some leftover roast broccoli from dinner, or a can of chickpeas and half a bunch of kale. I usually throw in some cheese and/or nuts, mix the whole thing up with olive oil, salt, a squeeze of lemon, and voilà!
To be clear, this is what’s commonly known as a “grain bowl,” and I did not invent it. My own interpretation is loosely inspired by this recipe for Charlie Bird’s farro salad, though Bon Appétit also has a number of intriguing suggestions. After months (years, really) of trial and error, I’m convinced there’s no better way to pack your lunch.
This is a lunch you can eat at room temperature. It feels relatively healthy, but also substantial enough to keep you full until 6 p.m., or whenever you get off work. While it requires some advance planning, it’s less intense than traditional meal prep, where you make a big batch of something on Sunday night and divide it into individual containers for the week. As long as you make the grains ahead of time, you can throw this together in less than ten minutes in the morning. And — this is the most important part — it’s very versatile, which means you can change it up enough that you don’t get completely sick of it.
Really, you can put whatever you like to eat in here, and it works. Last week, for example, I had some leftover radicchio, which I mixed with farro, toasted pecans, and a little Pecorino cheese. I won’t pretend it was the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten, but as far as desk lunches go, it was pretty good, and even felt a little fancy.
It’s true that this method requires that you have some basic cooking skills and a sense of what kinds of foods taste good together. But I’d argue those are good skills for anyone to have, and that developing them is not at odds with fun. Anyway, I’ve been doing this for a few months, and I’m not sick of it! I may even invest in one of these fancy ceramic containers.
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