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Bring Lunch to Work; Eat Healthier & Smarter

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Mark Bittman is trying to get everyone to eat healthier and smarter; anyone that reads him knows that's ones of his main raisons d'être. Last week, in his Flexitarian column, he was all over it:

There are few brown-baggers in the building where I work. This is not because the food in the neighborhood is so great (it isn’t), or because the cafeteria is Google-like (it isn’t), but because many people are either “too busy” or too embarrassed to bring their lunch. Somehow one of our oldest and sanest traditions has become a laughingstock: it’s not hip to bring lunch.

Let’s try to fix that.

He goes on to extoll the virtues of brown-bagging (or lunch-boxing) it, along with suggestions of what to bring, how to prep for it, etc., as well as offering 3 basic recipes to get you started. All well and good.

So my question (s) is (are):

Do you bring your lunch to work? And...what do you usually bring?

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Last nights leftovers are my brown baggers mainstay. I also like Greek yogurt, oil packed tuna mixed w herbes de Provence and cannellini beans, and cheese toast.

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I take a large quantity of fresh fruits and vegetables to work with me every Monday morning. I have a container in one of the walk-ins that I keep it all in. That's my "lunch" for the week. I don't actually have a lunch break but I try to eat a piece of fruit or veggie every couple hours. Keeps me energized and never feeling hungry. Sometimes, if I make a good soup or something at home, I take a bowl of that to supplement the fruits and vegetables.

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I'll try and make big batches of stuff on the weekend to bring during the week. Soups/Stews. Curry. Grain Salads. My work provides free fruit and free coffee.

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My lunch: Either a smallish leftover piece of meat or cheeses and deli meats, plus fresh cut-up veggies or a salad. I keep a small digital scale in my desk so that when I have salad I can measure a precise amount of dressing onto it to control the calories. I do poorly about getting fruit into my diet.

Here in southern California there are some reasonably healthy meals available drive-through but I still mostly brown-bag it simply to make my money go farther. Because of my commute I choose to only take a 1/2 hour lunch break which pretty much kills going somewhere for a sit-down lunch.

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We are both retired from outside jobs and so this is not a problem for us. Both brown-bagged it in the midst of others paying for lunches. Son Ken has always brown bagged it, again in the midst of the larger paying crew.

What floored and dismayed me in the extreme: we used to stay in a quiet motel in Utah with a small kitchenette and I would make us a salad or something similar every day which we would eat sitting at a picnic table under the ramada. The next table was the motel cleaning staff with their young children eating from Taco Bell or McDonald's or some other chain, everyday. I was gobsmacked. And saddened.

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I work at home at the moment, so lunch isn't really an issue, but when I was in college and had a long day on campus I started packing a lunch. I was one of the few people who did, but the on campus and nearby offerings were pretty uninspiring and there's only so much fried-whatever I can convince myself to eat in a week. Oddly, no one seemed to think it was that weird. A few people asked about it but it was more 'what did you bring?' than 'omg, you brought lunch?'

Usually it was something involving leftovers from a recent meal - I tended to try not to take leftovers from the night before all the time just because that gets boring ("oh, meatloaf again!") but with a day's break in between or if the leftovers could be easily prepared into something else (like using previously cooked meat on a salad instead of just having it again as is) then that worked out well. I also tried to put away some stuff specifically for taking for lunch, so if I really didn't feel like taking leftovers I had options.

Westernized Bento blogs tended to be quite good for ideas along those lines, stuff that freezes well for use in a packed meal and how to freeze it in sensible portion sizes. Reusable silicone cupcake liners come in very handy there - if I made anything at any point that would freeze and defrost well and taste good cold/room temp (no microwave access) then I'd intentionally make a little extra and immediately put it in the freezer in little cupcake cups, then pop it out when it was frozen and keep the little frozen 'pucks' in a freezer bag. When I wanted to take one or two - pull them out, put them in the cupcake liners to pack amongst whatever else I was taking, done. (If it was something that'd defrost quickly, that is - stuff that took longer to defrost I'd put in the fridge in the liners the night before, so I didn't risk ending up with a still frozen lump when I was ready to eat.)

For keeping stuff cold I had an insulated bag, but I tried to avoid using reusable ice packs just so I didn't have to lug them around all day and remember to re-freeze them. Mostly I'd use something like a frozen bottle of water - not usually defrosted by meal time, but drinkable a bit later on when it was refreshing to have a cold drink. The Westernized bento blogs had some ideas for other stuff, if I remember right, but the water bottle was the easiest solution for me.

(I feel like I should add that I'm not really a sandwich person - I know people who can happily eat a sandwich every day for lunch, but I get bored with them pretty quickly. So that probably made packing my lunch a little more complicated than it might have otherwise been since I was trying to find non-sandwich items that would pack and travel well.)

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Okay, just a dopey anecdote about my husband, who went beyond brown bagging in his frugality. He works from home now, but for the nearly 35 years we've been together, he religiously took his lunch, and yes, in a generic brown bag--which he brought home and reused. Lunch was always 2 sandwiches per day and fruit, cookies if we had 'em. One was typically PB & J, the other turkey or lunch meat with tomato and lettuce and the occasionally exciting tuna or egg salad. Many of his colleagues at the newspaper did the same. If he was invited out for lunch, which was not very often, he would bring home the full lunch bag, throw it in the fridge and, you guessed it, take it the next day. I thought it was disgusting, but in his defense, instead of being a martyr about having to eat a soggy miserable 30-hrs-old sandwich he was simply pleased that he didn't have to make lunch the next day.

Our daughter also took her lunch every day K-12 (those were the days when peanut butter was allowed in the schools and no one heard of bento boxes for kids.) We all ate toast for breakfast, so there were a lot of years when I was buying a large loaf of bread a day. I've probably eaten just about every kind of bread baked locally in the East Bay. My daughter must have had a reputation for consistent lunches, because during elementary school there was a friend's mom who once in a while was nervy enough to call me at 8 am and, cutting to the chase with no apology, would say "We don't have any bread, can you make an extra sandwich for Zoe?"

Okay, so two anecdotes.

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I try to bring lunch to work but often I just forget. When I do remember it's always leftovers. Something like a vegetable soup (a cold soup in summer) plus roast chicken or a pasta dish is pretty typical. My husband is not a fan of leftovers and I am very happy to have them for lunch, so this system works well for us!

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I simply do not have time to go out for lunch when I'm at work. So I bring lunch most of the time. Leftover if there are any. Or I make a large batch of soup or stew on the weekends during colder seasons. Pasta/tuna/couscous type salads during warmer seasons.

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Due to health considerations and to make sure the husband has food to eat when he has wall to wall meetings we have brown bagged for the 30+ years we have been married. I just packed our lunches/breakfast/possible dinners and they are:

Him

turkey sandwich on flat bread with guacamole and lettuce

peach kucken

watermelon

noodles with leftover meatloaf and brown gravy

handful of pretzel sticks

Me

toasted rye bread

tomato slices with Cain's mayo on the side

watermelon

key lime yoghurt with raspberries

piece of cheddar cheese

for tomorrow there are another piece of peach cake and a mini blueberry tartlet for him and cottage cheese with cantaloupe for me... and a container of Grainberry brownies for the hawkwatch.

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Leftovers for sure, sometimes cheese and crackers, occasionally something that I've made a batch of and frozen - like soup or stew. Sometimes I'll take the ingredients for a salad.

Sometimes I might take the fixings for something like guacamole if I find a bunch of avocados in the clearance bin - then I'll make a batch and share with the staff.

Tonight it's leftover steak.

Fridays though I work somewhere else until noon or so and invariably don't take a lunch - I usually stop at the chinese BBQ and get a bit of roast pork and enjoy the crispy skin while I drive.

Edited to correct poor punctuation!


Edited by Kerry Beal (log)

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It's rare that I have leftovers to bring for lunch (usually on Mondays...) but the other benefit is that I actually look forward to lunch when I know I have something tasty waiting in the fridge. Especially on a nasty, rainy day.

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I decided to bring my own lunch the day the canteen decided to serve:

protein - beans. Just beans.

carb - boiled rice

vegetable - roast potato

salad - pasta salad in mayo

dessert - rice pudding

side - bread roll

I realised the caterers were totally mad and that I would become fat, vitamin deficient and very very bored if I allowed them to feed me.

Now I make myself a salad and take whatever is left over from the previous evening plus various snacks like nuts, fruit, dried fruit, small vegetables.


Edited by Plantes Vertes (log)

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they made good sandwiches at my work (when i still worked) or we went out, I don't think I brought something in once. Never felt like getting in the microwave line and don't eat much for lunch anyway, if anything at all. Of course, had we not had the three lunch ladies making things more or less fresh and acceptably good (and at low cost, company paid half) I'd probably bring sandwiches with me, the microwave line still would not appeal to me.
But we also had lots of good ethnic restaurants with good lunch deals very close by, and it's always nice to get away completely IMO

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I decided to bring my own lunch the day the canteen decided to serve:

protein - beans. Just beans.

carb - boiled rice

vegetable - roast potato

salad - pasta salad in mayo

dessert - rice pudding

side - bread roll

I realised the caterers were totally mad and that I would become fat, vitamin deficient and very very bored if I allowed them to feed me.

Now I make myself a salad and take whatever is left over from the previous evening plus various snacks like nuts, fruit, dried fruit, small vegetables.

Before her offices moved the cafeteria that served where my mom worked put cheese in EVERYTHING. She's lactose intolerant. She did a lot of brown bagging it, as it were. For days when she didn't have time to pack something up or didn't have anything appealing in the fridge she'd buy a stash of tolerable microwave meals when they were on sale and keep them in the freezer.

(Seriously, everything. Crab cakes, EVERYTHING. My best guess is they were getting cheese cheaply and using it to bump up the protein/fat content of other stuff?)

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Yes i do always. I bring Indian food along with some fruits with me. I eat the food first then after a gap of some 2 hours eat fruits like Apple, Peach, Papaya or Watermelon..

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I used to take a packed lunch with me to work. I had usually eaten it by 9:30, then went out to a local sandwich place for a replacement.

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I almost always "brown bag," although I use an insulated lunch box with an ice pack. Work fridges are often full or have a lingering smell...I also bring breakfast, too (a frozen breakfast sandwich unless I've made a quiche or something instead). Today's lunch is just salad with 2 hard boiled eggs, and a bag of chips. There's a yogurt in there for later (TJs mango). Oh, and a piece of chocolate cake. :) Sometimes I go for a salad, usually it's leftovers, though. Occasionally a sandwich. My quirk to a sandwich is I make it on toast, but then I heat it up just a little bit in the microwave. If it's too cold, it's not very enjoyable.

There is a cafeteria on site, but it's a few blocks away, and I'd rather go for a walk after I eat instead, especially since it's not very good, and doesn't seem to be particularly subsidized. Somehow, I always eat something that's not so good for me when I go there, like a cheesesteak, so it's better if I just take my own.

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One of my absolute favorite subjects, which started out as a financial challenge and turned into a passion. It is kind of like a hobby now. Today, I have homemade white bread and tomatoes from my garden. I like to make sandwiches a la minute at may desk.

I have many favorites and even some routines. For example, I will truss and roast a chicken on Sundays for a chicken dinner and then chicken sandwiches maybe one or two days at work and then into the pot for soup (made a pot of red last night, some tomatoes, beans, a little pasta and even the last of the kimchi in the fridge). The night before I will portion out a serving into a small pot and keep it in the fridge and put it on the stove to heat while I shower and put in a thermos to bring to work.

Sometimes I put some frozen dumplings or a few slices of roast pork, some dried tree ear mushrooms, some sliced bok choy and some beef base paste along with a nest of dried oriental noodles and chopped green onions into a quart container. The take-out soup containers work great. At lunch I will fill it with hot water available for tea drinkers and let it steep a bit for a ramen like experience.

As the economy suffered my company cut back on just about everything (raises included) and the once thriving cafeteria slowly went down hill, until finally the contractor refused to return. Now we have "The Market Place" a group of vending machines and microwaves that some people treat with a business as usual attitude. To some, the idea of packing a lunch is just not in the cards. I find that strange, indeed.

HC


Edited by HungryChris (log)

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I basically live in my kitchen. When I remember to eat lunch, it's normally a bakery failure - exploded empanada, piece of cake failure; if I actually think about it, I might have a cuppa noodles type thing with a chicken sausage in it (viz the Lunch thread) instead of the exploded emp.

When I was going to school, I brown-bagged it with leftovers. Nobody in my faculty found it at all strange.

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... exploded empanada, ..

I have a happy memory of discovering empanadas while on a business trip to Venezuela in 1987. Exploded or not - what a great lunch item.

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In NYC, I am sure other cities also, there are many Korean salad bars. They have 40 to 50 things you can pick from, quite good and reasonably priced.

In India and the Far East, there is culture of pre-made lunches delivered to your office. Not take-out lunches from a restaurant. You eat what they deliver, no choices..

dcarch


Edited by dcarch (log)

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Just made for lunch:

2 gefilte fish with horseradish

raw carrots

raw radishes

I was really in the mood for gefilte fish after the Jewish holidays....I can supplement this with a salad or soup from the cafe at work.

Lucy

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I usually bake some kind of sandwich bread, usually a Pullman, and since I'm the only one eating it I slice it, wrap it well, and then freeze the slices. So just about every morning I'll take out two slices of bread and either make some sort of filling at home (PB & J, tuna, cheese, whatever) or I'll buy a scoop of egg salad or tuna fish from the "Gourmet" supermarket in my work building and make a sandwich with that. It's usually pretty lackluster, I need to think of better fillings.

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