Before I begin complaining about my lunchtime options and habits at my job, I should start by saying that I am seriously grateful for the cafeteria half a mile down the hall (yes, really). It may not be the highest quality food in the world, or contain the largest variety of options for people with dietary restrictions (vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free eaters, that kind of thing). But it is constant, open 24 hours a day, extremely affordable, and nearby.
Commence complaints: I don’t have a place to really eat at work. I eat at my desk every day, and pretty much keep doing science while I’m eating. Yay. The kitchen options available to me are a microwave and a fridge, which is pretty much open season for everyone else in the department unless your food looks disgusting. This does not stop me from bringing leftovers for lunch a couple times a week and labeling them in hopes of them not getting stolen, especially because there’s really only one restaurant nearby, and it’s expensive and they give you everything—including really hot food—in styrofoam containers. And I’ve heard cancer is lame, so I stopped eating there.
Commence happy thoughts: By having such limited options, I realized that the cheapest and realest food generally available to me during lunch comes from the salad bar. Did you know salad is delicious? I don’t mean salads made of iceberg lettuce with ham, shredded “cheese”, and bacon bits, drenched in disgusting ranch dressing. I mean spring greens with brightly colored veggies and olive oil. Oh my goodness! I had no idea such things could be available in cafeterias, but they are in mine.
I know what you’re thinking. (Seriously. It’s crazy how telepathic I am.) “Why don’t you just by all the stuff and make it at home and bring it in every day?” And I could do that. But if I buy “one” of each of the things that I put on my salad at the beginning of each week, I’ll still have a ton of stuff left over. Additionally, I eat probably a pound of mixed greens every day for lunch, so this is generally cost-effective anyway. However, if you are inclined to make your own, these are the ingredients I use, available in almost every grocery store, and chock full of vitamins, minerals, and energy!
(Hint: if you usually eat a really big lunch and then feel drowsy or unmotivated all afternoon, make your salad with a LOT of greens. They are delicious and filling and guess what? Low on carbs. As in, practically none. If you eat a salad comprising the ingredients listed below in any combination (other than 90% cheese) until you are completely stuffed, you will still have consumed a perfectly healthy-sized meal.)
My work lunch salad
mixed spring greens (I told you it was a good cafeteria)
red onions (antioxidants!)
1 sliced hard-boiled egg
Optional: Slice of thick, crusty bread (like sourdough or farmbread) w/ olive oil for dipping.
Step 1: Combine whatever vegetables you want into the container you would like to eat out of.
Step 2: Right before beginning to put salad in your mouth, add olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Neither of these things need to be refrigerated, so you can just keep them in your locker/desk drawer!
Step 3: Eat salad. Feel more awake and happy in the afternoon than you would if you’d eaten a baked potato covered in nacho cheese sauce and bacon bits with a side of french fries or a hamburger.
If you eat the bread (I find crunchy unprocessed bread really delicious, and olive oil is way better for you than butter, and the combo of the two tastes really good), you should be good to go until dinner. If you’re a day-long grazer, skip the bread or eat it later.
So that’s my standard lunch. There are so many different flavors that it rarely gets old, although sometimes I switch up the veggies depending on what’s in season. (I’m not harboring any misconceptions about the fact that my enormous cafeteria which serves thousands of people every day gets their vegetables from anywhere even close to here; that could be a good reason to switch to making my own in the future.) Basically, what I’m saying is, if I were stuck on a desert island (that somehow grew all of these ingredients) and I could only eat one thing every day for the rest of my life, this would be a contender.
What’s your favorite lunch made of real food?