Ask LH: How Can I Upgrade My Work Lunch?

Ask LH: How Can I Upgrade My Work Lunch?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m trying to save money by bringing my lunch to work, but I’m already sick of the same old sandwiches. Is there something I can do to get out of this rut and make supply my own lunch actually work for me? Thanks, Blandwich

Dear Blandwich,

Packing your own lunch is a smart move — you save money and can eat healthier food than you will if you buy lunch every workday. However, as you’ve discovered, the routine can get boring if you just make the same sandwich every day. Let’s look at some strategies to vary things up.

Rethink Your Notion Of Lunch

Homemade lunches don’t have to be the bland, practical stuff of your schooldays. They can be gourmet creations. By using the best ingredients and adding a variety of flavours and textures to your lunch, you can come up with a meal that’s more satisfying than anything you might pay money for. Think of it as a creative challenge — one you get to fully enjoy at lunchtime.

Check Your Workplace Options

Most larger workplaces have a kitchen. If you have a microwave, you can reheat leftovers from home easily, or quickly steam vegetables. Check out our 70 cent office lunch for a vegetable-heavy option you can make in advance and heat on the day. Even if all your workplace has is an urn or a kettle, you can easily make couscous or instant noodles — just add vegetables and spices for a more flavoursome and textured experience.

No kitchen or access to a microwave at work? Many foods are still delicious at room temperature or cold, such as barley and mushroom pilaf, cold soups, and that old standby, pizza.

Break Out Of The Sandwich Mould


Adding more variety to your lunches is easier if you think beyond the two-slices-of-bread-and-some-filling template. Think ethnic options (burritos and wraps you can make and freeze yourself, chicken satay, Mediterranean pita pockets); picnic-style foods (chicken drumsticks and crackers and cheese); and salad variations (such as orzo, quinoa or pasta salads).

Sandwiches are a lunch staple because they’re so convenient. You can spice up your sandwiches with a few add-ons or substitutions:

  • Consider adding pre-cooked bacon, fresh herbs, pickles, or lemony mayo.
  • Replace regular bread slices with a tortilla wrap or even just use lettuce

If you’re sticking with sandwiches, set a schedule so you’re not eating the same thing every day. Planning your meals is crucial to saving money, and it also helps avoid repetition.

Overcome Common Lunch Hurdles

Content aside, getting lunch actually produced can be a common problem. Don’t feel like you have enough time to make lunch? Plan to have leftovers and make them for your lunch. Roast a chicken for dinner and slice up some for tomorrow. You can also prepare your lunches in bulk ahead of time (with a salad in a jar that stays fresh for days).

Spending $10 a day for lunch might seem an easier solution, but over the course of a 48-week working year, that adds up to $2400. You can feed yourself better for a fraction of that, so it’s worth the effort.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • i like variety…there’s a park down the rd from work… so me and some of the girls got together and had a picnic…
    we all bought something… so it wasn’t boring, but it also promoted being more creative with our lunches (no-one wanted to be boring)
    we now do this once a week… it’s fun!

  • Me and my girlfriend always cook a main meal eat the night before and then eat it at work for lunch the next day. This way you have the rest of the day to burn the calories off, then have a small meal in the evening.

  • So many options available if you keep an open mind!

    Here at our little business (Univex Software) we came up with some decent quick lunches:

    Without a microwave try just pita bread, dips, cheese, stuffed vine leaves, etc. Think ploughman’s lunch with components you normally like when eating out.

    If you have a microwave, leftovers are great but also try asian noodles: bring in a few bits of asian greens (choy sum etc) and sliced up deli meat (beef, pork, etc) to give it more substance.

    Some of the packet rice dishes from the supermarket are good, especially Moroccan couscous. Again add some warmed up chickenor vegies to make it a decent meal. Roast chook from the supermarket is cheap, easy, has different textures, and lasts a few meals.

    The supermarket chicken is also great on its own or put the meat in a roll with cheese, lettuce and other salad bits for a chicken roll or wrap.

    If you have a sandwich press and don’t mind a bit of assembly try a Quesadilla: pita or tortilla, put inside cheese and meat (chicken great, but sliced beef from deli will do) and heat it up. Top with salsa from a jar, a chopped up tomoato, avocado (fresh or the dip is fine), maybe some jalapenos from a jar as well. Takes less than 5 minutes to make and tastes amazing.

    If you have a toaster oven the options open up a lot: think pies (microwave for 3 mins then heat in oven to crisp up), also crumbed chicken strips from the supermarket fridge or deli, turkish bread (filled or with dips), foccacia, etc.

    Rice paper rolls are also good. If you don’t have time to make them at work you can do them at home in fairly quick time. Bring dipping sauce and you have a great lunch that everyone will be envious of!

    A packed lunch is convenient but we found spending a few minutes away from your desk assembling a lunch can really help break the day and energise you for the afternoon.

  • Anything you can make heaps of works! Things like noodles or pasta are great… and if you cook the same amount you would normally, and then leave enough for lunch you’ll end up eating less at dinner, so you get the additional benefit of weight loss (if you need it). Worked a treat for me.

  • I recently mastered poached eggs in the microwave and my office lunches have vastly improved. You get a bowl (big enough to have a least 2 inches of water), fill it with hot water from the urn, crack in an egg, microwave for 1 minute. Perfect runny eggs. grilling things on the sandwich press is also good – bacon, mini hamburger patties, zucchini, chorizo, cooked pumpkin…

  • The trick is to batch preparation so that it doesn’t get annoying. Grill a bunch of chicken or fish fillets some Sunday. Create your own frozen dinners by letting them cool then boxing them up in microwave safe containers with a handful of frozen veg from one of those bags of random mixed veg. If you want, add a fancy fresh-baked breadroll from a nearby bakery you pass on the way to work (I don’t need the kilojoules, so I skip that.). When ready to eat, combine with a sauce of your choice. Not as cheap as a sandwich, but still half the cost of eating out.. You can make a dozen (good for every other day for a month) in about an hour, not including shopping for the ingredients. Having several different bags of mixed veg, and many different sauces keeps it from feeling like you’re eating the same thing. In a pinch, slice up the fillet, add half a pack of cooked ramen, and voila, noodle dish.

  • I make things like spaghetti bolgonese, beef stroganoff, chicken curry and rice, etc for dinner on a Sunday night, and this makes 4 portions. So 1 portion is my dinner, and 3 portions go into microwavable containers. 1 of those goes into the fridge for the Monday lunch, the other 2 into the freezer for later in the week. You can freeze pasta or rice and reheat it in a microwave and it still tastes great. That leaves 2 days a week where I either buy lunch, or bring in leftovers from the previous night.

  • What I do for my kids lunches is steam a chicken breast in the rice cooker with lots of herbs and spices. I use it on sandwiches but there is no reason you can’t have it cold with some salad or the like. A $10 steamer does the trick and the kids have enjoyed their lunches ever since.

  • two ideas i would like to put forward are bento boxes and long life noodles

    bento is a good idea in the traditional sense but works well with western ingredient as well. stick the rice in your rice cooker($13 at bigw) put your veggies in the microwave to steam. go do your morning shave/shower/ make up, get your rice and veggies in a container add some leftover chicken/beef /pork/sausages/egg or can of sliced tuna/salmon, add herbs spices or sauces as you like. also you can use your rice cooker for hands off risotto and pilafs for winter lunches

    long life noodles are similar to 2min noodles and you can cook them with only an urn and patience, but with two main differences. the first is that they are not fried so they low fat and salt. the second difference is that they com with no flavoring packets, bring your own as above for bento

  • If doing rice/pasta meals that you are going to freeze, put the sauce etc in the bottom of your container and the pasta/rice on top. Keeps the carbs from going soggy, and if you are turning out onto a plate, it ends up the right way up!

  • Sandwich presses are awesome, but if you use your imagination they can do some wonderful things. I asked myself one day, what’s the difference between this and a George foreman grill… turns out not a great deal (besides the obvious grill plate itself) and cooked a fairly thick (>1″) steak on it, medium rare…

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