I got a question from a reader named EG in the MQP mailbox last week, and the topic is a pretty universal one: what to pack for lunch? EG writes:
My husband is on the go a lot and doesn’t have time to wash and bentch for lunch. He’s taken to bringing in grains and legumes for lunch, i.e. rice, bulgar, pasta, lentils — but I’d like to make it more interesting for him.
Do you have ideas for sauces or stews or — I don’t know, anything! — that I could put on top of this stuff? Most of the time he’ll be eating it cold, but he’s easygoing about it.
First of all, it sounds like you’ve already got a great start. Grain and legume salads make a good base for any meal, and they can often be eaten cold (especially if, like your husband, the person isn’t picky about temperature).
1. To spruce up a grain, prepare 1-2 vegetables (saute, roast, or just chop) and mix those in, along with an extra add-in that you have on hand such as toasted seeds or nuts, chopped fresh herbs, or cheese. Tie it all together with a simple dressing made from olive or sesame oil + lemon juice or a vinegar + salt and pepper to taste. Keep it as simple as you like — I made a pearl barely salad a little while back that had just chopped hard-boiled egg, celery leaves, and olive oil/lemon juice dressing, and it was really nice.
- Quinoa corn salad
- Roasted vegetable wheat berry salad
- Roasted vegetable barley salad
- Creamy mushroom barley pilaf
- Lentil vegetable medley
- Sesame noodles
- Thai sesame noodles
- Peanut noodle salad
2. Fritters, Burgers, and Patties
The disadvantage to making burgers is that they require the extra step of pan-frying, whereas with a grain salad, once you’ve mixed everything together, you’re done. But the advantage is that many things in the fritter family freeze well. Take the time to make a double or triple batch of your favorites, and all you’ll need to do is warm them up before sending them out for the day. (You can warm up enough for several days and just keep the extras in the fridge.)
To finish up a pattie-based lunch without using bread, include a serving of couscous with a light drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and an easy vegetable, like cherry tomatoes.
- Red lentil feta burgers
- Tuna rice patties
- Tuna croquettes
- Salmon burgers
- Ultimate veggie slider
- Quinoa corn patties
- Homemade corn schnitzel
- Mom’s salmon loaf (not a patty, but same idea)
3. Dips & Spreads
When you don’t want to wash for lunch, you can use sandwich spreads in other ways. Pack a container of a homemade dip or spread with a bag of veggie sticks instead. Chummus, eggplant salads, guacamole, egg salad, and tuna are all good choices. Add rice cakes or crackers, a piece of fruit, and a muffin to round out the meal. Or three muffins…you know your audience.
- Classic chummus
- Pumpkin chummus
- Olive chummus
- White bean dip
- Creamy roasted garlic dip
- Mustard aioli (also great with fish patties)
- Roasted eggplant dip
Now it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite lunches to take or pack for your spouse? Leave your ideas in the comments below!
- Previously, in Reader Q&A: Cooking (and eating) well without lots of time
- One year ago: Easy homemade ketchup
- Two years ago: Crispy salted oatmeal cookies