Culinary Rx: Olive Oil Can Cure the Sad Office Desk Lunch

Collage sad desk lunch olive oil

It’s called the “sad desk lunch” – the point that an estimated 62 percent of American office workers often eat their lunch in the same spot they work all day. The website Food52 has countered with suggestions for how to jazz up the office lunch. We’re joining that effort, having recruited two noted food bloggers.

Let’s face it: There are advantages to brown bagging versus restaurant dining. It’s easier on your wallet. Plus, you get greater control over what you eat.

But let’s get to our two food bloggers: Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella, and Kate Taylor of Cookie + Kate. Below you’ll find their recipes and tips for how to cure the “sad desk lunch.” (You can see our eNewsletter for additional tips and recipes.)

To begin, you can prepare the kind of meal in the photo at the top on the left – pesto carrots and chickpeas with rice – from Naturally Ella. Get the recipe here, plus tips and more recipes.

And get the recipe from Cookie + Kate  for her mason jar chickpea, farro and greens salad, in the top photo on the right – along with other recipes and tips – here .

What are your favorite go-to meal types when it comes to packing a lunch that other people might try?

Naturally Ella: My favorite meal is usually a salad/bowl type meal of whatever I might have sitting in my refrigerator: grains, greens, vegetables, nuts – finished with a simple dressing of oil and lemon juice.

Any salad and the dressing always makes the meal.

Cookie + Kate: I’m a fan of making big batches of hearty bean salads and vegetarian chili that I can enjoy at lunch for a few days. When I’m cooking basic meal components for dinner, like rice and other whole grains, beans or roasted vegetables, I make extra so I can throw together lunches with them during the week.

Are there certain types of dishes that make for great leftovers – and perhaps you can share some with our fans?

Naturally Ella: I’m all about cooking once and getting a few meals worth. Enchiladas, lasagna, lentil curry, and soups (always soups!).

Cookie + Kate: I get particularly excited about leftover Mexican meals! Enchiladas and other casserole-type dishes, like lasagna, reheat well. So do soups, stews, most pasta dishes, stir fries and, of course, pizza.

Here are some recipes that make great leftovers:

Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili with Avocado

Thai Mango Cabbage Wraps (served chilled or at room temperature)

Spicy Kale and Coconut Stir Fry

Brussels Sprouts and Crispy Baked Tofu with Honey-Sesame Glaze

Quick Vegan Chana Masala

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Do you have any tips for how to pep up an ordinary sack lunch – say a salad or something like that?

Naturally Ella: I think the key is variety: Mix it up from day to day. Eat leftovers one day, and then the next take a fresh salad. It keeps lunch interesting.

Cookie + Kate: I used to keep a little shaker of cayenne pepper in my lunch bag, but that’s probably more pep than most people are looking for! I’d suggest keeping a shaker for sea salt and a black pepper grinder in your desk. Good salt and freshly ground pepper go a long way. Maybe some hot sauce, too, if you like spicy food like me. When it comes to salads, I really like to make my own dressings, but it would be easy to make plenty of dressing for the week’s worth of lunch salads. Just store the dressing in the work refrigerator and pull it out as needed.

Do you usually dress any salad you bring with you beforehand – or do you bring it in a separate container for use at lunch?

Naturally Ella: I keep a few small containers specifically for packed salads. I love crisp greens, and dressing the salad right before lunch keeps the greens how I like them.

Cookie + Kate: Unless it’s a kale salad, I store the dressing separately. You don’t necessarily have to store the dressing in a separate little container if you use the mason jar salad method. Just drizzle the amount of dressing that you think you’ll need into a mason jar. Layer your hardier ingredients (like chopped vegetables) on top of the dressing, then add greens last. Keep the jar upright until you’re ready to eat, then toss the salad by shaking the jar.

Do you have any time-saving tips for people who like to pack a lunch but are strapped for time?

Naturally Ella: Sundays and dinners:  If you’re making dinner, throw on a pot of grains to use throughout the week. I’m constantly cooking two to three different meals at a time so that it makes lunches easy.

Cookie + Kate: I’d suggest portioning off dinner leftovers for lunch so they’re ready to go in the morning. I mentioned this earlier, but it’s nice to make a big batch of chili or bean salad and then portion it off into meal-sized servings. So I don’t get bored eating the same thing every day, I like to combine basics like rice, beans, roasted vegetables and greens in different ways. Advanced preparation and portioning are the keys to good packed lunches.

Bon appétit,

Your Friends at California Olive Ranch