Sad desk lunch: that depressing meal that you either slaved over, remembered to pack, and brought to work but has 0 flavor, or that $15 salad from the deli around the corner that lacks fresh ingredients but somehow got more and more expensive with every shred of carrot added to it. Either way, it is something you’re consuming while still at your desk, typing with one hand, forking food into your mouth with the other, realizing that this is not what meal time should be like. Lunch should be something you look forward to. It should be a mini escape from your work day, an oasis of flavor and delicious ingredients, and give you energy for the rest of your day ahead. We’ve all had sad desk lunches, but I am here to help make sure we put an end to this. As requested by many of you, I’ve rounded up some of my all time favorite lunches to meal prep. My go-to staples for a BYO lunch to bring excitement back to this meal!
Soups & Stews
Meat Chili: When the temperature starts to drop, my kitchen immediately transforms into a vessel for comforting, warm, rib lining meals that you want to have encompass you in a big open armed bear hug. That is how I feel about chili. When I enjoy a good bowl of chili my mind goes to a winter day on a comfy couch by a fireplace wrapped in a cozy blanket watching a football game. If that doesn’t sound like an extremely glorious Sunday to you, then we have different ideas of relaxation and comfort. Not only does this chili provide the ability to suddenly transport you to a different place, much better than the desk you may be eating this at for lunch, but it is extremely easy to make. And I’m not just saying that; this meal is sincerely stupid easy. I would stretch to even say it is the easiest thing that has ever been, or ever will be, featured on my blog. If you have an instant pot or slow cooker meal you are in luck because this baby is a dump and cook meal that requires the simple effort of pushing a button. It is a serious crowd pleaser and one of my Sunday meal prep staples as I am able to put everything in the machine, push a button, and get on with cooking my other meals. Plus, in my honest opinion, chili is one of the few foods that actually tastes better the next day once all of the flavors have combined and the sauce has thickened.
Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup: Soup is good for the soul, there is no denying that. But why, I often ask myself, do I so frequently forget about its incredibly effortless ability to prep and absolute deliciousness? I’m not sure why soup isn’t a part of my meal prep more often, but this one right here is definitely going to be in the mix going forward. The warming spices of the curry with the thickness form the squash and coconut milk make this the perfect fall or winter staple. Plus, since one cup of soup isn’t usually enough food for me to be considered a meal, the hearty rice base rounds this dish out to the perfect lunch (or dinner side). Dairy and gluten free, vegan, and whole30/paleo approved. This soup really covers just about everyone!
Mexican Turkey Chili: Personally, I’m a beef chili person, but when I had so many people ask me whether they could replace the beef with ground turkey in my meat chili recipe (which, yes, you can), I decided it was time to create a new chili recipe for this poultry lovers. In my mind, the a chili with beef deserves to be hearty and simple; hence the minimal ingredients and the doubled beans included in the recipe. However, I decided to amp up the flavor and ingredients for the turkey chili and decided to go a Mexican route, throwing in some canned corn and green chili peppers. Although the recipes may be differ, I promise you, it is still just as easy of a meal to make.
Chicken Vegetable Instant Pot Soup: If you’re like my family, as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over everyone immediately grabs a Tupperware and begins fitting as much food as possible into their dedicated “leftovers bin”; fighting for that last bite of stuffing or spoonful of sweet potato casserole. This year, I made it easy for the rest of my family, and took myself out of the fight declaring I only wanted to take one thing home, something that absolutely no one else was eyeing: the turkey carcass. Yep, that’s right, I wanted the bones. So much so, that I even traveled back to NYC with them in a Ziploc bag (I know, seriously a psycho move). BUT, the week prior I made turkey stock with all of the turkey bones leftover from my Friendsgiving meal and it truly was better than any bone broth I had ever tasted (fully tooting my own horn) and it was garlic & onion free. This is huge for all of my low FODMAP friends out there. So, instead of elbowing my sister over the white turkey meat, I grabbed my bones and headed back to my apartment where my instant pot resided. As expected, the turkey stock turned out magnificently. So tasty, in fact, that I may begin eating turkey instead of chicken just so I can store the bones for my next batch of broth. Either way, I had vats and vats of turkey stock to put to work; one can only fit so many mason jars in her refrigerator. As I felt a cold coming on, I knew what I was prepping for my weekday lunches: homemade chicken vegetable soup. It was insanely easy, cooked itself (not kidding), and is now officially going to be on my meal rotation all winter. Bless you, turkey, for giving me so much to love over the past two weeks.
Whole30 Meat Chili: While (almost) everyone loves chili, people seem to seriously disagree regarding on if its main ingredients: should it, or should it not, include beans. In my world, chili will not only include beans, but it will have 3 different varieties. That being said, I was mind blown to hear that people felt differently. What the heck is chili without beans!? Evidently, it is Whole 30 approved chili. Since chili is a continuing staple in my cooking rotation, I decided to give this counterargument some thought and try this whole sans-bean- chili thing. The worst (or best) part of it all? I hate to say it, but I actually really enjoy this meal. So while I am still “team chili with beans”, I will gladly enjoy this version for the next month.
Salads & Other
Vegetable Ribbon Noodles with Meat Sauce: Let me start right off the bat by saying in no way, whatsoever, is this meal replacing a delicious bowl of gluten and cheese filled spaghetti and meat sauce from your favorite Italian restaurant. Also, before the naysayers come at me about how quickly this meat sauce is made, this is not your grandmother’s Sunday sauce; this is a quick meat marinara sauce that does not take much time but still tastes delicious. Now that we’re on the same page, let me show you how to make a delicious and fast Whole30 approved dinner that you can surprisingly pull together with some potential staples lying around your kitchen (or am I the only one who regularly has zucchini and sweet potatoes on hand and ground beef in my freezer?).
Kale Greek Salad with Chicken Breast: Whenever I hear “sad desk lunch” my mind immediately goes to salads. For most people, they’re just not exciting. Listen, I get it. Salads aren’t everyone’s favorite thing nor something most people look forward to. But, this is a salad that almost everyone enjoys (unless you’re like my mom and hate Feta… in that case, sorry!) and won’t leave you with that post lunch at your desk depression of missing the outside world and a real meal. An easy staple to batch-cook on a Sunday to pack for your week ahead all with minimal ingredients & time spent in the kitchen. A win-win!
Veggie Pasta Salad: Why is pasta salad totally the overlooked “step-sister” of a BBQ spread? For some reason, it is a dish I am constantly passing by and never craving. When a client recently mentioned how much he loved pasta salad it triggered me into a train of thoughts that came to the realization: pasta salad not only provides us with a way to still enjoy one of everyone’s favorite dishes in the summer without sweating our butts off, but it is freaking delicious, and extremely versatile. So, I naturally got in the kitchen, and got cooking. Safe to say, I will no longer be overlooking this side at summer cookouts.
Kale Fall Salad: As soon as the summer ends and the leaves begin to change colors, my taste buds immediately start screaming, “FALL.” While I can happily have every cinnamon/apple/pumpkin filled breakfast or dessert, I also crave certain fall themed vegetables; butternut squash being one of them. As I continue my journey to put an end to SDL (sad desk lunch), I found myself determined to create a meal the combined some of my favorite fall ingredients. People who complain about salads clearly aren’t using the right ingredients because this salad is anything but sad. Plus, if you’re really feeling crazy, it is even more decadent when topped with a perfectly cooked steak. (Yes, in fact I did bring a salad with steak to my desk and, yes, I like my steak rare; get at me!)
Asian Steak Stir-Fry: When people think of Whole30 they think of lame, boring, sad salads. I get it, I thought the same thing as first. Little do these said negative people know that eating Whole30 compliant meals can actually be pretty freaking delicious. Not only delicious, but easy. This meal is so simple, includes a wide variety of ingredients that are easily interchangeable, and is the perfect meal for a batch cooking session. Cook a huge skillet of this stir-fry on a Sunday night and I promise, your hungry Whole30-doing self will thank you every day afterwards. Whether enjoying at work, while your coworkers eye you with envy mid bite of their sad salad mentioned above, or at night, sans that glass of wine that you crave so badly (sorry, I can’t help you there), it will hit the spot.
Kale Tahini Salad: A few weeks ago I was in Florida with my family and, when I realized we had no lunch plans, I immediately raised my hand to create something delicious for everyone. However, as soon as my hand went up, the sun came out, and I immediately regretted my decision of volunteering to be inside the kitchen during the day (although, I must admit, the idea of driving a car to a nearby suburban Trader Joe’s with extremely wide aisles and a limited line is one of my ongoing daydreams). When I entered the store, I decided that I was going to make the easiest, quickest, and most crowd-pleasing lunch possible. That meant no oven, no stove-top, not even a microwave; this meal had to take me 5 minutes or less. I grabbed a bunch of random ingredients from the produce and pantry aisle and prayed for a successful pairing. I must have had the TJ gods on my side because I have been craving this salad ever since. It is SO easy, so refreshing, and surprisingly filling. A definite new weekday staple in my house.