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Ingenious lunch ideas to eat at your desk

Say goodbye to store-bought sandwiches and create an enticing feast for your lunch break 

Published: March 2, 2016
Categories: ,

Choosing what to eat for lunch can often be as stressful as office work in itself, buying sandwiches every day is expensive and you can only eat so many Gregg's and Subway's before you need something new.

Making your own lunch can remove a lot of the hassle and not only will you have complete control of the ingredients (good for your waistline) it will cost you less too (good for your wallet).

So make your work mates envious with these ingenious tips and handy recipes.

The tips:

1 Invest in three different sizes of Tupperware. A large one for things like lettuce leaves (which of course shouldn’t be dressed until you are about to eat), a medium-sized one for most lunches eg pasta salads and leftovers. And finally a miniature one for dressings, a squirt of mayonnaise, a sprinkling of nuts – any condiment or packed lunch addition – which can in turn, be nestled inside your bigger containers for double protection against spillages.

2 Keep a DIY seasoning kit of salt, pepper, a mixture of sauces and chilli (or why not try mara seaweed) flakes ready at your desk.

3 Use a thin layer of butter as a sealant on your sandwiches and thoroughly blot and dry any salad to avoid the dreaded sandwich sog.

4 Start simple: you don’t need to get up at 5:30am to enjoy your homemade goods. Be clever and requisition leftovers or pack and bring in the raw ingredients to assemble something basic at work.

5 Don't eat out of your plastic containers, keep a real bowl, plate, glass, and set of silverware at work. Food tastes better when it's presented with appeal, and a fork that won’t snap when you stab a piece of chicken, helps too.

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For an easy, no-prep meal that nonetheless feels like a special treat, bring in slices of good hard salami, some decent cheeses (why not try Arran cheese's delicious range - how does smoked garlic cheese sound?), and a hunk of baguette. Effortless and delicious.

7 Instead of a lunch box why not try a Japanese-style bento box? Take it a step further and make your own onigiri (rice balls) or sushi.

The Chef's advice

According to chef Neil Forbes, of New Town restaurant Cafe St Honore, forward planning and imagination could help not only drag us away from the computer for vital break time, but make lunch a far more enjoyable experience.

“The recession has seen the number of people eating out at lunchtime dropping a bit,” he agrees. “But people don’t have to sit at their desk eating a boring filled roll.

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“Most workplaces will have a microwave or a hob to heat up the potatoes or veg leftovers from dinner the night before.

“It could become a workplace challenge to see who can make the best lunch – and get them away from their desks for a bit.”

Ingredients prepped the night before could become frittata or omelette using an office microwave, he says.

“If there’s a toastie machine, take in a baguette, drizzle with cold pressed rapeseed oil, rub it with some garlic and throw in some Clyde Valley tomatoes and red onion for the perfect bruschetta,” he adds.

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“A packed lunch doesn’t have to be the same boring thing every day. Something like escabeche is lovely: sliced carrots, onions, crushed coriander and saffron with oily fish like mackerel, red mullet or sardines submerged in cold pressed rape seed oil, seasoned and left to ‘cook’, is a wonderful lunch dish. You can eat it either hot or cold with some crusty bread.”

A tastier option in the lunchbox could tempt workers to venture to a more pleasant setting to eat it, rather than in front of their computer, he adds.

“Tarts, flans and quiches are all easy to make and taste delicious, and if you finish it off by going outside for a walk, it’s even better.”

The recipes:

Faux Pho


Picture: contributed

Wonderfully aromatic and light, this is a soup to both soothe and lift the spirits with all the essential flavours of pho and not so much of the faffing around. If you are in the lucky position of having leftovers from a whole roast chicken then you could make your own stock for this, but shop-bought or a stock cube workes just fine. You’ll need to have a few utensils waiting for you at your desk: a clean pair of scissors, a bowl, chopsticks and a spoon.

Makes 1 serving


• 2 spring onions, finely chopped and washed

• 450ml weak chicken stock

• Very small splash of fish sauce

• 1/2 lime

• Handful of mint, leaves picked and washed

• Handful of coriander, leaves picked and washed

• Handful of basil, washed and leaves torn

• Large handful of leftover chicken, roughly pulled into pieces

• 1 portion of rice noodles

• 1/2 red chilli

• Srichacha chilli sauce (optional)

1 In the morning: Fill your kettle and put it on to boil (this way you can enjoy a cup of tea while making lunch).

2 Add the chopped spring onions to a non-stick pan on a low heat, and cook until they start to colour. Put the stock in a pan on a medium heat, adding the fish sauce and the juice of a quarter of the lime. You want to heat it until just before it begins to boil so while it is heating prepare your herbs and place in a container.

3 Place the chicken in a separate container or wrap in a small piece of foil. Place the rice noodles in a large heatproof bowl, and pour over the boiling water from the kettle. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave for three minutes. Remove the spring onions from the heat and wrap in a small piece of foil. The stock should now be simmering, so turn off the heat and empty into your thermos. Drain the noodles in a colander, shaking vigorously to get rid of any excess water and place in a Tupperware.

4 Come lunchtime: Find yourself a nice spot; this soup goes well with some quiet reflection. Carefully decant your hot stock into a bowl, then add the noodles, chicken and herbs. Lastly, using your scissors, snip the chilli into the bowl, and squeeze the remaining quarter of lime juice generously. A squirt of chilli sauce can be nice.

Falafel with yoghurt, aubergine and red cabbage salad

Picture: contributed

Picture: contributed

The best falafels we have tasted so far are from L’As du Fallafel on Rue des Rosiers in Paris. This recipe is an homage to them. This dish is all in the careful packing, and assembly at work. You can make everything the night before, but be sure to keep the dressing in the fridge.

Makes 1 generous serving

• 1 aubergine

• 2tbsp olive oil

• 6 falafels

• ⅛ red cabbage

• 3cm of cucumber

• ¼ red onion

• 4-5 cherry tomatoes, halved

• Pitta or flatbread

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the yoghurt dressing:

• 4tbsp natural yoghurt

• Juice of ½ lime

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• 1tbsp any chopped fresh green herb


1 The night before: Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas Mark 5. Chop your aubergine up into 3cm chunks and lay on a roasting tray. Drizzle over the olive oil and the salt and pepper and roast for 35 minutes or until golden and squishy. Ten minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the falafels to the oven dish. When the time is up, leave to cool on the counter under some tin foil.

2 In the morning: Grate the cabbage into ribbons, the finer the better. Cut or grate the cucumber into small pieces. Finely chop the onion.

3 Add to your designated container along with the cherry tomatoes, cooled falafel and aubergines. To prepare the dressing, simply mix all of the ingredients together in a small jam jar or Tupperware. Lightly toast your pitta or flatbread and pack separately, in foil or a brown paper bag. Keeping this dish at room temperature for a few hours until lunchtime is fine.

4 Come lunchtime: Open the pitta, or lay out the flatbread. Give your ingredients a good stir before spooning over your pitta or flatbread. Drizzle over the yoghurt dressing along with some chilli sauce if you keep any at the office.


• The Little Book of Lunch: Recipes and Ideas for the Office Packed Lunch is out now, £15, Square Peg.

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