LUNCHTIME CHEAT­ING AND EASY EAT­ING

Emily Price has tricks to spruce up your mid­day meal

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

Given that many of us reg­u­larly put in up­wards of nine hours a day at work – be that in an of­fice or else­where – our lunch, and in­deed lunch breaks, of­ten don’t re­ceive the re­spect they de­serve. We all know we should pause around mid­day, move away from our desks and switch the scenery in or­der to re­turn re­freshed for the af­ter­noon, yet when dead­lines loom, in­boxes threaten to over­fill and stress lev­els rise, those good in­ten­tions of­ten go out the win­dow. Sim­i­larly, while we all know that bring­ing in a home­made lunch filled with fresh in­gre­di­ents makes sense not just fi­nan­cially, but from a healthy eat­ing per­spec­tive, it’s easy for this to slip down the pri­or­ity list.

One way to put a real claim on that time of day is to spend it eat­ing some­thing gen­uinely en­joy­able, away from your desk. Now we’re not go­ing to pre­tend that mak­ing your own packed lunch is as ef­fort­less as call­ing the near­est take­away joint or plac­ing a de­liv­ery or­der on­line. Nor are we sug­gest­ing that you have to do so every sin­gle day. But if you get into the habit of putting a bit of ef­fort into plan­ning your lunch a few days a week, you’ll reap the ben­e­fits in terms of health and bud­get, and your mid­day break will be­come some­thing to rel­ish, rather than rush through.

The fol­low­ing ideas are in­tended to be re­al­is­tic. We un­der­stand that on a Saturday night or Sun­day morn­ing, when you’re well rested post-week­end, you’re more likely to spend a bit of time pre­par­ing a salad jar from scratch than you will be a few work­ing days later.

Fur­ther into the week, when lunch fa­tigue may be kick­ing in (but you’ve still got the mo­ti­va­tion to do a lit­tle prep) left­overs should be your first port of call. Pretty much any evening meal can yield fod­der for the next day, the trick lies in re­fash­ion­ing it slightly so that you still end up with some­thing to look for­ward to rather than a mid­day meal to en­dure.

The ad­di­tion of an in­gre­di­ent or two can freshen things up no end by bring­ing new flavours and tex­tures to the party. Salad pizza – es­sen­tially cold pizza topped with salad leaves tossed mo­ments be­fore in a punchy dress­ing – is a tasty start­ing point, while items such as tarts, quiches and pies ben­e­fit from be­ing sprin­kled with a lib­eral amount of salty feta, a scat­ter­ing of fresh herbs and a few nuts for crunch. Ex­tra cooked rice, quinoa, cous­cous, bul­gur wheat and pearl bar­ley are fan­tas­tic for form­ing the base of a grain bowl that will hap­pily ac­com­mo­date bits and pieces from your fridge: nubs of cheese, scraps of cooked meat or fish, fruit and veg­eta­bles, and sauces that need us­ing up. Sal­ads are, of course, an­other packed lunch sta­ple but for the best (and tasti­est) re­sults, use ro­bust greens such as kale, chard, shred­ded cab­bage and fen­nel in­stead of prone-to-wilt­ing del­i­cate leaves. In ad­di­tion, if you take the dress­ing to work in a sep­a­rate con­tainer and driz­zle it over your salad a few min­utes, rather than sev­eral hours, be­fore tuck­ing in, the dif­fer­ence in en­joy­ment level will be huge.

So what hap­pens when, de­spite all the best in­ten­tions, you end up at work sans lunch? Well, hold off plac­ing a de­liv­ery or­der for a while and stage a con­ve­nience store raid in­stead. Most of us will have a small gro­cery or cor­ner shop close to our of­fices and a quick for­age through those jam-packed aisles can yield sat­is­fy­ing re­sults. You’ll find ideas be­low.

Key to mak­ing this sort of meal sing, and for pep­ping up any lack­lus­tre of­fer­ings on the days when you do suc­cumb to the lure of the take­away, is hav­ing ac­cess to an at-work condi­ment col­lec­tion. Stash a few sta­ple items in your desk drawer (be­ing cool and dark, it’s the per­fect stor­age space) and you’ll be able to trans­form the mun­dane and po­ten­tially dis­ap­point­ing into so much more.

Condi­ment drawer es­sen­tials Sea salt flakes and a black pep­per mill

It sounds ob­vi­ous and, yes, there’s prob­a­bly sa­chet upon sa­chet of pow­dered salt and pep­per in the of­fice kitchen, but there’s re­ally noth­ing to match a scat­ter­ing of proper sea salt flakes and freshly-ground black pep­per on your lunchtime meal.

Hot sauce or chilli sauce

Just the ticket for pep­ping up pretty much any lunch: shake over sal­ads, sand­wiches, ta­cos, noo­dles, rice and soups. Com­bine with yo­gurt or mayo to make a dip.

Toasted nuts or seeds

Lit­tle pack­ets of nuts and seeds – think pump­kin, sesame, sun­flower, hazel­nuts, macadamias and wal­nuts – are great for snack­ing on, but you should also add them to sal­ads or veg­gie dishes for ex­tra crunch, and drop them into soups and broths for a twist on tra­di­tional crou­tons.

Good-qual­ity olive oil

Just a few drops of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil will help res­cue dry bread or grains, fin­ish sal­ads nicely and add an ex­tra touch

to noo­dles, sand­wiches, pasta and the like. Com­bine with the hot sauce or chilli sauce to make a fiery and tasty dress­ing.

The con­ve­nience store raid Miso soup with added bulk Buy

Miso soup sa­chets, dried packet noo­dles or a pouch of cooked rice and veg­eta­bles (ei­ther a canned op­tion like sweet­corn, or loose, eas­ily prepped veg­gies such as cu­cum­ber). Smoked or hot-roasted salmon or canned tuna make a nice added ex­tra, but are by no means es­sen­tial.

To as­sem­ble

Put the noo­dles or rice in the bot­tom of a jar or bowl and sprin­kle with the miso sea­son­ing. Add the canned or raw chopped veg­eta­bles and cover with boil­ing wa­ter. Leave for 2 to 3 min­utes then top with fish (if us­ing). Fin­ish with a driz­zle of olive oil, a dash of chilli sauce and a scat­ter­ing of nuts and seeds (all of these sourced from your condi­ment drawer).

Hum­mus plat­ter Buy

Hum­mus, a small pot of nat­u­ral yo­gurt, a jar of roasted veg­eta­bles or sweet pep­pers, a packet of flat­breads and car­rots, cu­cum­ber and a few tomatoes from the veg sec­tion or cru­dités from the salad bar.

To as­sem­ble

Warm the flat­breads through in the of­fice toaster or mi­crowave (if you have ac­cess to one). De­cant the hum­mus into large bowl and fold in the yo­gurt – this gives shop­bought hum­mus a lovely light and airy tex­ture. Top the hum­mus with a cou­ple of ta­ble­spoons of roasted veg­eta­bles or a few sweet pep­pers. Swirl over olive oil (sourced from your condi­ment drawer) and serve with the raw veg­eta­bles and flat­breads.

Mex­i­can bean bowl Buy

A small can of beans (kid­ney beans, black beans and can­nellini beans all work well), tomatoes from the veg­etable sec­tion or a jar of tomato salsa, a pot of yo­gurt or sour cream and tor­tilla crisps.

To as­sem­ble

De­cant the beans into a bowl and heat through in the mi­crowave. Top with chopped fresh tomatoes or the tomato salsa, nat­u­ral yo­gurt or sour cream, and a driz­zle of hot sauce or chilli sauce (courtesy of that condi­ment drawer). Crum­ble over a large hand­ful of crushed tor­tilla chips and eat the rest on the side.

Sukaina Ra­ja­bali

In cook­ing, prepa­ra­tion is ev­ery­thing and that ap­plies to lunchtime meals be they salad jars full of easyto-make healthy op­tions, far left, a kale and roasted veg­etable salad, top, or left­over tart with feta cheese and nuts, bot­tom

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