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Easy Cooking

10 Easy Work-from-Home Lunch Ideas That Don’t Need a Recipe

Simple, satisfying dishes that break up the hectic workday.

Published Mar. 30, 2020.

Andrea Geary

I won’t lie: this new working from home situation has been a struggle for me. As I lurch from video conference to group call, and shuffle through all 23 open tabs on my laptop, the hours can whizz by in a blinding and less-than-productive blur. You know what helps me focus? Pausing to make, and eat, a proper lunch. I’m not talking about anything fancy here—just a break to enjoy the comforting weight of my favorite knife in my hand; the tantalizing scent of butter toasting in a skillet; the satisfying sizzle of cold food hitting a hot surface.  

“But,” you cry, “I don’t have loads of groceries, or a recipe, or enough time!” Don’t worry; I’ve got you covered. Here are 10 lunch ideas that come together quickly, and that are flexible in terms of ingredients. They aren’t recipes, per se, but that’s okay. Our lives have become (necessarily) constrained; let’s loosen up, here, at least.

Simple and substantial lunches: kedgeree and amped-up instant ramen.

1. Loaded grilled cheese sandwich

Update your childhood favorite by thinly spreading the inner surface of the bread with spicy mustard, and tucking a layer of chopped leftover vegetables (I used roasted broccoli) between the slices of cheese. Don’t have sliced bread? Use tortillas, or pita, or an inside-out burger bun. Don’t have butter for the outside? It’s controversial, but I think mayo works even better.

2. Oatmeal congee

Transform your blank-slate oats into an ersatz rice porridge by stirring in soy sauce and sesame oil and sprinkling the lot with whatever odds and ends you have on hand: roast chicken or pork, tofu, sliced scallions, sesame seeds. As with many of these ideas, a boiled or fried egg and a drizzle of sriracha rounds things out nicely, but it isn’t mandatory. If you have fried shallots, use them by all means, but those crispy onions left over from Thanksgiving’s green bean casserole are just fine, too

3. Chickpea salad

With a fork, coarsely crush some drained and rinsed chickpeas, and stir in some mayonnaise and a dash of vinegar. Add vegetables like finely chopped celery and grated carrots if you have them, and maybe some chopped pickles for brightness, and some seeds or nuts for crunch. Pile it between two slices of bread, wrap it in a tortilla or a big piece of lettuce, scoop it up with chips, or just eat it with a spoon.

4. Marmite spaghetti

This simple but irresistible dish was popularized by Nigella Lawson: While your spaghetti—or whatever pasta you have—is cooking, mix about a tablespoon of melted butter with a half teaspoon of Marmite (it’s powerful stuff, so start low) and a tablespoon of pasta water. Reserve a bit more of the pasta water, and then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the Marmite mixture, and add more pasta water and Marmite as needed. A flurry of grated hard cheese is welcome, but not essential, and toasted breadcrumbs would add crunch. For you Antipodeans out there: yes, Vegemite will work, too.

5. Kedgeree

This one’s basically Scottish fried rice: cook some chopped onions in a generous amount of salted butter until they’re soft, and then add a mere dusting of curry powder; stir in leftover rice, cooked fish (traditionally it’s smoked haddock, but go with what you have. I used smoked mackeral in the photo above. And flaked salmon or trout—with a teeny-tiny, nearly homeopathic drop of liquid smoke—would be lovely), and a handful of fresh herbs, if you have them, and heat through. Finish with a grated or chopped hard-cooked egg and a spritz of lemon.

6. Bubble and squeak-ish

Chop up any leftover vegetables you have in the fridge; cabbage and onions are traditional, but almost anything will work. Mix them into leftover mashed potatoes. Shape the mixture into a disk, and fry it in a skillet slicked with your fat of choice until it’s nicely browned on both sides and heated through. A softly fried egg on top is a two-fer, providing both protein and sauce.

7. Amped-up instant ramen

Add a bit more water than recommended, so you have more room for added vegetables (frozen or fresh), protein, and herbs. This next bit is crucial: add only half of the seasoning packet; that way you can up the ante with salty accents like fish sauce or miso. Chili oil and/or sesame oil are great for drizzling, and a bit of lemon or lime juice—or a few drops of rice vinegar —will go a long way.

8. Deluxe baked potato

Top a baked potato with any of the following: baked beans and grated cheddar; egg salad or tuna salad; herbed cottage cheese; or chili. The only rule here is that the topping must be easy: either leftovers from the fridge or something canned. Bake the potato during a long video meeting so you have something to look forward to when it’s over. In fact, since you’re turning the oven on, bake a few, and consider it an investment in future lunches.

9. Peanut noodle salad

While you boil some spaghetti (or lo mein noodles, should you be so fortunate), mix together about 1 tablespoon each peanut butter, lime juice, and sriracha. Stir in a teaspoon each of soy sauce and brown sugar. Drain the noodles, and rinse them with cold water until they’re cool and slick. Mix the sauce into the noodles, and add whatever crunchy vegetables you have: julienned carrots, sliced scallions, and radishes are nice, but packaged coleslaw mix will do in a pinch.

10. White bean and tuna tartine

Rub a thick, warm slice of toast with a garlic clove, and drizzle it with olive oil. Mix together roughly flaked canned tuna, drained canned white beans like navy or cannellini, a spoonful of mayo, a much smaller spoonful of Dijon, and a splash of vinegar, any kind. Stir in some fresh herbs if you have them; if not, how about chopping up a few of those capers or olives from the jars that have been languishing on your fridge door? Pile the mixture on the toast. Eat with a knife and fork. Or just hoist it up and in, and enjoy the fact that no one’s there to judge you for it.

This is such a strange time, when the best, most selfless thing you can do for society is to separate yourself from it as much as possible. By doing so, you’re not just protecting yourself; you’re also protecting the most vulnerable among us. You’re a hero. Please treat yourself like one.

Follow Andrea on Instagram at @algcooks for more simple dishes. And for more cooking resources and recipe recommendations, check out these posts:

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