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What should I bring for lunch?

“What can I bring to work for lunch?” is a frequent question I hear. Women seem to find this meal especially challenging. Perhaps because it requires preparation in advance, plus the added difficulty of making something that will keep for a few hours and can be eaten as is or easily reheated. It’s well worth the minimal added effort, though—for health, economic, and taste reasons—and doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. I like to think in terms of a few basic “templates” within which there are many varied dish options. I rely on a few basic rules of thumb: I’ve said it before, every meal must have the “holy trinity” of carbs, protein and fat. I also believe lunch should end with a little something sweet (usually fruit, but sometimes a small square of dark chocolate—you can make that call). And, as with every meal, there should always, always, always be pleasure involved.

Within the templates I’ve listed below, you can mix and match, choosing options that suit your tastes and preferences. Use what you have at home, or look for other recipes on this site or in my books. For protein you can use 1-2 ounces of cheese, a hard-boiled egg, a yogurt, or a few slices of leftover fish, meat or poultry. For carbs, bread is an easy option, but you could also use a portion of leftover rice or a potato-based soup. Whatever you have on hand and tastes best to you. Since we’re still in summer, I’ve included a number of salad options and cold soups, but in the winter your tastes might run more toward a warm soup brought in a thermos or re-heated at work.

Template 1: Salad + protein + bread + fruit

For example:

Cucumber salad with goat cheese, 1 slice country bread, 1 cup blackberries

Salmon and Spinach Salad, 1 slice buttered whole wheat toast, 1 slice watermelon

Tomato and Mozzarella salad with basil, olive oil and vinegar, 1 slice country bread, 1 peach

Vegetables with yogurt dressing, ½ pita bread, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries

Arugula salad with vinaigrette and 1-2 ounces blue cheese, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 nectarine

Tomato salad, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1-2 ounces goat cheese, 3 apricots

Cold leftover steamed veggies with olive oil & vinegar, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1-2 ounces comte cheese, 1 peach

Green salad with vinaigrette, topped with 2-4 oz leftover sliced duck breast (or steak, chicken, or fish), 1 slice rosemary bread, 1 cup blackberries

Template 2: Soup + protein + bread + fruit

For example:

Cold cucumber soup with shrimp, 1 slice sourdough toast, 1 cup blueberries

Cold fennel soup with ricotta, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 peach

Vichyssoise, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries (no bread needed here since the vichyssoise has potatoes, but you can add if you like)

Cold beet and yogurt soup, 1 slice whole grain bread, 1 hard-boiled egg, 2 plums

Ratatouille, 1 slice country bread, 1-2 ounces goat cheese, 1 nectarine

Template 3: Tartine (or any small sandwich) + salad or vegetable soup + fruit

For example:

Leek and salmon tartine, mesclun salad with vinaigrette, yogurt, square of dark chocolate (here I subbed in yogurt and dark chocolate for the fruit)

Green soup, Goat cheese and fennel tartine, 1 peach

I have several tartine recipes on this website and even more in The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook.

Template 4: Potato-based soup + salad + protein + fruit/yogurt

For example:

Cold carrot soup, Cucumber salad with goat cheese, 2 plums

Vichyssoise, arugula salad with vinaigrette topped with 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 cup strawberries

Remember, these are just templates, to give you ideas. Fill in as you like and have fun coming up with new options. Soon enough you’ll wonder how you ever ate the “usual takeout” every day.