A cheap, expensive lunch

I told Erin I was going to do a blog post about recycling and she commented (with a heavy dose of sarcasm), “Wow, that sounds riveting.”   So, I decided to put that one on the back burner…for now.  So, here is a absolutely riveting post about bag lunches.  I know, I know, this might also seem like a boring topic,  but it has been on my mind since I returned to work about a month ago.  I always pass through the World Trade Center on my way to work, and I stopped at the Epicerie Boulud located inside.  I was just getting a cup of coffee, but I decided to check out the lunch options.  After spotting teacup sized portion of lentils and roasted sweet potato for $9, I knew I had to pack my own lunch.

I typically work Monday and Tuesday, so I do most of my prep on the weekend.  What I don’t eat for lunch on a workday I eat during the rest of the week.  This summer, I am packing this stuff to take to the pool.


At work, I am stuck inside a room all day with no ability to leave, so whatever I pack is what I eat.  I use this to my advantage by packing really healthy food.  This stuff is very high protein, low carb.  It keeps me very full and helps me walk past the black and white cookies at Zaro’s Bakery on the way home without stopping.

Have some of the following on hand:

  • Mixed Greens
  • Hummus or Tzatziki
  • Beans (chickpea, black, pinto)
  • Cheese (feta, parmesan, or cheddar)
  • Nuts or seeds (sunflower, almond, cashew)
  • Olives
  • Jarred artichoke hearts

This stuff should be cut up and prepared, ready to go.  That means if you are using canned beans, you have rinsed them and placed them in a storage container in the fridge.  Your cheese should be crumbled or shredded.  Your nuts should be sliced if you like them that way.  You should not need a cutting board when you are packing your lunch.

Make one or more of the following: 

  • Lentil Salad *
  • Pickled red onions *
  • Roasted squash or sweet potato*
  • Grilled chicken
  • Farro or quinoa
  • Dressing (shallot vinaigrette*, green tahini, yogurt cilantro*)

*recipes at the end of the post

These ingredients lend themselves to making a Mexican-style lunch, middle-eastern, new-American, or “whatever you like.”

For instance, you could build the following lunch.  In fact, this is what I had today:

  • Mixed Greens
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Yellow Pepper
  • Feta
  • Lentil Salad
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Shallot Vinaigrette

This was such a delicious lunch. I think it would have cost about $65 at Epicerie Boulud, but it probably cost me about $2 to make.  It also took me about 1 minute to slap together this morning on the way out the door.

The following recipes or super-easy and adaptable, which is the whole point:

Deviled Eggs:

  • 4-8 hard-boiled eggs (depending on how many you want to make for the week)
  • 3-6 T. mayonnaise
  • 1 T. mustard
  • 1 t. white vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of paprika
  1. Cut each egg in half and scoop out yolk into bowl. Place egg whites on plate or platter. Combine yolks with mayonnaise, mustard and white vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Scoop yolk mixture into the egg whites. Place a dash of paprika on each egg. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight Tupperware container for up to a week.

Lentil Salad:

  • Lentils (homemade or canned)
  • Peppers, celery, carrots or other hearty vegetable, chopped
  • Red onion or shallots, chopped
  • Parsley
  • Olive oil and Red Wine Vinegar
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Combine lentils with other ingredients in a large bowl. Store in refrigerator for at least one week. * You could also make this salad using black beans or pinto beans.

Pickled Red Onions:

  • Red onion, peel removed and sliced
  • 3/4 – 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. sugar
  • 3-5 peppercorns
  • Garlic clove, peel removed and cut in half
  1. Place red onion in a colander in your sink. Pour boiling water over the onion to soften (a teapot full is more than enough).
  2. Place vinegar, salt, sugar, peppercorns, and garlic clove in a clean jar. Shake to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add the red onion and shake again. Add a little more vinegar to cover, if necessary.

These will keep for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, and are ready to eat within at the hour.

Roasted squash or Sweet potato:

  • Sweet potato or Squash, peeled and diced (2-4 cups, depending on the amount you wish to make)
  • 2-4 T Olive Oil (depending on the amount of potato or squash you are using)
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place potato or squash on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Use hands to toss in the olive oil to coat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and a little pepper.
  2. Roast in the oven 30-40 minutes, making sure to stir the squash after 20 minutes of cooking.

Shallot Vinaigrette

This is the dressing fresh out of the fridge and solidified. After about 30 minutes, it will come to room temperature and you can shake to mix.

  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Combine ingredients in a jar and shake. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

This dressing with solidify in the refrigerator. If you scoop a portion into a small container on your way out the door, it will be perfectly liquid in time for lunch.

Yogurt Cilantro Dressing:

  • 2 cups whole milk yogurt or sour cream
  • 5 T. cilantro, chopped (feel free to add or substitute basil or parsley)
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 2 T. lemon or white wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  1. Stir to combine. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Eat.