I know who I am as a person now. I love to cook in the evenings and I’m great at planning a full week of dinners. I love going a little over the top for weekend breakfast. And I’m really, really bad at planning lunches, or having any desire to spend more than 10 minutes in the kitchen between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm. I work from home normally, and with the pandemic, my husband is also working from home. In the past, I would make him lunch maybe once a week, but for the most part, he did his own thing. Now with both of us at home, it really amplifies the fact that I’m no good at thinking about lunch until it’s 11:45am and I’m starving.
My lunches rarely look like my dinners. They’re a little more processed, have a lot less steps, and if it takes hardly any prep time it probably won’t happen. So I started to get creative and come up with tastier lunches that are still quick and a tiny bit healthier than a frozen meal or boxed mac and cheese. These dishes are nice for a quick lunch at home, but they will also be great for a post-work snack (with adjusted portions) when you have late dinner plans. Or if you have kids or another hungry family member, these are something easy to suggest for them to whip up themselves.
I will usually pick one of these recipes and stick with it most of the week. I’ll eat leftovers a couple times, my quick lunch a couple times, then maybe take the time to make something or pick something up.
For the quick lunches, I try to focus on things I usually have in my house. You will have other things at home, so just think about your go-to ingredients and how you can make quicker dishes with them. Here are some ingredients I almost always keep right now:
- Eggs. About once a month, I’ll get on a big soft-boiled egg kick and make 4 at a time and do different things with them.
- Canned beans: Usually at least a can of each: black, pinto, cannellini, kidney
- Diced canned tomatoes: endless options here
- Good bread that works with savory or sweet recipes. My default is sourdough, but more importantly I aim for something thick-cut that will hold up well in different dishes
- Ramen: I go to the Japanese grocery store close to my apartment once a month and stock up on packaged ramen, because they have more authentic flavors, like miso and tonkotsu. But I also almost always have a few packages of the ubiquitous Top Ramen brand.
- Frozen dumplings: Most grocery stores have at least one kind, but Trader Joe’s or an Asian supermarket usually have several to choose from.
- Hot sauces: I have five in my fridge right now. Some are really spicy, some are mild, some have more garlic, some are green.
- Veggies: Every grocery trip, I get grape tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, green onions, yellow onion, and two hearty vegetables (like carrots, sweet potatoes, or cabbage). I always have recipes to use all these ingredients. It’s a little boring but I find that I’m less wasteful if I stick with stuff I know how to use.
All the recipes below take about 10 minutes to make. My only suggestions to make a head of time are soft-boiled eggs (or hard-boiled if you prefer) and the overnight oats, which I promise if you like overnight oats, it’ll be easy for you to remember to make a batch that’ll last you a few days. If you don’t have soft-boiled eggs, you can either leave out or make a quicker egg, like scrambled or fried. I’m not going to go into a ton of details on how much of what to use in these recipes, as they’re more of a guide and hopefully you can adjust to flavors you like and what you have around your house.
Packaged Ramen…. with Lipstick
The key here is while the water is turning into a boil, you’re dicing your green onions, slicing your mushrooms, then cooking your mushrooms and corn. Right after you add your corn to the pan to cook is right when you should add your ramen noodles to the boiling water. If you do this, there’s zero wasted time of you staring at a pot of boiling water and everything comes together at the perfect time. I made soy-marinated soft-boiled eggs the day before. Here’s a couple recipes you can try: this one and this one. Even soaking the eggs in soy sauce for 30 minutes adds a nice touch, but most recipes call for at least an hour.
- Packaged ramen
- A soft-boiled egg, preferably soy soaked. A fried egg with runny yolk would work too.
- Green onion, diced
- Neutral oil
- Handful of mushrooms, really any mushroom will do, thinly sliced
- Handful of frozen corn. You can definitely used canned corn, but I buy frozen because it’s easier to portion out
- Soy sauce or teriyaki sauce
- Sesame seeds
- Something to add spice if you like, like red chili flake, sriracha or sambal
Heat neutral oil in a pan over medium heat. Put water in pot and turn heat to high to boil. Add mushrooms to pan and saute for about 3 minutes until they start to turn brown. Add a splash of soy sauce to the pan and stir. Mushrooms should be lightly coated with the soy sauce, but not too salty. Dice your green onions while the mushrooms cook and slice your soft-boiled egg in half and put to the side. Once the mushrooms look brown, push to side of pan and add corn. Cook corn for about 2-3 minutes. Your ramen water should be boiling by now, so add ramen to water and cook according to instructions. Keep cooking corn and mushrooms. I keep them separate in the pan because it looks nice in the bowl of ramen. The corn should start to develop some color. Once ramen is done, pour into bowl. Then top with the egg, mushrooms, corn, green onions, some sesame seeds, and something spicy.
Beans on Toast
This recipe would also work with English muffins (which you will also see on the next recipe) but if you don’t have hearty bread that can withstand some bean juice, skip this recipe. BUT if you have some good bread, preferably something from a bakery, this is such a simple but elegant dish to whip up in the afternoon. I usually make two slices of bread and top with beans and it’s perfectly filling. The key to this recipe is really flavoring the beans. It’s something so simple, but I crave this recipe all the time.
- Good, hearty bread, like sourdough or rye
- A can of beans, mostly drained. I usually lean towards cannelini beans for this recipe, but pinto or other light beans, like butter beans, will work too
- Assortment of dried herbs and spices to flavor your beans
- A handful of spinach, if you want to add some greens to your lunch
- A clove of garlic or garlic powder
Pour a can of beans, a little juice from the bean, and a splash of water into a pot and turn heat to medium high. Add spices like oregano, thyme, garlic powder, red chili flakes, and any other Italian-forward spices you like. Heat until light boil so spices release their flavors easily, then reduce heat to a simmer. Once heated through, about 5-6 minutes, taste for salt and other seasonings. You want the beans to be very flavorful, so add more spices if they still taste bland. Add spinach to beans and stir. Cook spinach with beans until spinach is wilted and beans are hot. Right before beans are almost done, toast the bread where the bread has a decent crunch. Immediately after toasting, take a cut garlic clove and rub garlic all over one side of bread then add a little butter to toast. If you are using garlic powder, add butter on toast then sprinkle with garlic powder. Using a slotted spoon, spoon beans (trying to bring very little liquid with you) over toast. Top with fresh or dried parsley. Dill, paprika, or more red pepper flakes would also be nice, depending on the flavors you like.
Eggs & English Muffin
Yes, this is technically more of a breakfast recipe, but there’s something about how all this comes together, it has a more 10:00am chic cafe entree vibe. The soft-boiled egg here is amazing, but if I don’t have one in my fridge, I’ll make a sunny side up egg instead. This is served open-faced and is just filling enough to get you through the afternoon. I like to serve it with a side of fruit or a tiny salad (like arugula with olive oil and red wine vinegar).
- English muffin
- Cream cheese, or butter, mayo or melty cheese
- A few spinach leaves, or arugula. If you don’t have either, add some dried spices like thyme or dill to cheese
- Soft-boiled egg, quartered. If you don’t have, scrambled or sunny side will taste just fine
- Sesame seeds or Everything but the Bagel seasoning, or something similar
Toast muffin lightly. Spread cream cheese on top. If using another cheese instead, sprinkle cheese on top, then microwave for about 10 seconds. Add a couple leaves of greens to each side, then add egg and seasonings.
Asian-inspired Soup with Dumplings
This dish is super flexible and great to add in stuff from your fridge that doesn’t have a home: a quarter of an onion, that one carrot leftover from another recipes, the spinach that’s starting to look sad. The frozen dumplings are optional, but make this recipe really filling. This soup slightly mimics a miso soup you would get at a Japanese restaurant, but with more of the ingredients to act of the main dish instead of just a side. The recipe below is what I make the most, but it’s easy to adapt. The main components to stick with are a flavorful stock, some kind of protein (like firm tofu or frozen dumplings), and some veggies. If you’re using heartier veggies, like broccoli or carrots, cut up very small so they cook quickly.
- 2 cups of stock. I use the Better than Bouillon brand because it’s a small jar and so much easier to buy and mix with water than buying large containers of pre-made stock.
- 1 teaspoon of white miso paste, optional. If not using miso, make sure stock is flavorful; add some salt and garlic powder to enhance the stock as needed.
- A few cubes of firm tofu, leave out if you don’t have
- A handful of spinach. Use other veggies like cabbage, onion, or broccoli if you have. Just cut up very small.
- 2 mushrooms, very thinly sliced
- 2 frozen dumplings
This dish works just like the ramen dish. As you’re waiting for the stock to boil, prep all the other ingredients. Once the stock boils, turn heat to medium high, add mushrooms or other tough veggies if using and boil for 5 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix miso paste with hot water. This prevents the miso from clumping in the stock and creating extra salty bits. Set miso aside. Add tofu and dumplings and cook to dumpling instructions, usually about 3 minutes. Add spinach and stir everything together. Pour in bowl, add toppings like sesame seeds and something spicy (shocking I know).
Okay, yes this isn’t a lunch dish normally either, but it’s saved my belly more times post-breakfast more than anything. I’m not a huge traditional oatmeal fan. I’ll go through about two weeks in the winter where I’ll crave buttery, brown sugary oatmeal then forget about it for another year. But I really do enjoy overnight oats. They’re easy to make, most of the ingredients hold up well so I often have everything I need, and it’s easy to customize. Oh, and they’re really portable so my husband loves taking them to work for a 10 am or 2 pm snack. For this recipe, I really suggest using the overripe bananas as your main source of sweetness. I make overnight oats all the time, and the jars that are sweetened with the bananas are always my favorite batch. My favorite mix is bananas, a few raisins, and about a teaspoon of peanut butter.
- Oats, different recipes will have rules on which you need. But whatever you like or have.
- Milk, traditional dairy or not. I usually have almond or oat milk.
- Overripe banana, developing a decent amount of brown spots. This is what adds sugar. If you don’t have, brown sugar would be my second choice, then if you don’t have that, any kind of sweetener. The bananas almost melt into the oats and create a really nice sweetness.
- Dried fruit, diced into small bits if needed. Raisins and dates are my go-tos.
- Chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.
- Ground cinnamon
- Other options: peanut butter, other nut butters, jams.
- For the next day, also optional: blueberries, nutella (don’t put nutella in for the overnight process; it turns into a big clump)
Using sealable containers (I make about 3-4 servings at a time), add half oats and half milk to each container until about 3/4 full. Stir, then add whatever else you like. If you are using bananas, lightly smash most of them in your container using the back of the spoon so their sugar will more easily release overnight. Add more milk or oats as needed. You want the mixture wet, but not soupy. I usually add a bit of milk before serving. Seal containers and put in fridge overnight. They hold up well for about 3 days, depending on how ripe your banana was to begin with. I usually add blueberries or other fruit on top right before I’m about to eat.