Use This Holiday Break To Master the Art of Lunch

Image by Danielle Hartley for Thrillist

Somewhere around the middle of September, everyone hit the point of no return: Suddenly, the “sad desk lunch” transitioned from mockable to seeming like fine dining when compared to the slapdash lunches of working from home. Somewhere around the silent agreement among all households in America to call leftover Halloween candy a complete meal – as long as it included both chocolate and fruit flavors – it became time for an intervention. Lunch deserves more than the lost dregs of food from the bottom of the fridge.

Now, facing a break from work and school – in whatever form they exist – staying home and staying safe gives us the opportunity to hit the reset button on our lunch routines. Everyone can press pause on the boring and burnout-inducing meals and use the holidays to remember that lunch can be a tiny luxury rather than a tedious task. Simply by incorporating a few easy, fun tips to improve the daily grind, anyone can make those mediocre midday meals as much of a bygone memory as crowded concerts and pool parties.

Prep extra food, not extra time

Forget the people who recommend spending Sunday cooking cauliflower and chopping carrots – keep your free time reserved for actual fun. But while they execute incorrectly, they get the idea right: the best way to be ready for a good lunch comes from getting a head start on the preparation. 

Instead of adding a new chore to an already long list, though, simply start slicing up a few extra vegetables when making dinner the night before. Adding more florets of broccoli to the pile takes only a few extra seconds and results in something easy, green, and good for the body that can easily be thrown in with a pot of ramen or tossed with tahini for a quick lunch.

Chopping a few extras of whatever vegetable you’re making for dinner each night quickly builds up a selection of prepped veggies, ready to saute, steam, or stir-fry at a moment’s notice.

Kick up the colors

That selection of brightly colored cabbage, kale, and peppers all sliced and diced in the fridge from those evening prep sessions will also help with the second thing to add excitement to lunch: kicking up the colors. 

Drab noodles and tan toast take on new life when dressed up with purple sauerkraut and roasted red beets. Instead of staring into the fridge and letting hunger or laziness do the decision-making, lunchtime becomes an art assignment: arrange at least four colors onto a simple carb or salad base. 

Focusing on the look, rather than the task of cooking or the end result, uses a slightly different part of the brain, helping to relieve the drudgery of making meals. Because most of the colors come from vegetables, these meals tend to be naturally healthful, and because the eyes eat first, they seem to taste better, too.

Pair your food and drink

When setting the table with a rainbow of pre-sliced vegetables over dressed up leftovers and serving them while seated far from the incessant Zoom calls of a workstation, don’t forget to add a complementary beverage. Lunch drinks, like the meal itself, present an opportunity to add flavor and ceremony to the moment – making it a meal rather than a slapdash snack. Drinks like Lipton’s Green Iced Tea Citrus can also add some lift, matching the squeeze of citrus on a salad, while pairing Lipton Green Iced Tea White Peach with a ham sandwich works, flavor-wise, the same way prosciutto-wrapped fruit does on a charcuterie platter. Lunch should be all about finding those small ways to make the midday meal special, and making sure to pick a cool drink to go with it might be the easiest one out there.

Learn to love leftovers

Revamp rather than reheat: Nobody wants to eat the same leftover rice and curry from Monday for the third day in a row. Instead of relentlessly serving the same thing until the giant pot finally empties, split off a little and freeze lunch-sized portions for a future time, when you need a meal in minutes. Then take the rest and reinvent it: Add a little flour to leftover rice and fry it into crispy cakes. Mix the curry into eggs and steam them into a savory custard. Fold stir-fries into omelettes and toss salads into stir-fries. Just a tiny bit of effort takes last night’s dinner from yesterday’s news to today’s juicy gossip.

Eat it elsewhere

Part of what made sad desk lunches so very sad came from eating them in the exact same place we spent all day working. Even though that might now be the couch or kitchen table, eating lunch in the same space puts the brain in “work mode.” Stop staring at Facebook on the computer, even if just for a moment, to change chairs and start scrolling Twitter on a phone. Grab a seat on a different couch, in another room, maybe even on the stoop – it doesn’t matter where, as long as it offers a new view during the meal, signaling to the subconscious that this means time to briefly relax.