Photo: Stocksy
Photo: Stocksy


Breaking out of the lunch-break rut

If the concept of leaving your desk is impossible, at least make something nice to bring to work, says Anna Jones

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By Anna Jones on

Normally, there are two things wrong with an at-your-desk salad or sandwich. The first is that it’s at your desk, in front of your screen, and the second is that we often get stuck in a rut, making the same thing over and over until lunch is something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

According to the BBC Food Programme, the average British worker takes less than a half-hour lunch break. It seems like our lunch hour has dwindled over the years. On the bright side, although it’s not long 30 minutes is still time to have a real and delicious break if you’re smart about it.  

When I worked in an office, I’d do my very best to get out, even if only for 10 minutes in the middle of the day – walking around any sort of nearby green space, 10 minutes of meditation (Headspace is amazing), calling a friend I’d been meaning to speak to for weeks or a quick glance around the shops. The single most important thing for me was getting away from my screen and moving about, even just a bit. After that, I found that eating with someone else, even if only for five minutes, made a huge difference to my day.

A bit of extra time and thought in the morning or night before really makes the difference between something dull and samey, and something you actively look forward to

A quick scout around my friends confirms that lots of us often don’t manage to leave our desks for all sorts of reasons (see Sad Desk Lunch). For those days, a bit of extra time and thought in the morning or night before really makes the difference between something dull and samey, and something you actively look forward to. If you have to eat while preparing for a meeting, or on the way to your next one, making it yourself is a fast way to making it delicious, fresh and vibrant.

My food map, below, shows my ideas for how, and read on for some more pointers:

  • Hardy grain-based dishes are amazing for lunchboxes, as they travel well and don’t need to live in the fridge.
  • Take one element from each column and stack in a wide jar or Tupperware, making sure you work in layers from the heaviest (grains) to the lightest (leaves).
  • Make a dressing in a small jam jar, or pour it into a small bowl lined with clingfilm, bring the ends together and twist to make a little dressing wrap. I mix one of the suggested dressing flavours with one tablespoon of olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper. The nutrition from salad leaves is actually boosted when we dress them, as the good fat from the oil makes it easier for our bodies to take up the nutrients.
  • Make sure other toppings, like peanuts or croutons, stay crunchy by twisting into clingfilm the same way, or keep little jars for the purpose of keeping them separate.
  • Leftovers are your friends. Use roasted roots from the night before, throw in an extra handful or two when you’re doing the evening pasta, and save cold potatoes or romesco sauce.
  • Look to different nationalities and cuisines for new ideas. Try a rice-based bento box with tofu, sugar snaps, pea shoots, and radishes, or a bowl of noodles with a quick satay sauce, thinly sliced raw cabbage and tofu.
  • Don’t forget your seasonings – maybe a bridge too far for some, but it’s not a bad idea to keep a little pot of salt and pepper on your desk, as it can make all the difference.
  • Dips all the way. I’ll often make a big pot of some kind of dip (my son’s favourite) and pack it with some crudités for an accompanying snack.
  • Pack half a lemon in your lunchbox – acidity is a quick route to making a salad sing.
  • Lightly toast sourdough, wraps, bagels, buttered rye bread, soda bread or chapattis – all options for adding substance if you need something more to get you through the afternoon.


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