I’ve held a lot of different of jobs in my time as a working adult, including stints as an executive receptionist, painter-for-hire, medical records clerk, fast food sushi slinger, model home stager, dog walker and art installer. There was even a period in college when I worked as a live artist’s model, holding a pose on a podium for hours at a time. From buttoned-up corporate environments to sweaty, labor-intensive work sites, the one constant throughout my varied career has been the importance of lunch.
Nothing douses the creative flame faster than a fast food burger, vending machine soda or, worse, no lunch at all. That drowsy, irritable feeling you get around three every afternoon is your brain begging for a lunchtime spread that includes a rainbow of vegetables and nourishing light proteins. Take a pause in the middle of your workday, pry yourself apart from the glowing screens, step away from your desk, and set aside a few moments to nurture yourself with an inspiring, nutritious midday feast.
Here are three of my favorite go-to recipes. They all lend themselves to being made the night before, with minimal cooking and prep time. They also have some ingredients in common (a best practice for stocking a fridge with future lunch staples). When it comes to packing a lunch, it’s always a good idea to move away from plastics. Linen napkins can gently swaddle a stack of lettuce leaves without bruising, or wrap a sandwich without leading to sogginess. An airtight glass container like the classic Weck jar is a great storage option for salads and spreads—it’s also prettier and more hygienic than a plastic container.
A balanced lunch of delicious, yet lightly filling ingredients is one of the best ways to nurture your enthusiasm for the day’s tasks. All three of these workday lunches can be easily prepared with love the night before work, and provide the protein-laden fuel that will inspire a day’s worth of creative fire.
Chicken Salad with Red Grapes and Za’atar
1 tablespoon za’atar spice mix, plus extra for sprinkling
2 smashed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
2 chicken breasts
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup halved red grapes
Optional: large leaves of butter lettuce or slices of bread, for serving
Preheat oven to 375. In a bowl, combine za’atar, garlic, olive oil, lemon and salt into a paste, then coat 2 chicken breasts in the mixture and place in a baking pan. Roast for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked to the center.
Remove, let cool completely, then dice into 1/2″ cubes. Place chicken in a clean bowl and toss with yogurt and grapes until everything is coated. Sprinkle with a little extra za’atar, pack into an airtight container, and refrigerate if not eating right away. I like to eat mine in cups of tender lettuce, but it makes an excellent sandwich as well.
Creamy White Bean and Feta Spread
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 oz. crumbled feta
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Optional: raw vegetable sticks like carrots, celery, bell pepper, or cucumber for serving
Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, blend until creamy. Scoop into an airtight container and refrigerate.
Vegetable Burritos Wrapped in Collard Greens
(Makes enough for 8 burritos)
½ cup quinoa
1 can black beans
2 tablespoons cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated carrot
2 tablespoons Creamy White Bean and Feta Spread (see previous recipe)
8 large collard leaves
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
Rinse quinoa in a mesh strainer or under water (strain water off quinoa after rinsing). Place in a medium saucepan, cover with 1 cup water and bring just to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer until all water is gone. Remove pan from heat, add beans, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and salt, mix well.
In a small bowl, combine grated carrot and white bean spread, mix well. Heat a large, wide saucepan of water to a low boil over medium high heat. Drop collard leaves into water one at a time, blanch in boiling water for thirty seconds each then remove and set aside. To assemble burrito, place desired amount of quinoa mixture in a rectangle shape in the middle of the collard green, add carrot mixture and sliced peppers. Fold two sides into middle, then roll from the bottom up. Wrap in parchment or wax paper, refrigerate until ready to eat.
Images and styling by Laurel Morley, who writes and shares original recipes on her website Sweet Laurel.