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Most freelancers and telecommuters are lucky enough to have a full kitchen right in our office, since we work at home. We aren’t limited to the food being served in a corporate cafeteria, or the few restaurants near the office. We can branch out past traditional lunch sandwiches or boxed meals and make something a little more creative and interesting in our kitchen while we work. I usually strive for lunches that don’t take up too much of my time, and I have three approaches to lunch planning that help keep it interesting.
Leftovers from dinner can make great lunches, so I often try to make just a little extra dinner that will give me enough for lunch the next day. However, this can get really boring if you eat the same thing for dinner and then lunch every day, so I also try to plan lunches that will give me useful leftovers. Soups make great leftovers, and as a bonus, they are really easy to cook, since you just need to let them simmer for a while after you get everything assembled. I usually make a nice big pot of soup, and refrigerate only enough for one or two lunches. The rest of the soup gets put in single serving containers, which I keep in the freezer for those days when I’m not as ambitious about making lunch. This prevents me from getting tired of it before I’ve finished all of the leftovers, and most soup freezes well and can even be heated up without taking time for it to defrost. Here’s a recipe for my favorite lentil soup.
Lentil Soup with Tomato and Basil
- 1 cup lentils
- 1/2 cup reconstituted, chopped sun-dried tomatoes (put dried tomatoes in 2 cups of boiling water until they soften)
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 3 cups water (or replace some of the water with the water you used for the sun-dried tomatoes)
- 1 carrot (peeled and chopped)
- 1 6 oz. can tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 medium onion (chopped)
- 1 tbsp. basil
- black pepper and/or crushed red peppers to taste
Heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic in oil for 1-2 minutes. Add all other ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 35-40 minutes or until the lentils are tender.
Modular Lunch Foods
Another easy way to make a variety of lunches throughout the week is to make some basic lunch staples early in the week that can be used in a variety of ways throughout the week. I usually start with some kind of whole grain (brown rice and quinoa are my two favorites) or a couple of baked potatoes. These three options are easy to cook because once you get them started, they don’t require any stirring and can be left alone on the stove while you continue to work. Throughout the week, you can combine them into all kinds of different meals by grilling up some kind of protein and adding a different vegetable or small side salad.
I often bake a pan of vegetables to go with my modular meals, since baked vegetables are a really flexible addition to so many meals. I’ve often thrown a handful of baked vegetables in my soup or used them as a quick addition to a pasta sauce. You can use them in so many different ways, and they are really easy to make, since they don’t require any work once you get them in the oven. You can save a few extra minutes by buying the bags of pre-cut vegetables or save some money by taking the time to cut them yourself. I’ve also included my Thai peanut sauce recipe, if you want something a little more interesting than plain baked vegetables.
Baked Vegetables with Thai Peanut Sauce
- 3 cups vegetables, chopped into bite sized pieces (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini are good choices)
Preheat the oven to 450. Spray a cookie sheet lightly with oil. Add enough vegetables to cover your cookie sheet (my cookie sheet holds about 3 cups). Bake in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. I like my vegetables to be crisp, so I usually bake them for 15 minutes, but you might want to bake them a little longer.
Thai Peanut Sauce:
- 1 can unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 tsp. chili garlic paste for mild or 2 tsp. for spicy sauce
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 tsp. salt
Warm the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it comes to a simmer. Simmer, stirring frequently, for about five minutes to thicken. Add the chili paste and sugar; stir to dissolve and cook for an additional five minutes. Add the peanut butter. Stir frequently until the peanut butter has melted (about five minutes). Serve over veggies, tofu, or rice.
Quick Meals for One
While leftovers and modular meals are great, sometimes you just want to make a nice lunch for one person. Cooking for one person can be a little tricky, since most recipes are built for families. When I want to make something small, I usually stick to meals that can be easily adapted to one person, and I usually make them from what I have on hand, instead of a formal recipe. My two favorite things to cook for one are stir fries or pasta meals. A stir fry for one person can be as simple as a cup or two of vegetables and some grilled tofu or chicken stir fried with some garlic and soy sauce, especially when you serve it over the rice you made in the modular meal section above. You could also quickly stir fry some vegetables in oil and toss them in the Thai peanut sauce. For a quick pasta meal, you can combine a cup of cooked pasta tossed with a chopped tomato, garlic and basil. Here’s a slightly more elaborate pasta dish for one.
Pasta with Vegetables
- 1 cup cooked pasta (I usually use whole wheat penne or shells for this)
- 1 diced tomato (or about 1/2 cup of canned diced tomatoes)
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives (sliced)
- 1/4 cup baby artichokes (sliced)
- 1 tbsp. pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic (chopped)
- 5-6 large basil leaves (chopped) (or 2 tsp. dried basil)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil (more or less to taste)
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and saute for about 5 minutes. Toss with cooked hot pasta, and top with some Parmesan cheese to serve.
This is also great with a handful of the baked vegetables in the modular section or with some sun-dried tomatoes and fresh spinach. You could also add some grilled chicken or tofu. I usually make this with whatever vegetables I have on hand, so feel free to improvise.
What are your favorite meals to make when working at home?
Thanks to reader Steffany Lafaro for suggesting that we do a post with recipes.