Desktop lunching

May 27, 2009 at 12:00 am

First, an admonition: Try not to do what I'm about to describe. There is no reason why anyone should spend more time at a desk than needed, especially during lunch hour.

Go outside. Picnic. Take a break. Share lunchtime with friends or co-workers. Head out and support a local restaurant. Break away from the phone, the computer, the mail or whatever project you've got going.

But maybe it's one of those days (or weeks) where you just can't or perhaps you have a humane enough boss to let you work through lunch hour and cut out a little early. Or maybe you choose to splurge on a more expensive restaurant for a lunch or two each week, making brown-bagging the economic balance on the other days.

Whatever your reason, eating lunch at your desk is an art many of us have yet to perfect. (Thinking of the stench — I considered it aroma — that my codfish stew sent through the office a couple months ago, my co-workers would agree. Oh, and then there's the celery and carrots I crunch at my desk. Annoying to all, I know. ...)

But fixing a quick, tasty, healthy meal in the office is possible. Sure, there are days even the most ardent foodie is perfectly happy with last night's pizza nuked on a paper plate. But if you're metaphorically chained to your desk, why not make lunch at least more exciting?

With a little planning and a few major principles, lunch at your desk will seem more like reward than punishment.

And who can't use a little more of that strategy around an office?

Memo 1: Office supplies

• For condiments like ketchup, mayo, mustard and soy sauce, keep a stash of leftovers from carryout orders. But for other "staples," buy bigger (and more economical) sizes of condiments and spices for home and repackage them for the office in smaller jars or containers. At any time, I might have on hand olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, honey, hot sauce, mustard, a mix of dried Italian spices (basil, oregano, thyme and parsley), salt, pepper. Add peanut butter, Nutella and jelly if you're so inclined. If your office is really organized, coordinate who has what so the range is always available.

• If you've got a shared refrigerator, do your colleagues the favor of tossing dressings or other condiments after the due date. Nothing crowds (and smells up) a fridge like useless bottles and jars. (Think it's an unimportant issue? Look up the case last month in San Jose, where a rotten office fridge cleanup sent seven people to the hospital!

Memo 2: Dishing

• Salads, soups and pastas can all be eaten out of a bowl so find a ceramic one and keep it at work. You should have a plate on hand too, but matching dishes are certainly optional. Paper plates are a waste. Plastic shouldn't necessarily be microwaved nor does it insulate your food very well if lunch gets delayed with a telephone call.

• Keep a soup spoon and a fork in your supply drawer. Bypass food that needs to be cut — that's a real pain at a cluttered desk. One-utensil meals leave the other hand free to work the mouse or grab the phone.

• Do your dishes.

Memo 3: Reassigning

• Pasta makes some of the best leftovers. Shorter shapes like bow ties and penne are best and can be eaten easily with fork or spoon. (Twirling and slurping long noodles like spaghetti and fettuccini is just asking for a mess.)

• Maybe you're OK with just microwaving whatever's in a doggy bag, but also consider ways to use last night's pasta as a new dish. For example, add a few of those Italian spices you have on hand. Substitute feta cheese for Parmesan. Add chopped spinach, fresh or frozen. A can of chick peas with pasta works too. Your leftovers will taste like a new meal.

• If you make pasta for dinner, save some of the noodles separately for the next day. Then add fresh vegetables, dressing and spices at the office to make a new salad instead of the same dish as the night before.

• Leftover rice goes well with frozen vegetables (reheated with soy sauce) or add to the grains a can of tuna with a little mayo and maybe some green pepper or celery. Rice won't re-heat as nicely as pasta so be prepared for drier grains than the original meal.

Memo 4: Spooning

• Who doesn't find comfort in a nice bowl of soup, even at the office. Just make sure you have a trustworthy sealed container to get it there. Canned or other prepared soups are good office lunches too — they're cheap and easily stored in a desk drawer for a real pinch.

• Tend toward thicker soups in the office to lessen the splash factor.

• Soups can be more exciting with a few simple ingredients that you can either, again, store in a desk drawer or quickly grab from the fridge in the morning. Add a handful of crackers, croutons, pita chips, cheese, fresh spinach or chopped tomatoes.

Memo 5: Rightsizing

• Bring enough but not too much for lunch. You don't want too much of a food coma.

• If it's really good, bring enough to share. Nothing will make you friends in the office like offering a sample of your impressive lunch.

Memo 6: Golden rule

• If all else fails, just add hot sauce.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer and is working on a cookbook for desktop lunches. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or