In upcoming weeks, the price of peanut butter is expected to skyrocket, which may put a dent in your habit of using the peanut butter sandwich as a bagged lunch staple. Think of this year’s poor peanut crop as an opportunity to branch out and try some new foods. Even if you’re no peanut butter fan, you may still be in a lunch rut from packing processed turkey, ham or roast beef sandwiches every day.
If you’re busy with work and family, you have probably noticed that it’s easy to get into the habit of packing work lunches without much thought. That’s why many of us have a tendency to go for the same foods over and over. The problem is that this gets boring. So here are four versatile ideas that can help you move past the packed lunch doldrums and start making meals that won’t make you wish you were going out instead. All of these can be changed according to your tastes and what you happen to have on-hand, and they happen to be (or can be) vegetarian:
1. Mediterranean pita sandwich and marinated carrots
Put large dollops of Greek yogurt, tzatziki sauce or hummus in your pita to taste. Add crispy lettuce, sliced tomatoes, a bit of olive tapenade (or sliced kalamata olives), pickled Lebanese cucumbers (optional). Add a bit of fresh basil or even Lebanese stuffed grape leaves if you have them.
If you like, pack your pita separately from the other ingredients so it won’t become soggy before lunch. That way, you can also heat your pita for a few seconds in the microwave before eating if you prefer.
Serve with a side of carrot spears steamed for about five minutes, removed and marinated overnight with salt, pepper and equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The carrots should be crunchy and just barely cooked. As a side dish, they are far more appealing than a side of raw or mushy water-logged carrots and are best served at room temperature.
2. Autumn chickpea wrap with butternut squash and a side of spiced apples
Add several large dollops of your leftover butternut squash soup and a tablespoon of caramelized onions to a tortilla. Add a large scoop of spiced crunchy chickpeas flavored with a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and a bit of cayenne pepper. If you like, add a sprinkling of fresh flat-leaf parsley as a garnish.
Wrap your meal, and eat cold or at room temperature. It may be best to separate your wrap ingredients when you pack and put the wrap together at work to avoid a soggy tortilla. Try leftover steamed apples with a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon.
3. Leftover savory pie with a fresh garden salad
I love a savory quiche, galette, tart or bread pudding. Baked dishes that include custard made from eggs, milk, cheese and butter keep very well and are usually just as good reheated in the microwave as they are just after cooking. Moussaka also works very well here.
You can also wrap individual servings in plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag for later lunches. Recipes for these dishes are tremendously versatile. For example, try a savory bread pudding with cooked sweet potato and caramelized onions for supper. Serve with a fresh side salad for a good contrast with your pie. Just be sure to pack the dressing individually so it doesn’t saturate your salad before lunchtime.
4. Tomato soup with popcorn garnish
Tired of heating up the same old tomato soup for lunch from your thermos every day? Try this new twist, inspired by celebrity cook Emeril Lagasse: Make your favorite spicy homemade tomato soup, and pack in a thermos so that you can reheat it the next day.
Sprinkle heated soup with a bit of cheddar cheese and a handful of freshly popped popcorn instead of crackers over your soup to add crunch and texture. For contrast, serve with uncooked fruit. If you prefer, ditch the popcorn, and serve with leftover cornbread instead. Or try popcorn over other spicy bisque-style soups.
What are some of your favorite bagged lunch options?
For a show that explores the connection between food and the earth, watch “Endless Feast” Wednesdays at 10:30pm ET on Halogen TV.