naked lunch

I’m not normally a comment hound, but this time I’d like to hear from everyone. Most days, when I can find someone to come along with me, I will eat out for lunch. If I can’t find someone to go with me, often I will just skip lunch entirely. I never really think of myself as a social person, but I hate eating alone.

I need some ideas for lunches to bring to work. The primary goals are that it be something I can store and prepare at work, rather than at home, and be cheap. I also want to satisfy, as much as possible, the following list of requirements.

  • cheap
  • variety
  • good flavors
  • easy to fix
  • easy to transport
  • filling
  • nutritious

Some additional information that may make a difference: I have my own small refrigerator and a very small microwave right in my office. I have access to a larger public refrigerator and microwave in the break room.

16 responses to “naked lunch”

  1. I’ll get back with some recipes, but as regards the eating alone thing, it sounds like you have everything you need to prevent that from happening – offer the use of your fridge to a buddy if they want to bring their lunch, or offer to cook lunch. Access to a fridge and a microwave can make for some pretty killer salads.

  2. I pack my lunch most days, so here are a few of my ideas:

    8 times out of 10, I’m packing leftovers. If you have a fridge, microwave and some tupperware, you can easily pack along almost anything. I often prepare more than we need for dinner to have leftovers the next day for lunch. Many things like soups, pasta salads and stews taste better the next day, in my opinion.

    If you like soup, I’m a big fan of these . Just add hot water and pack along some bread or a side salad.

    Tuna salad sandwich. You can mix it up in a small container and pack along some bread or a wrap for easy assembly at work. This is a great recipe. Just make the tuna mix and omit the toasting step. I use dried shallots and parsley for ease of preparation and it tastes just as good. I make this one a lot.

    Lean Cuisines, Smart Ones or any other frozen entree. These will keep until lunch time in the fridge, so freezing isn’t necessarily required. They are fast, cheap and there are lots of variety.

    For the cheapest, fastest and most convenient option….just steal someone else’s lunch out of their fridge! 😉

    • Thanks! Do you know any place that I can get frozen meals that don’t cost $3 to $5 each? My refrigerator has a very small freezer in it, I could get one or two in there.

      As for leftovers, the “inherently lazy” thing above extends to our home eating too. We eat out a lot more than we should and tend toward prepackaged stuff when we do cook at home. Often there are no leftovers, or what leftovers there are get snarfed by the kids for breakfast.

      I’m really after things that I don’t have to think about when I’m at home, just once I get to work.

  3. I have the exact same problem. There is always someone to go to lunch with and going out to lunch isn’t about the food, it’s about getting away from the office for a mental break. There have been times when a whole group of us go “out to lunch” and we all take our lunch with us. Sometimes we’ll eat quick in the office, then go to lunch at Chili’s and only order the all-you-can-eat chips and salsa.

    But I find myself skipping lunch as well if there is no one to go with. Here is what I do.

    First, I have a bunch of cup-o-noodles of various flavors and sizes. They store forever in the bottom of a drawer, cost fifty cents, and taste pretty good.

    Second, I keep a bunch of french-bread microwavable pizzas in the company refrigerator. To keep them from being stolen I write the name of the CEO on them. I know for a fact that Aaron Garity would NEVER be caught DEAD eating anything from the employee refrigerators so he’ll never know and it scares everyone else away.

    I also have an assortment of granola bars, beef jerky, and zero calorie drink flavors you can dump into a water bottle.

    None of these are particularly healthy, but I find that when I don’t eat I’m very cranky so I need to have something and all these options can store for a long time without having to worry about them.

    • I hadn’t thought about the brain reset involved in getting away from the office, but you’re right on the money there. Understanding my subconscious motivations better ought to help.

      I think that this might be a good time to get a costco membership and forget about sams club.

  4. Hmm. You’re kinda tying my hands with the requirements, so in classic fashion, I shall ignore them.

    Here’s a salad dressing with a sweet&sour oriental kinda flavor:

    1/4 C. Sugar or equivalent sweetener
    1/4 tsp. red chile powder (that’s chil-E, not chil-I)
    1 tblsp. Dry parsley flakes
    2 tsp. kosher salt (1 tsp. iodized if that’s all ya got)
    6 grinds (about 1/4 tsp.) black pepper
    Dash of dry mustard (about 1/4 tsp.)
    1/2 C. Veg oil (canola works best for me, other types like olive may solidify in the fridge)
    1/4 C. Apple cider vinegar (or red wine if you like, but it’ll be pink)

    Add all to an empty, rinsed soy sauce bottle, shake until well mixed and before using. Keeps in the fridge for several months (salt and vinegar are great preservatives). Use as a salad dressing, or in any recipe as a replacement for mayonnaise.

    Flour Tortillas –

    2 1/2 C. all purpose flour
    1/2 C. vegetable shortening
    1 tsp. salt
    1 C. warm water.

    Combine dry ingredients in mixer, stir to blend, add water and knead until smooth and elastic. Divide dough evenly into 6-8 pieces (I use a floured chef’s knife). Roll out to your thickness (very thin will be papery and crackery, very thick will be pita-esque) and cook briefly on each side in a very hot skillet. This is a job for cast iron if you’ve got it. Stack the tortillas as they come off the skillet, then wrap in cling film while still warm. These will keep in the fridge for about a week.


    That’s the at home part. Here’s the office part:

    Killer office wraps:
    Put one tortilla on paper plate, nuke for 10-15 seconds, sufficient to warm. Crack open a pouch or tin of tuna, the kind you don’t have to drain. Mix into this about 1 tablespoon of the salad dressing. Put a handful of baby spinach or lettuce, fresh chopped tomatoes, shredded carrots – you know, salad – in the center of the tortilla. Add tuna mixture. Wrap burrito style and enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

    What you’re getting out of this will be simple and complex carbohydrates (from the sugar and the tortilla), high vitamin count (from the salad), a nice lean hit of protein (from the tuna), and plenty o’fiber. This should serve to meet the following subset of your criteria:

    * cheap
    * variety (change the tuna for chicken if you like)
    * good flavors
    * easy to transport (use bag salad)
    * filling
    * nutritious

    the only reason “easy to fix” isn’t on there is that you might have to open a can of tuna and drain it, which is both politically and physically difficult in a company break room.

    • I was not ignorant of the impossible nature of all my requirements. If I were to remove ‘cheap’ from the list, I’m sure all the rest could be met in spades.

      Thank you for the ideas. If I can bring the cost of each full lunch down into the $1-2 range, I’ll be ecstatic about it. If it’s in the $3 range, it’ll be acceptable, but not ideal. The drink and snack machine at work only costs 25 cents for each item, but we also have filtered water machines. On those mornings when I’m the walking dead, we also have free coffee.

      • Wow… providing 3000 calories (5 days * 600 calories) for $15.00 and still making it satisfying – that’s a tough sell. Is there any chance of bumping that up into the $20.00 range? If not you might have to forgo both the easy parts. I could do soups very cheaply (your ideal range), but transporting them is a bitch, and you’ll definitely have to put in some time and effort for preparation beforehand.

        • $20 per week wouldn’t be too bad. Most of the time when I eat out with the guys it turns into $10 per day, or $6 for cheap chinese at Smith’s.

          It might turn out that a trip to Wendy’s comes up just as cheap as all this. I usually get two 5-piece nuggets, a junior cheeseburger deluxe, and a small chili, which works out to a little over $4. That’s more fat than I really need, and likely more salt too, but not the worst thing I could eat nutrition-wise. If I drop one of the nuggets, it’d be a little over $3. I wouldn’t want to do it every day, though.

          The price of basic foodstuffs at the store has been rising dramatically in recent months. The uber-cheap 24 oz. bread at Smith’s is up from 89 cents to about $1.40. Walmart hasn’t had any bread at all cheaper than $2 per loaf for at least a couple of years now.

  5. Yes, food prices are rising, and they will continue to rise for the forseeable future. Your Wendy’s meal costs what it does today – but eventually their menu will have to follow the market and their prices will go up as well.

    Now – more fat than you really need. Well, yes. More of almost everything else too. Here’s a breakdown of the meal as described:
    Calories: 1040
    Fat: 52 g
    Sodium: 2690 mg
    Calories from Fat: 468
    Protein: 59g
    Simple carbohydrates (sugars): 16 g
    Complex carbs: 61 g

    Miscellaneous nutrients: Fiber 7 g, VIT-A 14%, VIT-C 12%, Ca 18%, Fe 39%

    This meal provides just about half of your ideal calories in a day, assuming a 5’10” male age 38 weighing 180 pounds who does no exercise. It provides nowhere near half of your nutritional requirements – so start taking a multivitamin today, and don’t stop.

    So, how to fix it? What we’re looking for is a meal that provides approximately one quarter of your ideal BMR(harris factor applied) at 2184 kcal/day, so about 545 calories – in that neighborhood – of which no more than about 120 calories are from fat, and which provides you with a good solid helping of complex carbohydrates, some dietary fiber, roughly half your nutrients, at *least* 60 grams of protein so your body doesn’t feel deprived of anything important, and please-for-the-love-of-the-children no more than 500 mg of sodium. Going with 1/4 rather than 1/3 gives you some snacking room for that 3:30-4:00 p.m. craving.

    The idea isn’t to make a drastic change overnight and watch your body miraculously return to the adonic splendor of your youth. The idea is to make a small change in the right direction each day, so that you’re healthier, leaner, happier, and more active. Believe me, I know it’s a struggle – I’ve been making those small changes for years, and it still is. Neither of us put the weight on overnight. Neither of us is gonna lose it that fast either.

    Eating well isn’t going to be cheaper than eating poorly. It just won’t. For ease, convenience, financial burden, and pure hedonic satisfaction, the fast food and vending machine people win every time. They can afford to win. People keep having babies, so as long as they don’t kill them in their early 20’s, they’ll keep having customers.

    The question is – do you want to meet your grandchildren?

  6. Oh, sorry for the double post, but I forgot to say that I will continue to think about meals that fit your criteria. The research benefits me as well. *cough 263 pounds cough*


    • I clocked in at 241 pounds, which was actually less than I had expected, but 100 pounds more than I was around graduation. Last time I measured my height, which was some time ago, I was 5’8″.

      If I could get to 180 pounds or so, that would be good enough for me. Even 200 would probably be enough to feel great and be active. Maybe it would even be possible to get to where I could do double-digit miles on my bike again.

  7. Okay, let me throw some numbers at you that may be helpful using the information you’ve just given me.

    Your BMR is currently 2173 calories. That is the number of calories you’d have to take in to maintain your current weight if your activity level approximated a coma. Being awake and moving around modifies this by something called the Harris Benedict equation, which basically gives a multiplier based on your activity level. The multiplier for no exercise is 1.2 (2608 calories), the multiplier if you continue walking each night would be 1.37 (2977 calories). That’s your status quo.

    To make a change, you do all the same equations for the weight you’d like to be. Let’s work with 180 pounds: BMR (coma) 1793, light or no exercise 2152, light exercise 3 times a week 2456 calories per day.

    To go from where you are to where you’d like to be, then, is a simple matter of subtraction: In a coma (2608-1793 = -815), no to light exercise (2608-2152 = -456), light to moderate exercise (2608-2456 = -152) calories. In no case should you eat fewer calories than the Harris modified BMR for the weight you want to be at your current activity level (2152) since if you do that your metabolism will basically panic and start using muscle for food. Muscle is good. We like muscle.

    So, you’ve started walking and you’re paying more attention to what you eat. Keep both of those things up, lose 155 calories a day somewhere (drink your coffee black, choose the diet soda, eat an apple instead of a snickers for a snack – that kinda thing), and you’ll start slowly losing weight at the rate of 1-3 pounds per week. That might sound really slow, but think about it – that’s still a lot faster than it went on. You could be at your goal in just over a year – much less if your capacity for exercise increases to where you want it to be.

    New topic: May have a meal worked out that meets requirements – do you like salmon?


    • I love fish, nearly any kind, including the orange stuff they call salmon. I’d eat sushi every day if it didn’t cost so much and I could be sure about fun things like mercury.

      I was just trying to figure out whether a baked potato (almost pure starch) is complex carbs or simple. I know that it’s pretty high on the glycemic index (higher than sucrose, a little lower than glucose), which would suggest that it’s simple, but I’ve read a number of web pages that say the potato is complex carbs.

      Wendy’s has a really awesome nutrition calculator thing, which I used to look at a meal of chili and a baked potato. I would use the chili as sauce for the potato instead of butter or something else. I excluded the sour cream which I don’t like anyway. That’s a little over $2 on the pocketbook, and reasonable for everything you posted last time, except for being a little high in sodium, and the unknown issue of complex carbs.

  8. They surely are. Here’s the skinny (literally!) on potatoes:

    That web site ( I keep as an icon on my desktop and refer to almost constantly because it’s just such a fantastic resource.

    For our purposes in this discussion, simple carbs are gonna be the -oses. Glucose, fructose, galactose, and so on.

    One thing I’m getting out of this podcast I’m listening to is that there is always a best, better, and worst choice. Potatoes are actually really great food. The best choice, obviously, is to skip the trip to Wendy’s altogether and eat your own hippie food. But seriously. If you are gonna go to Wendy’s, the baked potato with chili is definitely the better choice, and certainly your usual order would be in contention for worst choice, so we’re talking about a positive change. Make enough of those, and wonderful things happen.

    New topic: Okay, I haven’t quite put the numbers together on this meal yet, but let me tell you what I’m thinking:

    6 oz. salmon (7 individually wrapped frozen fillets – Costco, $17.00)
    1 C. brown rice w/ herbs (rice is just cheap. Brown rice especially so.)
    Veggies ad lib

    The cost per meal of this should be right on the mark for your desired outcome, the flavors are self explanatory, and ease of transport is as simple as putting the stuff in a microwave safe plastic container that you can nuke at lunchtime. The down sides are that you’re gonna have to prep it at home ahead of time. However, off the top of my head the protein should be right in line with what you want, the fat can be controlled since you choose how much to add, and the nutritional content is off the charts versus anything in the machine down the hall.

    New topic: Your e-mail comment notifications are working.

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