Let's be honest—nobody likes to eat a sad desk lunch. Going out to a nearby deli or restaurant to grab a meal on your lunch break is always a more appealing option, but it's also a more expensive one, and can be difficult for people with dietary restrictions or food allergies. Packing your lunch is a great alternative, but it always sounds like such a chore—the good news is, it doesn't have to be.
A few changes to your routine and to your Tupperware cabinet can help make packing your lunches a virtually pain-free process, and make your lunches (desk or not) and your wallet a little bit happier.
You don't cook in bulk
One of the easiest ways to get into the habit of packing your lunch for work is to cook ahead of time in big batches. This can be a great Sunday afternoon activity before you head back into the work week: Make a large batch of a food you love, and pack it every day for lunch so you don't have to prepare much throughout the rest of the week. Foods that don't last very long in the fridge can be frozen and reheated for use later in the week. The only catch is, you'll be eating much of the same food throughout the week, which works fine for some people, but not so much for others—it all depends on your eating preferences.
You don't know how to add variety
Even when you cook in bulk, you can still change things up throughout the week to make it a little less predictable and boring. For example, if you make grilled chicken, you can use pair it with other foods—think about pairing it with a salad, adding it to a stir-fry or rolling it up in a wrap or a burrito. Lentils can be added to tacos, chili, and of course, they make for a great soup. In order to change things up, cook a base food in bulk and then add the other ingredients as you go throughout the week, that way the majority of the work is done for you ahead of time—all you have to do is get creative.
You don't take advantage of leftovers
If cooking in bulk just isn't your thing and you prefer to make something new from day to day, try doing it on a smaller scale. Rather than cooking one big batch of something at the beginning of the week and putting it aside for several lunches, hack your dinners and make use of leftovers instead. When you cook dinner, make sure you add enough ingredients to make an additional serving—then, package what you aren't eating for dinner up to take to work the next day. And if you don't like eating the same thing two days in a row, alternate days—make Monday's leftovers Wednesday's lunch, for example.
You don't prepare the night before
Packing up your lunch before you head out to the office may seem like a good idea in theory, but if you're not really a morning person or you're dealing with a busy schedule, it's not so easy in practice. Rather than wait until the morning to package up your lunch, do it the night before—if you're already doing the leftovers technique or cooking the night before, it's quick to just pack up your lunch in the process, and won't take any time out of your morning routine. And if you're cooking in bulk, you have options: you can package up all your individual meals in containers at the beginning of the week, or just pack them up in one container each night so you can just grab-and-go in the morning.
You don't have trustworthy to-go containers
Speaking of packing up your lunch... If you don't have reliable containers, bringing your lunch from home will be a challenge. Invest in work-horse containers—be they Tupperware or mason jars, or something else in between—that work for you and the kinds of food you eat, and make sure they've got lids that stay put even if they get jostled around in your bag. Oh, and if you don't have a lunchbox or bag to tote your food in, get one that you don't mind carrying around (think of both style and comfort).
You don't know how to pack your favorite foods
You love eating sandwiches for lunch, but by the time lunch time actually arrives, the bread is soggy, the lettuce is wilted and altogether it's totally unappetizing—sound familiar? If you're deterred from bringing your lunch because your favorite foods always get gross by the time you're ready to eat, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't bring the dishes you love, it just means you need to find a better way to pack them. In the case of sandwiches, it might be more effective to pack the ingredients separately, then assemble your sandwich at lunch time.
You don't want to eat at your desk
Just because you start packing your lunch, doesn't mean you're suddenly sentenced to working your way through your lunch hour. You don't have to go to a local restaurant to pick up lunch just to have a break outside. When it's nice out, take your lunch to an outdoor spot nearby to savor it. (But even if it's gloomy, take your lunch to a break room if possible.) If you absolutely have to eat at your desk, give yourself a break and don't work through it, just enjoy your food and maybe catch up on some interesting articles. And if you feel like you'd be missing out on the social aspect of getting lunch with your coworkers, plan daily coffee breaks to catch up instead.