Lunch has always been my favorite meal. I look forward to it every day, even when it is just a sandwich and a handful of chips. (I’ll save the apple for a mid-afternoon snack.) I love walking away from the studio, strolling the 25 feet or so into the kitchen, where I generally sit at the counter and eat by myself. (There is nothing that relieves the existential boredom of a morning of solitary cross hatching like a little blue glass bowl of potato chips.) Perched on a stool, I can look out on the neighbors’ comings and goings, read a magazine, drop a bread crust (by accident!) for Luke the wonder dog, and just enjoy a slight change of scene. Life is not very exciting when you have always worked from home, and sometimes all it takes is a ham sandwich on rye, with a generous schmear of spicy brown mustard to get creative enough for the demands the afternoons bring .
This year, the COVID-19 year, there are greater challenges for some that merely changing the view won’t help. The lucky ones, we who can work from home, are now sometimes juggling a couple of children and assorted class curricula on top of our work. There are others who are able to send their masked children off to actual real life school rooms. Will the children eat their lunches in a cafeteria or from social distances at their desks? Maybe there will be picnic tables outside, while the weather is still nice? Will the children bring lunches from home, or eat school-provided meals?
Whether you are sitting at the kitchen table by yourself, or packing a lunch for someone else, you need good ideas every day. Which can be a daunting prospect. Making lunch interesting and healthy is a real concern. Energy! Nutrition! Protein! Variety! And you can’t just slide by using up the hurricane-supply-peanut butter. On Sundays, while you are planning your dinners for the week, you need to plan out lunches, too. Take a page from practically perfect Amanda Hesser from Food52. She packs fabulously original lunches for her children. We could hate her if she wan’t so clever. And her ideas are reasonable. They don’t call for too many obscure and expensive ingredients. With a little practice, we might just be trainable. Because we know there will be dessert.
Get out the tiny little Tupperwear containers, find all the maddeningly elusive lids, and start chopping. Make little Bento boxes of luncheon-y delights for every day. Shake up your routine, and experiment. Swipe on some chutney. Dust a sandwich with a handful of sprouts. Forgo the Pepperidge Farm white bread and try Naan bread. Don’t forget leftovers! Our Tall One made some interesting combinations with leftovers from Thanksgiving, theorizing that everything tastes delicious on a crescent roll, especially when daubed judiciously with cranberry sauce.
I haul this list out this out annually, without shame. Feel free to make your own spreadsheet, so you will never have another moment of hesitation. At least with regard to lunch. The Spy Test Kitchen came up with this flexible list of ingredients for packing school lunches a few years ago. It is just as timely today:
Let’s start with bread:
Whole grain breads
If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.
Next, the spread:
The main ingredient:
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Sliced red peppers
“ ‘We could take our lunch,’ said Katherine.‘What kind of sandwiches?’ said Mark.
‘Jam,’ said Martha thoughtfully, ‘and peanut-butter-and-banana, and cream-cheese-and-honey, and date-and-nut, and prune-and marshmallow…’”
-Edward Eager, Magic by the Lake