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Easy foodie-approved tips to make your work lunch box more exciting

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 14/09/2018 Laura Hampson

a close up of a plate of food on a table © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Buying lunch every day is a total waste of money. Estimates vary but financial experts say that forking out for ready-made meals and snacks every day can cost you anywhere from £1,300 to over £2,000 per year. Ouch. 

Making your work lunches instead of spending a fiver at Pret every day is a no-brainer. It also feels like the boring option. 

But lunch boxes have certainly evolved since we were kids, while the classic ham and cheese sandwich is certainly appealing, lunches that you can prep on Sunday afternoons and have ready to take with you on weekday mornings are the new go-to.

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Anna Barnett, Evening Standard columnist and foodie, said: “An adult packed lunch is all about the preparation. By setting aside just half an hour over the weekend to prep will mean you can banish the limp cheese sandwiches for the week and enjoy homemade lunches with a difference.”

Below, Anna gives her top tips for an exciting lunch box alongside food experts Rachel Khoo and Anna Jones.

Anna Barnett, cook and columnist

It’s all about preparation

“Invest in some good reusable jars and batch cook your grains, pastas and noodles. Also stock up on an abundance of fresh veg and pickles for an added health kick plus a serious injection of flavour.”

Caesar salad © Provided by Shutterstock Caesar salad

Noodle-based dishes are the simple way to create exciting lunches

“From the rice noodle spicy broth that you can simply add hot water too (using a sambal oelek is a great and simple way to add spice and depth of flavour) to the homemade falafel, pickles and pitta; lunches needn’t be boring.

“Any noodle dish, classic salad or bowl of grains can be given a new lease of life by using quality produce and a killer dressing or sauce. Store the dressing separately and add just before you’re about to eat. This will ensure there’s no soggy salad leaves or a lunch of mush when it comes to feeding time.”

Anna’s top tip

“It’s all in the organisation. Failing that just cook a double dinner or take in cooked salmon and greens, pastas, meats and rice dishes which can easily be reheated or eaten cold.”

Rachel Khoo, cook, writer and author of The Little Swedish Kitchen

a person sitting on a table: the-little-swedish-kitchen-jacket.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited the-little-swedish-kitchen-jacket.jpg

Use quality ingredients for your sandwiches

“If you're going to make a sandwich, don't skimp on the quality of the bread and filling. This is when you can set your sandwich apart from what you buy at the shop. There are some amazing bakeries in London (Bread ahead, E5 Bakehouse...) who do fantastic sourdough loaves or baguettes. Follow the French and make a classic jambon beurre but with the best roast ham you can find and a good salty flavoursome butter. It doesn't need to be complicated but simply use the best ingredients available.”

Related: 25 packed lunch hacks that are borderline genius (Lovefood)

Soups are the perfect meals to make in bulk

“With the colder weather heading our way why not dust off your thermos flask. Soups make a fantastic nutritious lunch. From the classic leek and potato, tomato or spiced butternut squash. It's easy to make a big pot and either refrigerate the rest or pop portions into the freezer. When it comes to serving the soup don't keep it plain, pack a little container filled with some fresh herbs, croutons, freshly chopped chilli, roasted nuts or seeds.

Bowl of vegetable soup © Provided by Shutterstock Bowl of vegetable soup “I always think that during the colder months it's great to have a hot bowl of something and it doesn't have to stop with a soup. It's also possible to pack a wider neck thermos for stews or curries. All these kind of dishes can be made in advance and often taste better after a day or two when the flavours have melded together.”

Variation is essential

“Think about all those extra details. Head to a fancy deli and pick up a few things that will give your lunch box a little something. Making lunches in the long run saves you money so I always think there's nothing wrong with adding a little luxury to homemade packed lunch.”

Anna Jones, cook, stylist and author of A Modern Way to Eat

a cat with its mouth open: a-modern-way-to-eat-anna-jones.jpg © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited a-modern-way-to-eat-anna-jones.jpg

Homemade dips make the perfect snack

“I’ll often make a big pot of some kind of dip - a beet borani or muhammara (a Levantine smoky walnut, paprika and red pepper dip) and pack it along with some crudités or crackers.”

Look abroad for fresh ideas

“When you need some inspiration, look to different nationalities and cuisines for new ideas. Try a rice-based bento box with tofu, sugar snaps, pea shoots, and radishes, or a bowl of noodles with a quick satay sauce, thinly sliced raw cabbage and tofu.”

Muhammara dip © Provided by Shutterstock Muhammara dip

Leftovers are your friends

“Use roasted roots from the night before, throw in an extra handful or two when you’re doing the evening pasta, and save cold potatoes."

Grain-based dishes are the perfect meal prep

“Hardy grain-based dishes are amazing for lunchboxes, as they travel well and don’t need to live in the fridge. Start with a hearty base, add a veggie or two, and finish with some crunch from croutons, nuts or toasted seeds. I'll often pack a flavourful dressing separately and pour it on at the last minute.”

Don’t forget toppings and seasonings

“It's all in the finishing touches. Include toppings, like peanuts or croutons (and make sure they stay crunchy by twisting them into clingfilm, or keeping them in jars, to keep them separate).

“Remember your seasonings – maybe a bridge too far for some, but it’s not a bad idea to keep a little pot of salt and pepper on your desk, as it can make all the difference.

“Also pack half a lemon with your lunch – acidity is a quick route to making a salad sing.”

Watch: These pan-seared scallops with tomato and pesto taste amazing (My Recipes)

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