Say no to al desko: Best back-to-work lunchbox ideas

Stop spending $15 on al desko salad. They never ever ever satisfy.
Stop spending $15 on al desko salad. They never ever ever satisfy.  Photo: iStock

Now the new year is in full swing and you've already (admit it) dropped off the "bring lunch from home" wagon, I'm here to give you a leg-up back onto the train.

Some offices are flush with flashy equipment, such as jaffle irons and actual ovens, while others make do with a manky microwave and a chewed-out kettle. But here's the thing – no matter what your place is packing, you can make it work. In fact, some YouTubers have turned necessity into peak content. 

Adding cheese to your salad will keep hunger pangs away.
Adding cheese to your salad will keep hunger pangs away. Photo: iStock

But you don't have to go to such great lengths to MacGyver what's right in front of you. Simply flicking the switch on a kettle is an easy place to start - for example, to make miso soup for those "me so peckish" moments. The paste is usually punchier than the powder, and, if you've a fridge handy, investing in a jar of instant miso soup means you can cut down on packaging, too. If you're one of those people who forgets things in the fridge, try powdered miso packs instead, preferably ones that are organic and Australian. Dress these up with baby spinach, ginger (fresh or powdered) and even second-day rice. Last night's steamed greens could even make an appearance.

Speaking of last night's veg, mix leftover stir-fry with vermicelli noodles, or roasted root veg with instant cous cous – softened with some boiling water. If you're feeling particularly practical, pop an egg or two into the bottom of the kettle with a litre of water – boil once for soft-boil, twice for set, and thrice for hard if it's one of those days. However, if huddling around the kettle doesn't seem like your cup of tea, then packing a couple of hard-boiled googies from home couldn't hurt either.  

While we're on the topic of eggs, a sandwich press can easily become a hotplate for frying an egg, or even making or reheating an omelette. And don't be afraid to get creative with the George Foreman Grill – whether that's cooking from scratch, or adding a bit of heat and bonus caramelisation to whatever's in your Tupperware. For easy clean-up, use baking paper or wipe the machine down with vinegar to cut through extra greasy bits. 

Feta crumbled on top of any lacklustre takeaway will keep hunger pangs away.

Even the microwave is seeing a resurgence – especially for snacks such as five-minute jacket potatoes. Use a floury potato such as sebago or dutch cream and prick it with a fork before whacking in the machine.

Alternatively, bring a parboiled or prebaked potato from home, cut a slit in the top, drizzle the cooked potato with a bit of olive oil, wrap it in a little baking paper and chuck it into the sandwich press, where it'll squash and crisp, ready for loading up with whatever you've brought along – a tin of corn, some dried chives, grated cheese, and/or sour cream. Better still, stow away a jar of quality marinated feta and use the marinade in place of olive oil drizzle, and fork a piece of feta through your spud. A two-ingredient triumph!

If you're looking for other creative ways to use up all that feta, pour plenty of boiling water over a handful of frozen peas or other veg, then leave to reanimate for 5-6 minutes or until sufficiently plump and juicy. Toss together with some of the oil and feta, and smush over a piece of your favourite toasted sourdough (this can live sliced in the office freezer). Rocket leaves can be rinsed and spun at home, then brought along for making a bougie goat's cheese salad.

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If you have any dried fruit or nuts stashed in your drawer – such as cranberries or pecans, for example – chuck these in as well. Or feel free to put all of this in some form of panini or wrap for slapping into the sandwich press. Batch-cooked pulses such as quinoa, lentils and chickpeas will give extra bang for your buck, too.     

Cheese in general is a great (grate!) way of boosting the satiety of a desk lunch. Feta crumbled on top of any lacklustre takeaway will keep hunger pangs away. Cheddar and parmesan keep well in the fridge, which means you can have an emergency rasp over plain pasta or leftover mashed potato. Fats such as avocado and seed and nut butters never go astray, either – on leaves, loaves or crackers.

Fermented veg is another way to create your own arsenal of awesome flavour while slipping more veg into your day. Let other people do the hard work for you by investing in a few quality jars, or you can even make your own. Kimchi is excellent through refried beans, cooked rice or out of the jar with a fork, really. Sauerkraut and pickles are both excellent with pastrami and mustard in a sanger or if you're smashing some potatoes of the fried variety. .

Having miso soup on stand-by is perfect for those peckish moments.
Having miso soup on stand-by is perfect for those peckish moments. Photo: iStock

Ultimately, the trouble with work is that it's not home. And there's no stronger reminder of this than at lunchtime, where food often falls by the wayside of productivity. Giving yourself permission to make food a feature of your day, even in the office, will not only nourish you better but likely save you money and make you happier – even on Mondays. 

Alice Zaslavsky is the culinary correspondent for ABC News Breakfast & Radio and creator of Phenomenom, a digital toolkit for teachers helping kids fall in love with veg. Her next book, on vegetables, is out in November 2020.