Lunch, that oft-overlooked middleman between breakfast and dinner, is, let’s be honest, the highlight of the working day. Whether you’re a worker or a student, who doesn’t furtively glance at the time on a weekday morning, mentally urging the little numbers to reach a socially acceptable hour for respite, and a killer sandwich? We definitely do. In fact, our shared love of the lunch hour—and a really, really great bacon and avocado sandwich consumed before the technically acceptable lunching hour on a frosty train into the city (trains, like planes, exist beyond the zones of time, especially when en route to a company sales conference)—is how The Little Book of Lunch came about.
The following is an excerpt from The Little Book of Lunch by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing.
This book is filled with delicious and simple recipes for the working person’s packed lunch box, for food lovers who have run out of steam and inspiration, and for anyone in a rut who is tired of spending a large chunk of their wages on the same old thing week after week. Follow these recipes and tips and it won’t be long before you are savoring the comforting goodness of a homemade lunch, cheered and reassured by the knowledge that you know exactly what went into it and that it is made precisely to your taste.
But back to the beginning. We’re all busy people. So, why bother with the extra fuss? The simple answer is that lunch—especially while you are at work, working—is one of life’s great pleasures, yet one that is easily overlooked. It’s pretty common for most people to spend as little time and effort as possible on lunch because a) they’re too busy to stop, and b) they want to cram as much into their working day as possible before packing up and sprinting home to begin real life. It’s a difficult pattern to break, but the truth is that life doesn’t begin at the weekend, or at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday. This is your life, and, small-fry though it may seem, having a lunch that you have made yourself to look forward to, can improve it. Face it, if you’ve bought a limp egg salad sandwich from the nearest deli, we’re not surprised that you want to inhale it, then pretend it never happened. But if you have lovingly put together your lunch, chances are you’re going to want to take some time to savor it.
Our extensive scientific research has shown that a proper meal—and a proper break—really can turn your day around. And even your employers, were they to speak of such trivial things, would concede that distance, both physical and metaphorical, leads to more productive thinking. Yes, this hour is yours to have and yours for the taking.
So, taking a break is good. But what do you eat during it, especially when you’re pushed for time as it is? For the city dweller, there have never been more options. Sandwiches, soups, salads, or sushi: the choices are overwhelming. Yet, as more convenience chains open, catering to our every fancy and fad, the less satisfaction we seem to get from popping out for that hot wrap or grabbing that bite to eat. Why? Because, although it sounds ridiculous, once the novelty has worn off, it often feels like no one is selling anything you actually want to eat. Most people have their standby lunch item, but there’s something a bit depressing about wearily buying the same sandwich day in, day out, and getting excited when a new soup is added to your favorite deli’s menu, if only because it promises to mix things up a bit. Plus, shelling out for your lunch every day is expensive. Even if you play it safe (cheese and tomato) and don’t go wild (artisan baguette), add a drink and a coffee and we conservatively estimate that you will spend at least $50 a week on your lunch—that’s over $2,500 a year!
Of course, not everyone buys their lunch—far from it. There are many people who, not working on a street with three Pret A Mangers within five minutes walk, bring in a packed lunch every day. But it’s still easy to fall into the same trap of routine, as even those with the best intentions can lose enthusiasm for homemade lunching after transferring chili con carne batch number thirty-three of the year into a Tupperware container that has seen better days. Which is where we come in. We know the pain of waking up late with only twenty minutes in which to wash, dress ourselves in respectable garb, and try to make something palatable for our lunch, especially after looking in the fridge and seeing one slice of Velveeta and two eggs. The Little Book of Lunch is the result of our hard-won wisdom. We hope these recipes and tips will inspire you to enjoy a piece of home in the midst of work’s microcosmic chaos, save some money, and not settle for whatever dregs are left on the shop shelves after the 12:30 p.m. stampede. It might not always be practical or convenient (if you have a killer hangover, you are unlikely to care about making sure your salad is evenly dressed—in fact, it’s unlikely you’ll be eating salad at all) to make yourself lunch every day, but the lunch hour should be something greater than a store-bought sandwich bolted down while hunched over your keyboard.
Even if you only do it once a week, opening a lunch box, dressing a homemade salad at work, or unwrapping a foil parcel from home will make you feel a sense of pride and even a shiver of smugness as your colleagues glance over in envy. And surely this alone makes it worth taking a break and reclaiming the lunch hour.