Think noodles, crunchy veg and pasta salad – and, when you make dinner, keep one eye on tomorrow’s lunch
What makes a good lunchbox?
In short: leftovers. We all want to avoid turning on the oven or stove too often – to save both energy and time – so make dinner with one eye on tomorrow’s lunch. “Keep your lunchbox in mind at all times,” advises Georgia Levy, author of the recently published Let’s Do Lunch. “What can you do to your dinner to make it lunchbox-friendly?” Roast veg, for example, could reappear between two slices of bread with cheese, herbs and “something crunchy”, which could be anything from shredded carrots or cabbage (a quick slaw, say) to a handful of crisps.
You’ll also want to gravitate towards things that can comfortably sit around for a bit. “Pasta salads are great,” Levy says, “because they improve over time at room temperature.” Plus, they’ll please both children and adults. If you’re contending with the former, Ed Smith, author of Crave, suggests starting with a tomato sauce, for the simple reason that “my son rejects anything that looks like it might be a leaf”. Chopped cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn and green beans, Smith finds, can be snuck in, plus a few chunks of cheese or tuna. This all gets boxed up with extra raw veg (carrots, cucumber) and olives: “Little pops of flavour generally get cleared up.” If, however, the pasta is heading to the office, Smith would utilise “lots of different veg [some pickled, some not], feta, strips of roast red pepper from a jar – lots of flavour, plenty of energy, a bit of tartness and summer zing”. What’s not to like?
Pesto alla trapanese (for which you blend almonds, garlic, basil and olive oil, then mix in chopped tomatoes) won’t disappoint, either, Levy says: “It sits beautifully and doesn’t feel too heavy.” The same goes for grain salads, whether you use maftoul (giant couscous), freekeh or bulgur wheat. “I love tabbouleh, if you have time to do all that parsley chopping,” says Levy, who tops hers with a big dollop of hummus or something aubergine-y. A couple of slices of bread would make a fine accompaniment.
It’s worth using your noodle, too, and soba is Levy’s top choice. “Put some crunchy things in there that aren’t going to be bothered whether they’re in or out of the fridge.” We’re talking red or white cabbage, fennel, celery, edamame, peas, shredded carrot – that kind of thing. Dress with tahini or Chinese sesame paste mixed with soy, honey or maple syrup, rice-wine vinegar and, perhaps, a little garlic. If, however, delicate rice noodles are more your thing, keep the dressing (soy, lime juice, chilli, and a pinch of sugar for Levy) on the side.
You’ll then want a game plan for overcoming the afternoon slump, be that a piece of fruit, a flapjack (follow Anna Jones, author of One: Pot, Pan, Planet, by adding grated carrot and apple to the mix) or Levy’s date bars with cocoa (blitz hazelnuts, quinoa, almonds, honey, dates and cocoa). A stash of roasted nuts could also hit the spot for adults: Levy adds salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lime to cashews straight from the oven. “You get these pingy, zingy nuts.” And who wouldn’t work for a handful of those?