If you’re looking for ideas for lunches to take to work, you may find it especially hard right now. Between social distancing in the office and perhaps wanting to limit your trips to the communal kitchen, lunch takes more planning than it used to. While you may want a lunch that doesn’t rely on using the workplace fridge, sink or microwave, you will still want the food to taste good without reheating and for it to be stored safely to fend off bad bacteria.
To help you tick both boxes, we’ve put together a list of tips that keep food safety in mind, along with recipes that fit the bill.
Why you can’t just leave your lunch at room temp all day
Health Canada advises that you keep cold food cold and hot food hot so bacteria that can make you sick can’t grow. The “danger zone” at which harmful bacteria thrives is anywhere between 4 C and 60 C. That’s a wide range, and your workplace temp will almost certainly be set to something within it.
That recommendation applies not only to high-risk foods like dairy, eggs, meat and seafood, but also other lunchtime faves you may not suspect, like cooked grains, and cut fruit and vegetables. Basically anything that’s not bread, crackers, cookies, popcorn, whole and dried fruit, and unopened canned meat or fish should be kept out of the danger zone, says the Canadian Institute of Food Safety (CIFS).
How to pack food you want to eat hot
To keep your hot food stored safely, CIFS recommends filling your thermal container with boiling water and letting it sit for a few minutes before emptying it and putting in your hot food. Avoid opening it before lunch so the heat doesn’t escape.
Here are recipes to try.
Khoresh Ghormeh Sabzi
Paul Sun Hyung Lee’s Kimchi Soup
Chicken and Lentil Soup
Jamie Oliver’s Smoky Veggie Chili With Sweet Gem & Cheesy Jacket Spuds
Root Vegetable Stew with Rosemary Garlic Baguette
Winter Pappa al Pomodoro
How to pack food you plan to eat cold
CIFS also recommends using an insulated lunch bag plus two cold sources for food that won’t be refrigerated. One of those sources could be a frozen drink, like water or a smoothie, which will slowly defrost to be perfectly chilled by noon. Double duty!
Place one ice pack on the bottom and your other cold source on top to sandwich your food and keep it cool.
Here are some recipes that taste great without reheating.
Farro and Mushroom Salad
20 Minute Moroccan Couscous Salad
Buckwheat Noodles and Assorted Vegetables with Gochujang Vinaigrette | Bibimguksu
Jamie Oliver’s Falafel Wraps with Grilled Veg & Salsa
Tips for heartier salads that won’t turn sad and wilty
The same cold food safety rules apply to salads, but there are some things you can do to preserve their quality too.
Compartmentalize. Pack your dressing on the side. (A leak-proof jar works well, although you should still do all you can to keep it upright. You could outfit it with a rust-proof lid which will allow you to put it in the dishwasher.) Store anything you want to keep crunchy, like nuts, on the side too.
Alternatively, add dressing to the bottom of your container, layering beans or heartier ingredients onto it before topping with salad leaves — to separate them from the dressing. Just give the whole container a shake to toss it at lunchtime. Kale salad and salad using heartier leaves like collard greens or cabbage are exceptions. They do well mixed ahead as the dressing softens the tough raw leaves.
Here are some salad ideas to get you going.
Arlene Dickinson’s Perfect Salad
Shahir’s Perfect Salad
A Really Good Kale Salad
Joy McCarthy’s Superfood Salad
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.