Failure to lunch: Why is bringing your own food to work so freakin’ hard?

If carving out time to eat lunch at work is tough, taking the time to prepare it the night before can be next to impossible. Especially if your culinary skills haven’t been improved by hours of watching the Food Network or grabbing dinner out of a vending machine.

The trick then is how to eat well—inexpensively, creatively, and healthily—in neighborhoods known for $9 deli sandwiches. Instead of reaching for something frozen with the word “Cuisine” on it, or poaching five-star items in the staff fridge from the office gourmand (tisk tisk), we polled Well+Good readers via Facebook for cheap and wholesome packed lunch ideas. Here are some of their greatest tips—and a couple of ours. Putting even one of them into action will give you the virtuous feeling that they regularly enjoy.

Tips from the Well+Good test kitchen:

1. Mix of something old (leftovers) with something new (a fresh ingredient).

2. Put avocado on it.

3. Buy a container of organic baby spinach on your way to work on Monday, and bring toppings like veggies, grains, salmon, or cheese to add to it over the week.

What our readers pack for lunch:

Packing your lunch Alex C., “Make a quinoa salad in advance. Add roasted veggies and ta-da. It’s good at room temperature. No office fridge needed!”

Meredith S., This lunch-packing Pollyanna finds an endless array of delights in her fridge. “I bring breakfast, lunch, and snacks (most of the time)! I make wraps, sandwiches, salads from leftovers and always bring bananas, apples and hummus to snack on.”

Ethan K., “I keep Quaker Instant Oatmeal (the plain, no sugar kind) in my desk, and then I buy fruit from vendors outside my mid-town office building. It’s kind of breakfast-y, but really satisfying and I don’t get hungry at 4:00 p.m.”

John N., “I make Dean Ornish’s marinated tofu cutlets, but slice the tofu into six instead of four slices, then use two slices per sandwich. Three sandwiches for less than $2. I’m surviving the recession on tofu and tuna fish.”

Jerusha K., “I like to roast a chicken and then make a bunch of different things–chicken salad! chicken taco! chicken sandwich!

Cathy H., “My favorite lunch-time items are brown rice, kale, cheese, tomato, carrots and hummus.” She also packs soups, which are easy to heat up in the office microwave.

Robin P., “If you’ve got the time, you can make your own veggie sushi with sushi rice, nori (cheap if you buy a big thing of it), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber, asparagus, etc. Basically whatever veggies you have kicking around. I’m always surprised at how much of it I can make with what seems like not many ingredients.”

What’s in your lunch box? Tell us, here!

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