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When it comes to work lunches, you may have the best of intentions: You buy ingredients on the weekend and attempt to prep for the days ahead. You make a plan. You plot it all out. You're prepared.
Yet, without fail, you end up with days where you forget your lunch, lose it on the train or just really aren't feeling that leftover tikka masala for the fourth time. When this happens, your options fall to takeout or skipping lunch; neither is great for your healthy-eating intentions or your wallet.
This is where the desk pantry shines. Keeping a small stash of items in your desk and office fridge or freezer can keep you fueled during those days you don't bring a lunch or need something very quickly between meetings. With a solid desk pantry, you never have to choose between skipping lunch, sorting through the vending machine options or sneaking down to the bodega for a bag of chips and a mushy apple.
The list below is a great place to start for stocking your desk-side pantry. You don't need everything, just a few select items you wouldn't mind using to throw together a last-minute lunch.
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Basic Desk-Pantry Items
1. Whole Grains
Start building your desk pantry with this brief list. For items like bread and grains, stash them in a bag in the freezer for long-term storage, and portion out only what you need as you eat it.
- Crackers or cracker breads
- Oatmeal packets
- Bread (stash in the freezer)
- Heat-and-eat cooked-grain packets (like rice and quinoa)
- Flour tortillas
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Protein is a filling, fueling option, so if your lunch doesn't include some type of protein, you may find that the afternoon really drags. Small packages of tuna or nut butters are great to stash in your desk. Hard-boiled eggs can also be made on the weekend and stored in the work refrigerator for the week.
- Packets of tuna
- Packets of salmon
- Nut butters
- Cans of beans
- Eggs (refrigerator)
- Hummus (refrigerator)
Keep Reading: 3 Tips for Buying the Healthiest Canned Tuna and Salmon
This stash of items is great to have on hand even if you're not eating a lunch from the ingredients in your drawer. You can use these condiments to elevate anything you bring for lunch, from turkey sandwiches to Cobb salads. If you only keep one or two, go for the salt and hot sauce. They provide an instant boost of flavor satisfaction.
- Salad dressings
- Hot sauce
- Salt and pepper
4. Ready-to-Eat Meals
Of course, you can keep a multitude of frozen food or microwave-ready items on hand too. Today, instant foods like ramen and oatmeal are dramatically healthier and more flavorful than they were just a handful of years ago. Frozen options, like EatingWell frozen entreés, provide hearty grains, tender vegetables and lean meats in a palate-pleasing convenience option. You can even use the other desk-pantry items to take these meals up a notch.
- Frozen meals, like EatingWell Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes
- Cans of soup
- Instant noodles
Once you have your desk pantry in order, it's time to make lunch. The combinations below offer a few easy go-to solutions for quick lunches.
- Mix a bit of mayo and canned salmon for a simple salmon salad; serve with crackers. Carrots or celery are great, too, if you have some.
- Heat up a cup of instant oatmeal (or pour hot water over the oats and let it sit for a few minutes). Top with a package of nut butter and a drizzle of honey. Bonus: If there's some fresh fruit on hand, chop up some apples or bananas for a boost of fiber and natural sweetness.
- Heat up a single serving from your stash of heat-and-eat grains. Toss with a cup of drained chickpeas and a few tablespoons of a tangy dressing for an easy grain bowl full of protein, fiber and flavor.
- Find a lower-sodium brand of instant noodles you like and keep several packets in your drawer. To elevate the humble dish, add a hard-boiled egg, then top it with soy sauce or hot sauce for a kick of flavor.
- You may not have salad greens for a true Niçoise salad on hand, but you can get close using canned tuna as a base for a bean salad with hard-boiled egg and dressing.
Find this EatingWell Frozen Entrée and more in the freezer aisle of your local grocery store. Find Store Locations.
Watch: How to Pack a Healthy Lunch for Work