Pack Your Lunch!

When you're focused on packing a school lunch for the kids, it's easy to forget your own meal! But you can take advantage of today's office kitchenette and bring your own packed lunch -- grown-up style.

Refrigerator
Pack a satisfying main dish. Whether it's a green salad or sandwich, make sure there's enough in terms of amount and variety. Cold salads stay cool in the refrigerator, and sandwiches can rest in the upper shelves, allowing flavors to marry until lunch. For salads, add a three-ounce can of precooked salmon or leftover chicken slices just before eating for a protein-packed meal. Sandwiches can also be made pan bagnat style, and are best served after a few hours of refrigeration: Halve and hollow out a crusty French roll. Brush vinaigrette over the exposed bread, then layer meats, cheese and vegetables (tomato and roasted red peppers are great), and top with the other half of the roll. Wrap tightly, and by lunchtime you'll have a great no-cook meal!

Take-along dips stay cool and refreshing, and require little assembly for lunch. Try hummus or a cold artichoke spread for a change of pace. Or add a tablespoon of your favorite herbs to plain yogurt after you get to work -- the refrigerator will keep the yogurt safely cool and the flavor will be perfect in time for lunch.

Keep veggies for dipping or snacking in a separate bag. Try adding Roma tomato wedges and endive to the standard assortment of carrots and celery.

Remember that you are what you eat. For a refreshing pick-me-up, reach for energy-filled yogurts and fruits that have been chilled rather than something that has been snoozing in your desk drawer for weeks. Pair a fresh, ripe pear with a few crumbles of blue cheese, or have a handful of cherry tomatoes with a small assortment of olives.

Microwave
Think beyond reheating leftovers! Warm pita bread on a low setting for 20 seconds to serve alongside dips. Or set the microwave to low and melt 1/3 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips in a small container. Use as a dip for banana slices -- an easy dessert!

You can heat homemade soup or leftovers for a satisfying lunch. Add shredded cheese (stored in the refrigerator!) to the top of chili or tomato soup for a home-style meal.

If time allows, a microwave-baked potato is perfect for lunch. Pierce a potato with a fork several times and microwave for about nine minutes.

Toaster
If the office toaster has wide slots, a sliced bagel is perfect alongside soup or as a breakfast at your desk. Try flavored bagels -- an Asiago cheese bagel is great with tomato soup, and a blueberry bagel half toasted and spread with peanut butter is PB&J for grown-ups.

Toasted whole wheat bread can be cut into cubes and added to soup for a heartier lunch.

Vending Machines
No time for lunch? Some vending machines are now stocked with low-fat snacks rather than fat-laden candy bars. But just to be safe, pick "snack buddies" to help you avoid raiding the machines all day long.

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