Confession: for me, the best part of the working day is lunch. I spent most of the morning on my toes, my gaze anxiously flickering to the little digital clock in the corner of my computer screen, eagerly watching that miniscule colon tick away to 1:00 PM. Tea breaks only momentarily curb my anticipation.
After having worked in an office environment for almost two years now, I’ve seen almost every variety of office lunch that can exist, from the assemble-at-the-office-mini-vegetable-patch-salad, to the radioactive-looking laksa purchased from the dodgy food court downstairs. When you’ve worked in an office for a long period of time, you really do get over the concept of bringing in a tuna sandwich which, by lunchtime, has completely soaked through your Wonder White bread. And while eating out adds some much-wanted variety for your palate and a quick fix, there’s your wallet to consider, not to mention your waistline. For those working in the hospitality industry, the most essential rule is that your food tastes good and thus sells. The question is however, do you know what is going into your food?
Take banana bread for instance. You would be hard-pressed to find a single café in the CBD which does not have at least one type of banana bread sitting comfortably in a basket beside the till or behind a gleaming cabinet full of other calorie-packed goodies. Have you ever had it toasted? Then let it sit in the brown paper bag in a while? For those who haven’t, or have selectively forgotten, the whole paper bag gets soaked through with oil. Having made my own banana bread before, I can taste a vast difference in the butter content between mine and those sold by cafes, and shudder to think of exactly how much more they add.
The everyday officer worker who purchases lunch will also purchase at least one coffee a day. I’m going to share with you an interesting article I found in the Sydney Morning Herald (‘Coffee by numbers’, D. Jellie, 18/07/06) a while ago, which compared the price that we pay for an average take-out coffee to the actual cost for the retailer. While a medium flat white will cost you approximately $3.00, the cost breakdown includes the paper cup (9 cents), plastic lid (2 cents), milk (15 cents), labour (35 cents) coffee (22 cents), and perhaps a sugar stick (5 cents) or two. The total cost to the retailer per cup is a grand total of 88 cents.
Now I’m not here to harp on about making your own coffee in the tea room, because frankly most offices don’t have the right equipment to make good coffee (please do not take in your handheld beaters to whisk your milk). What my point is, is that do you really want to spend so much on lunch when you already buy a coffee a day? Lunch and coffee will set you back at least $10 a day, not including any other snacks, as well as your contribution to the office farewell present for the person in the back corner who you’ve never even talked to.
So after having my lunches scrutinised by many in the office, I thought it was appropriate to put together a few hints to jazz up your lunch time routines, beyond the tired sandwich. In my office fridge, I have my own little space which usually has a tub of olive oil spread and a bit of cheese. I bring in a few slices of fresh sourdough each morning from a loaf I have at home. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve bought some cold cut meat (usually chicken breast or turkey slices) and avocado at the supermarket to make toasted open sandwiches – scrumptious!
+ Take the time to drop by the supermarket close to your workplace or station on Monday morning and pick up a few ingredients and fresh vegetables. While the initial cost may seem substantial, that price is being spread over your number of servings and your wallet will thank you for it.
+ Introduce a variety of textures and flavours into your lunch. By this I mean toasting bread (most offices have a toaster/sandwich press; if not, maybe arrange a collection for one), making sandwiches out of Corn Thins, and adding crisp salad leaves or nuts.
+ Being an avid fan of cheese, nothing perks me up more than a ham, tomato and cheese toasted sandwich.
+ Prepare lunches at home before the start of the working week. I like to make pasta salads with pesto, chicken or prawns, toasted pine nuts, cherry tomatoes and some roasted sweet potato or pumpkin, and freezing them in takeout boxes. If I’m feeling particularly virtuous, I might add a handful of rocket or baby spinach to it after its defrosted in the work fridge.
+ If you don’t object to home-made sandwiches, jazz up the fillings by poaching chicken breast in salted water flavoured with lemon peel and some thyme/rosemary/a bay leaf, making your own aioli (easy on the garlic), or even peel a few pre-cooked prawns for a tasty prawn and salad sandwich. Just make sure that when assembling the sandwich, place sauces/slices of tomato between cheese or salad leaves, so that the bread isn’t already soggy by the time you get into the office.
+ Freeze leftovers from weekday dinners into takeaway boxes, however heed the golden rule of not taking anything pungent (or ‘fragrant’, if you prefer), like fish, curry, or anything very garlicky into the office. Microwaving these foods in an open plan office is NOT the way to win friends and influence people.
I hope that’s given you some lunchtime inspiration! Below I’ve added my recipe for Raspberry Banana Bread, which you can virtually make with your eyes closed. And with bananas ridiculously cheap, you’ve got no excuse not to! Bake it on a weekend, then once its cooled, slice it and wrap each slice individually before freezing. Take it out in the morning and it will have defrosted by your tea break. Feel free to add one peeled, cored and chopped William pear to the batter. Happy baking!
Raspberry Banana Bread
150g butter, softened*
1C brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 ripe bananas, peeled, mashed (approximately one cup)
2C self-raising flour
1 t baking powder
½ C milk
½ C frozen raspberries (thawed on a paper towel)
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Grease base and sides of a 7cm deep, 11cm x 21cm (base) loaf pan. Line with baking paper, allowing a 2cm overhand at both long ends.
- Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale. Add egg, in two batches. The mixture will separate, so beat well after each addition.
- Stir in banana. Sift flour and baking powder over banana mixture. Add milk. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Carefully fold in raspberries with a spatula.
- Spoon mixture into loaf pan. Smooth surface. Bake for 45-50 minutes (I’ve found I need an additional 10-15 minutes, but it depends on your oven) or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Lift onto a wire rack to cool completely.
*N.B. When softening butter for recipes, either chop it and leave it at room temperature for at least half an hour, or microwave it for a short time. In this case, I did it on High for 10 seconds. You don’t want the butter to be melted, or it will not add enough body to whatever you’re making.