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One group of coworkers takes brown-bagging to a new level.
Every day, when Sue Nechanicky heads to her office lunchroom, she finds a smorgasbord of healthful yet satisfying options: zesty New Orleans-style chicken sandwiches; savory strata with bacon, tomato, and cheese; and veggie-filled lasagna, to name a few.
The tasty spread clearly beats your typical office fare. But it isn't brought in from a nearby restaurant or prepared by cafeteria staff. Instead, Nechanicky's colleagues cook lunch, acting as members of the Healthy Lunch Club, a group of nearly 30 people who work at the Minneapolis-based furniture retailer Room and Board. The other 130 people who work at Room and Board's headquarters brown-bag their lunches, resort to a vending machine filled with pre-fab food like burgers, or drive to fast-food restaurants or a nearby supermarket for prepared foods.
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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"Before the club, I'd bring in a yam and bake it in the microwave, or I'd bring in packaged soup," Nechanicky says, while eating with colleagues in the office lunchroom. "It was healthy, but it wasn't a well-rounded meal."
Club member John Schroeder, the company's national market manager, confesses he had less wholesome lunch habits in the past. "I got a fast-food restaurant burger as many as three or four times a week," he says.
Like fast-food restaurants, the club offers quick, economical meals-with healthful food available down the hall, not down the road.
We developed recipes based on the Healthy Lunch Club's guidelines for nutritional balance. Each of the recipes in this story can serve at least 10 people. We also know the importance of convenience, and kept this in mind by offering dishes that you can make the night before and easily transport to work. They might just inspire you to form your own lunch club, and make your workplace both healthier and tastier.
Top 10 Tips for Starting Your Own Club
Launching a lunch club is a great way to escape the typical lunchtime quandary-deciding where to eat and keeping it healthful. Consider these 10 tips from Sue Nechanicky, one of the founders of Room and Board's club:
1. Make sure your workplace has a few basics: refrigerators large enough to fit a daily feast, a counter that can be used for food prep, and a couple of microwaves. Room and Board also has a kitchen sink, two dishwashers, a slow cooker, two toaster ovens, glass plates and cups, silverware, and serving pieces. Your company may not offer the same amenities, so members of your club might have to provide what they need. For instance, each member could bring in his own plate, or you could decide to purchase paper plates as a group.
2. Use slow cookers for buffet-style dishes. Cuisinart spokesperson Mary Rodgers says to reheat food in her company's slow cooker, use the high setting to bring the food to 140° in under two hours, then set to "warm" to hold the food through lunch.
3. Decide on dietary guidelines. Help people follow them by assembling an informal library of health-conscious cookbooks and magazines, including Cooking Light.
4. Name a point person. She should create a schedule, enforce the guidelines, and coordinate new groups as interest grows.
5. Set hours. At Room and Board, dishes are available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
6. Display dietary information for each dish. Include fat and calorie counts and the serving size (so latecomers don't go hungry because others have taken too large a share). Cooking Light and many cookbooks provide that information.
7. Measure serving sizes. Provide a measuring cup when serving soups, stews, and other dishes that aren't already divided into servings to help avoid confusion over serving sizes.
8. Place a membership list at the table. Have people check off their names when they take their lunches, so people can better gauge how much food is remaining.
9. Have a backup plan. Inevitably, someone will call in sick or have a last-minute trip. For such occasions, club members order in a vegetarian pizza with half the cheese.
10. Snack smart. Remind people that if you choose a 500 calorie limit on meals, as Room and Board does, it may not carry them through the day, so they should keep healthful snack foods at hand.
How to Start a Lunch Club - Recipes
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30 Creative Bento Box Lunch Ideas Kids Will Love
Packing a lunch doesn't need to feel like a chore. Whether your child is a picky eater or you're trying to find new and creative ways to get them to look forward to school, a bento box is a surefire way to put together a delicious and nutritious lunch that's sure to delight. They'll love the fun, tasty contents, while you'll love the simplicity of packing up these boxed lunches.
Best of all, these lunch box ideas are not only fun to create, but they're also full of nutritious ingredients so your little ones leave the cafeteria or kitchen table feeling full and content. Start off by tapping into their imagination and craft a bento box packed with food characters that come to life with every bite, like our picnic-themed lunch pictured here. Sandwich cutters are easy to find in stores and take an everyday sandwich from average to something special in just a few seconds&mdashlike this cute cat. Use a flower punch cutter to embellish cubes of watermelon and decorate some hummus with an olive. For the child that loves monsters, or for a Halloween-themed treat, we're showing you how to put together a spooky bento box lunch, which includes a monster that is made from carefully cut apple. It has razor-sharp teeth and eyes that are crafted from cream cheese and honey or peanut butter. Or if you're packing up a lunch for a budding engineer, surprise them with a robot hot dog. All it involves is cutting a pre-cooked hotdog into various sections and anchoring the parts together with a piece of uncooked spaghetti. Cucumber, orange slices, and crackers round-out the bento box for a deliciously healthy meal.
No matter how you fill it, these bento lunch boxes and their contents are sure to add a little something extra to lunchtime. Find unique and flavorful meals that will spice up your kids' lunchtime, all neatly organized in a bento box for optimal ease.
How Meal Prepping Make-Ahead Lunches Helped Me
Every Sunday, I’d prep my lunch for the week so all I needed to do in the morning was grab and go. This made a huge difference!
I share all of my secret hacks in this beginner’s guide to meal prep! You should really take a look when you get a chance.
For today’s post, I compiled a list of my favorite make-ahead lunches that I prepare during my Sunday meal prep. Some of these recipes take less than half an hour to make and others can simmer in the crockpot while you do other things.
Each one is healthy and can be prepared ahead of time for the week. Make-ahead instructions come with each recipe!
If you want to learn to get started with meal prep this weekend then download my free Quick-Start Meal Prep Guide with a meal plan, recipes, and grocery list!
Advice for Starting Your Own Cooking Club
1. Know Who You Are
Establish an initial structure: Before starting your club, figure out a few ground rules. Will your club be members only? Is this rule strict or can an occasional non-member join by invitation? Do you want to meet regularly (say every third Saturday) or occasionally, as projects and ingredients arise? Do you want to take on a theme (meat-centric projects, a specific cuisine, preserving, etc.) or be more open? Do you want to be a mixed group as far as skills go or would you prefer to keep it strictly amateur (or pro)? Of course, your group will evolve and change over time, and that’s just fine, but having some or all of these decisions figured out will save you a lot of initial scrambling around.
Be purposeful about your size and make-up: The number of people participating in an event and their collective skill level will influence how things go. My group is now too big for all of us to do every event, so we often cap them, usually based on refrigerator space and kitchen size. Our average gatherings are around eight people and our skill levels are mixed, with a tendency towards being very experienced/pro. That said, it’s never a problem when a less experienced cook participates. We try to not rely too heavily on the pros unless it is very specific project that the pro knows something about. In which case, we make it really clear he or she is OK leading the session.
How to Start a Lunch Club - Recipes
Keep the ketchup in the fridge. These scrumptious, savory wedges will wow your crowd more than any French fry could.
Lucky you! This tasty version of Irish fries makes a pot of gold that’s perfect as a side dish, or a meal all its own.
Croissant French Toast
French toast AND croissants? Oui, please! This mouth-watering recipe makes any morning a sweet one.
Boneless Pork Parmesan
Like pork? Mamma mia, this Italian-inspired dish served over spaghetti will make you squeal in delight!
Eric’s Portobello Burgers
Dial your next burger night all the way up to 10. Featuring organic beef and tons of flavors, this recipe will rock your world.
Reef & Beef
The best of both worlds on one plate! Fresh Member’s Mark &trade steaks and succulent shrimp come together in this fabulous entrée.
Bacon-Wrapped Brussels Sprouts
Is there anything bacon can’t make better? No, not really. So start your gathering off with these tasty, poppable nuggets of goodness.
Salmon with Capers, White Wine & Lemon
This recipe includes an incredible rub that helps add a sea of delightful flavors to fresh salmon.
Oh, the pasta-bilities! Don’t decide, make them both with this recipe that delivers the Italian tastes you love.
Replace your regular turkey sandwich with this no bread sandwich recipe!
When I first stumbled upon the magic that is the no bread turkey club I mostly made them with the same set of ingredients: some mayo or dressing, turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and avocado. Since that time I have made AT LEAST one of these a week every week and they just keep getting better.
I will still call them a no bread turkey club, but let’s call a spade a spade. They are really just a delicious lettuce wrapped sandwich. You can call it a keto turkey club, a paleo turkey sandwich, or a low carb sandwich, but you can always use the same method to make it.
How to Make Lunch Last All Day Long
What started innocently with breakfast co-opting weekend lunch (yes, I&aposm looking at you, brunch) was fully realized in the Information Age, when a meal once enjoyed as a social noontime restorative began being furtively consumed alone in the cold flicker of email𠅊nd don&apost even ask what COVID-19 did to it. But I say it&aposs time to fight back against the decline of lunch, and the surest way to do that is to go big, with what I call "long lunch"𠅊n expansive savory meal with friends or family that features inspired conversation and in which day drinking is both elevated and de rigueur.
You might object, "Isn&apost this just dinner served eight hours early?" Superficially, maybe, but the two meals are worlds apart. I mean, which sounds more appealing: long lunch or long dinner? Mention of the former invokes bubbling, anticipatory excitement. The latter? Deflating dread. Dinner draws the curtains on a strenuous, tiring day. Long lunch is the day. To a light-filled room and a table filled with friends, food, and superlative wine, you bring your best, most relaxed, energized self. At a long dinner, you yawn and struggle to keep your head up and then belly flop into bed, swollen and drunk.
"Dinner draws the curtains on a strenuous, tiring day. Long lunch is the day."
So how should a long lunch be measured—in hours or courses or bottles of wine? All of the above. Just make sure it&aposs your only calendar entry, as nothing&aposs worse than having to prematurely excuse yourself because of some sad obligation. That said, if you&aposre new to long lunching, here are a few guidelines.
First, a hamburger does not a long lunch make. A proper long lunch should be expansive, never heavy, with lots of breathing room between dishes. You&aposve got the full afternoon, so spread things out and eat at a leisurely pace. The best lunch foods are on the lighter side—salads and oysters, followed by poultry or fish. If red meat or pork is on the menu, keep portions small.
Beyond that, the critical piece is alcohol: A long lunch is a drinker&aposs meal. A healthy drink in the afternoon energizes and encourages humor and creativity. Decidedly not the classic (and lethal) three-martini affair, a long lunch should include at least two categories of alcohol, if not three. Wine is required.
Lunch wine used to be the polite term for a wine that lacked the profundity to be served with dinner, but for long lunchers, it&aposs the highest compliment—quaffable wine, bright and crisp as a spring afternoon, bringing verve to the whole table. Wine selections should spark interest and pleasure they don&apost need to be trophies.
Like a conductor to an orchestra, drinks should guide the meal, setting dynamics, tone, and pace. For instance, you might whet your palate with a crisp aperitif before moving on to a bottle of white, and then a red. After dessert, possibly tidy up with a sip of Calvados or Armagnac. And then, if conversation refuses to flag, push on with a zesty pilsner before heading home. (I suggest Uber.)
It&aposs easy to imagine that progression at a restaurant with a well-stocked bar. The recipes that follow, however, celebrate the idea of a long lunch at home, a tradition in Europe for ages. While the home-cooked long lunch is less an American practice, it should become one. So, for
inspiration, I offer you an ideal long lunch. It&aposs easily accomplished at home, requiring only some planning so that you, the host, don&apost miss one minute of it. In other words: Set yourself up for success by arranging simple, tasty dishes that require little active cooking time.
At the close, you&aposll feel invigorated, not heavy. Suffused with a feeling of contentment, you may want to take a short walk and eventually go to bed early. Such is the genius of the long lunch𠅊 meal that can redeem our stolen afternoons.
Clam and Mussel Conserva with NV Champagne Vouette et Sorbພ Fidèle
A staple of the Iberian Seaboard, shellfish conserva is an ideal starter. Usually it&aposs sold tinned, but it tastes even better made from scratch. The buttery-briny sweetness of the mollusks is brilliantly cut by the lemon and vinegar, and when spooned onto toasted bread or lettuce leaves, it&aposs a perfect finger food. It&aposs also easy and, conveniently, can be made not only a day in advance, but days—it just gets better the longer the flavors coalesce. A grassy olive oil will be too penetrating, so use a milder one, like Ligurian. And save the leftover liquid for dipping bread, for a ready-made pasta sauce, or even for risotto broth. A conserva like this will welcome any number of dry whites, but I love the cut of Champagnes like those from Vouette et Sorbພ, from the Aube region, just a stone&aposs throw from Chablis. Both areas sport soils derived from decomposed seabeds, which magically create harmony between the wine and shellfish.
Next, begin the transition into red with a light, refreshing Langhe Nebbiolo I&aposm particularly fond of the one from Piedmont&aposs Fratelli Alessandria, set against an earthy mushroom pasta. Italians got pasta right when they decided to deploy it as a primo, not a secondo. Bitter greens—if you can&apost find dandelion, try mustard, turnip, or, in a pinch, spinach—supply springlike verve, while mushrooms evoke cozy comfort use a combination of dried and fresh fungi for depth and complexity. Tarragon and mustard echo the floral notes of Nebbiolo, the earthy undertones of which make it a classic mushroom wine in Italy&aposs Piedmont. Serve the wine at cool cellar temperature, around 55 degrees. The ragù is perfect for entertaining, as it can be made up to three days in advance. Just warm it and toss with wilted greens and al dente bucatini.
A grill-roasted chicken is a perfect main course. It&aposs not heavy, it cooks forgivingly, and it is fantastically versatile with wine. I love its contrast with Piedrasassi&aposs graceful but substantial Santa Barbara County Syrah. Most of this dish can be done long before serving. The chicken&aposs seasoning happens days in advance, so all you have to do is roast it on the grill—which, thanks to natural convection, doesn&apost take long. Make sure you position the grill vents to pull smoke across the chicken, as it&aposs that kiss of smoke that connects with Syrah&aposs wildness. The potatoes can be cooked ahead of time a classic shallot vinaigrette can be made a day or two in advance, too. It&aposs the sneakily heroic through line, merging with the juices on the cutting board, contrasting with the smoky chicken, perking up the potatoes, and making the salad sing.
A selection of cheeses with 2018 Lingua Franca Avni Chardonnay
After the chicken bones are cleared, leave the salad on the table and bring out a few simple hunks of great cheese. Cheese after the meal is a win-win. It transitions to dessert and prolongs wine drinking and conversation. If there&aposs still red in the bottle, keep pouring. But cheese offers a great excuse to return to white wine, which brings a jolt of fresh energy. It might seem awkward to return to white wine after red, but in my house, we do it all the time. It&aposs a refreshing about-face, and white simply goes better with most cheeses there&aposs no better time for a Chardonnay. I love the Lingua Franca Avni, from Oregon, made by my friend and sommelier legend Larry Stone its irresistibly racy, mineral style connects the Willamette Valley with Burgundy. Keep this course simple: three large hunks of cheese, a dish of good butter, and some toasted sourdough. My wife, Christie, and I like to mix it up—hard and soft sheep, cow, and goat𠅋ut Comté, Chardonnay&aposs greatest friend, has a permanent spot at the head of our cheeseboard.
Fig and Caramel Nut Tart with The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Savannah Verdelho Madeira
This epic fig-and-nut tart was truly designed to showcase the world&aposs least appreciated yet most delectable wine, Madeira. This ancient wine, from a subtropical island in the Atlantic Ocean, combines everything wonderful—salty caramel, roasted nuts, dried figs, and brown butter—with powerful acidity and just enough sweetness. The Rare Wine Co.&aposs Verdelho nails the alluring flavor profile. And this tart brilliantly acknowledges every element of the wine. By toasting the nuts and cooking the caramel to the edge without burning either, you&aposll keep the tart from being too sweet for the wine. With plenty of guests at the table, you&aposll probably easily finish that bottle, so have a nip of brandy or Calvados ready if people want to keep drinking. Coffee is delicious here, too. After all—it&aposs still the afternoon!
To pull off a leisurely long lunch, start early. Make the conserva, the ragù, and the tart 3 to 5 days ahead they&aposll keep in the fridge. Two days before the meal, season the chicken. The day before, whisk the vinaigrette, cook the potatoes, and chill the white wines. Morning of, open the still wines and bring cheeses to room temperature. An hour before the meal, bring out the conserva, fill a pot of water for the pasta, and grill the chicken, if desired. Then, enjoy your lunch, stepping away after each course to finish assembling the next.
Hosting a Successful Dinner Club
Typically the club meets every four to six weeks and shares a special meal. Every month is a great timeline for a cooking club but if you live in close vicinity to your group every week is an exciting crash course to new styles of food as well.
Avoid what you know and get a little curious with your meals, this isn't your standard potluck. Some groups use these clubs to be adventurous and experiment with new cuisines or gourmet ingredients, unlike the recipes you would find at a typical potluck supper. Themes are a good place to start. Apples are a great starting place to celebrate the arrival of autumn or a party at the beach to welcome summer. Use your imagination and let your tastes buds freely wander the food landscape. Experiment with flavors from India, China, Mexico, and France.
In some cases, the group, in the home of one of the members, cooks the entire meal. Other clubs ask members to bring the dishes pre-cooked, which makes for a speedier evening. In that case, the host is usually responsible for the main course. In some clubs, the host of the month plans the meals, in others, the group gets together to plan it. The typical size of these groups ranges from 8 to 12 members.