Did someone say “lunch?”

Because my weekly consulting schedule takes me to three different clients, I only get to my employer's office every four to six weeks. The only downfall of this arrangement, so far, has been the fact that I am not well acquainted with the microwave oven in my employer's office.

Last week, my unfamiliarity caused me to cook a Lean Cuisine entree beyond all recognition. Oh sure, my colleagues have warned me that "it cooks fast," but I dutifully set it to cook for eight minutes at 50 percent power, per the package instructions. Yet when I removed it and had allowed it to cool, I discovered my potentially healthy, low-calorie lunch had been transformed into an inedible brick. The enchilada's corn tortilla was not to be bitten through. The sauce had melted and resolidified into a brown mass that had adhered to the black plastic tray. The rice came out of its partition in one crispy chunk.

So much for being thrifty, healthy, efficient and warm. I put on my coat and trudged across the parking lot to the deli in the adjacent office building and dropped eight bucks on the turkey club special (on white, toasted, includes pickle and potato chips).

This got me thinking about office lunches in general and the different options available for mid-day consumption. Do you see yourself in any of these descriptions?

Lean-cuisine Frozen Entree Franny. When they came out, Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice transformed workaday lunches. They are the perfect size for transporting in a briefcase. The only pitfall (besides overcooking – see above) is that if you don't mark yours, you may forget what you brought when you open the office freezer and are confronted with 15-20 similar entrees contained therein.  Last August, I failed to mark my Tortilla Crusted Fish Lean Cuisine. At lunchtime, I pulled out the Chicken Enchilada Lean Cuisine (because it's one I often eat) and had removed the tear strip at the end before I realized THAT'S NOT WHAT I BROUGHT! I left a note of apology and returned it to the freezer. It's still there.

Leftovers Leftover Larry. Soup Husband Curt takes great pride in not spending one nickel for his daily lunch. His eye twitches when he is forced to buy a Diet Coke. So, God bless him, he happily takes for lunch tomorrow whatever we had for dinner tonight. He'll eat the same thing for three days in a row. I'm trained to make enough dinner to feed our family plus an extra lunch or two.  I'm not opposed to leftovers, but they would be harder to transport in a briefcase on the Metro than a frozen entree.

Vulturous Victor. If you work in an office where guests are occasionally hosted for mid-day meetings, you know there's an art to sniffing out the leftovers and positioning yourself for first dibs, even before you receive the "help yourself to leftovers in the kitchen" email. If you're lucky enough to be the one who's entrusted with ordering said lunches, you will wisely tack on an extra serving (or two) and snag yours before you send that all-staff email. Just sayin'.

Brown-bag-lunch Brown Bag Brad.  Ham or turkey sandwich. Carrot or celery sticks. Apple or orange.  Yogurt or pudding. Potato chips or pretzels. Every. Single. Day.

Ten Thirty Tammy.  She wants to go for takeout and is looking for company. I worked with a woman who would, without fail, show up at my desk at 10:30 a.m. each day and say, "Did you bring your lunch?" I understood this was code for, "Can I talk you into going out with me?" My arm usually requires very little twisting; I love lunch out. We would hit the Italian buffet, the Roy Rogers for "hangover helper" burgers and fries, the Chinese takout that was next to McDonalds, the hole in the wall Mexican joint (still one of my favorites), and the carryout around the corner. Occasionally, lacking sufficient motivation to leave the office, we would actually eat whatever lunch we brought with us that day. Or the one we neglected the day before.

You're buying? I'm there! In one of my past lives, I was in charge of procuring temporary staff for the office. There was no exclusive agency – we used several – and enough volume to make ours a very attractive prospective account. I had lunch with I don't know how many account managers, all of whom treated me to really nice sit-down lunches at steak houses, American fare places (with the extra-large entrees), and the like. I used to half-joke, "I'm a slut for a free lunch." Hey, don't judge; it was business. I made them no promises.

Martini-lunch-hdr The three martini lunch. I think this might be passe, but then I work in the capital of the free world, so chances are, it's alive and well in parts of the city. But really – does anyone even do this anymore? I'd pass out at my desk for the afternoon if I had so much as one beer in the middle of the day, let alone three martinis!

11 thoughts on “Did someone say “lunch?”

  1. I’m religious about packing breakfast, but a slacker when it comes to packing lunch. In a perfect world, I would be Brown Bag Betsy!!! I LUV me some sandwiches and carrot sticks. Hold the chips;)

  2. I am pretty sure that in my office 90% of the people I work with fall into the “Vulturous Victor” category. Then there is always the “Stealing Steve.” The one that KNOWS that that lovely sandwich you put in the office fridge to have for lunch and you look forward to ALL morning is NOT HIS(or hers) and eats it anyway.
    I think I need a 3 Martini Lunch… like now :)

  3. I have a mini fridge/water cooler combo in my office. I keep it stocked with fresh veggies, homemade soups, hummus, low fat cottage cheese and supplement it with whatever yumminess Chef Jeff has cooked up.
    Hot water on demand? Priceless… endless cups of green tea, fresh brewed espresso shots from the Handpresso…
    Makes up for having to having to live in a city where it is going to continue to be -40 for weeks.

  4. BHE – I can’t do without the chips. It’s a nasty addiction.
    Momx2 – I have been lucky to not work with any Stealing Steves for a long time… though I think now that my apology note has been attached to that poor chicken enchilada entree in the freezer since August, it might be time for me to “acquire” it.
    Titanium – Whoa, I didn’t realize you’re in Fairbanks! I had some coworkers in Montreal who used to say, if it’s below 0 celsius, it’s not worth keeping track of the temp because it’s all bloody cold. Stay warm up there!

  5. My husband asked me a couple months ago who was making my lunches- even though he watched me pack up leftovers, it always amazed him when I would come home and put the containers in the dishwasher.
    Though since he doesn’t like Chinese food, anytime someone’s ordering that at work I try to get in on it.

  6. I’m currently a combination of Leftover Larry and Ten Thirty Tammy. I bring leftovers and they’re gone by 10:30. SEriously. So I have to keep a stash of soups and snacks in my desk drawer.
    Oh, back in the day of working for Price Waterhouse in downtown DC? Every single friggin meeting was catered, so if we weren’t in the meeting eating we were eating someone’s leftovers. HEAVENLY.
    GREAT post.

  7. Ptooie – we wash leftover containers daily here. We love those lunchmeats that come in the plastic box!
    CBW – I have been known to demolish a packed lunch as a midmorning snack, too. Especially if it’s a PB&J. I also stash cans of nuts and boxes of crackers. It’s like I’m afraid I might be out of food for more than an hour. Even though there’s a deli in the very next building, and the above-reference hole-in-the-wall Mexican restuarant is literally in my building.

  8. Me again – My stash includes soup; canned vegetables; almonds; oatmeal (which I never eat except in an emergency, and so far I’m not sure what constitutes an emergency since last I checked food was available within walking distance of my desk); potato chips; and Lipton tea (to make free iced tea with).
    Your fear of being out of food for an hour is not unfounded. (Or if it is, just know you’re not alone.)

  9. Blech – oatmeal. The best (and only) oatmeal I’ve ever eaten showed up on my breakfast try my first morning in the hospital after giving birth to son #2 at midnight. I hadn’t had the chance to choose my fare so I had to settle for what showed up. I was so flippin’ hungry after a fully day of labor that I inhaled that plain oatmeal like it was nectar from the gods.
    I have had a dried black bean soup cup in my desk draw at one of my clients for going on 2 years now. YOu know – just in case.

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