Dear reader, I have a confession to make: I love Pret-A-Manger.
I love it so much that when I first moved to London, I spent a whopping £113 ($149) on Pret in my first month of working here. ON PRET ALONE. This money was spent on a mixture of breakfasts, lunches and praline cookies.
When I did the math (read: looked at my bank statement and felt shame) and realized I was spending that much, I knew something had to change. I did my best to bring in homemade lunches and breakfasts, but I found I had to really force myself to enjoy them, and I’d often find myself giving in to the “treat yourself” inner monologue. Worst of all, I would sometimes eat a banana and some yogurt and then STILL go to Pret and get breakfast anyway. Good Lord.
When moving to a new job, my second in London, I became determined to finesse my desk-dining experience, by building up a collection of things that sit happily on my desk and make every meal a joy. Some people find my desk pantry over the top and have commented on it. This made me super self-conscious at first, but who do you think they come to when they need black pepper or hot sauce? IT ME.
Here are the top 7 items that have been total game-changers in improving my sad desk lunches:
1. Hot sauce
I lived with two Americans in my first year of college, and they introduced me to a whole host of truly incredible American dishes and condiments — the most important being Cholula hot sauce. I’m not typically a huge fan of spice, but Cholula, especially the one with added garlic, is perfect to have on-hand to add flavor and boost otherwise bland dishes. I add it to salads, slather it all over tuna mayo on baked potatoes, baked beans, burrito bowls, and a whole bunch of other favorites. It’s cheap, doesn’t add much in the way of calories, and totally packs a punch on flavor.
2. A variety of teas and coffees, plus the necessary accouterments
I am frankly repulsed by how much I spent on coffee before I really nailed making it properly at my desk. I don’t actually like the coffee from Pret all that much, so my coffee spending is not included in the £113 figure mentioned above, which, YIKES.
I love strong, hot black coffee with a dash of milk. I’m lucky that my workplace has milk provided in the staff fridge, so that’s that covered. I bought an air-tight jar from Poundland (our equivalent to the Dollar Store) and I found a brand of ground coffee I love (the Kenyan one from Waitrose, for anyone in the U.K.). I got a small individual cafetiere from Amazon, and a KeepCup I specifically keep at work. I make a strong coffee in the morning, and it saves me a ridiculous amount of money. The KeepCup makes it feel just like a take-out coffee, and I still treat myself to a nice hand-poured flat white or latté once a week.
3. Tins of tuna, baked beans, sweetcorn, and other baked potato toppings
I buy and bake a batch of potatoes every couple of weeks and stick them in the freezer. When I want to bring one for lunch, I simply defrost it overnight in the fridge and chuck it in my bag the next day. I zap them in the microwave for two minutes and then get to work on toppings. My personal favorite toppings are: Greek yogurt and a dab of mayo mixed with tuna, topped with the aforementioned hot sauce; baked beans with hot sauce and a little cheese if I’ve got some; and sometimes I’ll bring in some cooked veggie mince from home. I keep some instant gravy granules in my desk drawer and pour that over for a super comforting lunchtime-dinner. Mmmmm! Tinned soup is also a life-saver, and I like to eat it with….
I keep a variety of these — Ryvita for having with some laughing cow if I feel like soup and also some cheesy crackers for that savory snack hit. I’ll pretty much buy whichever crackers are on offer in a supermarket and bring them in to restock my work drawer, so I’m never tempted to go and grab a sad sandwich just because I want carbs.
Crackers have a really long shelf life, and they go with so many things, it should be a crime not to keep them at your desk.
5. Diet Coke
I mentioned above that I’m blessed to have a workplace fridge — if you don’t have one, this is a bummer, but you still have lots of options in terms of the desk drawer.
I adore Diet Coke, and while I try to mainly drink water at my desk, I find buying multipacks of Diet Coke to keep in the fridge helps me in three ways. 1: If there is Diet Coke always sitting there, I don’t feel it’s forbidden. I can have one whenever I want, so it doesn’t feel restrictive. 2: I don’t go and spend a stupid amount of money at the vending machine when I can have the same can of Diet Coke for literally half the price. 3: I don’t go for “a walk” to the supermarket to buy a can of Diet Coke, to then buy a bunch of other unnecessary shit, too.
Cheese is an obvious one to keep on standby to pimp up a bland sandwich from home or have with crackers (if you, again, have a workplace fridge at your disposal). Snack cheeses like Babybel and Laughing Cow are also super tasty and satisfying for those days where you stomach grumbles threaten to interrupt meetings.
7. Real butter
And lastly, real butter… is the dream. Irish, grass-fed butter is among the most delicious food products ever to be created, and I refuse to eat anything less. If I bring some nice homemade soup to work, all I need to do is spend pennies on a fresh, crusty bread roll, which I can then slather in butter and dip to my heart’s content.
Upgrade your own desk lunch experience
There are so many ways to jazz up what would otherwise be a sad desk-lunch experience — I hope some of these are useful, and that you never fall into a Pret hole as big as the one I fell into.
Image via Unsplash