Cooking

How to Fight Back Against the SDL (Sad Desk Lunch)

The art of mastering the perfect work-lunch balance
Sad Desk Lunch
Photo: Catherine Douma/Twenty20

If eating lunch at your desk is an act of submission, then for the non-office portion of the working population—freelancers and folks working from home—there’s a similarly depressing equivalent: the boring meal you choose to eat at your desk in your very own living room (or on the couch, or, ahem, in bed).

Once, I, too, was an office dweller faced with the harsh reality of a boss staring me down while I hurriedly shoveled an underwhelming sandwich into my mouth. But I also relished in a good lunchtime getaway: prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches or pad see ew or the curried cauliflower salad from Amy’s Bread, a place chosen with ulterior motives—mainly so I could grab a chocolate sourdough twist at the checkout.

But then I turned to the freelance life, and now 90 percent of my meals are eaten at this great little neighborhood joint called . . . my kitchen. If you’ve never worked from home, prepare to get well-acquainted with Parkinson’s Law, which basically states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

Annoying email? On deadline? With the days of hunting for the perfect to-go pasta not far behind me, I quickly realized I could distract myself from the work at hand by dicing and sautéing and boiling and prepping my way to a lunch that left me feeling satisfied.

I quickly fell into this trap of midday marathon cooking, because I thought it was something I earned, one of the upsides of not having to balance a forkful of salad over my keyboard while staring at a computer screen. I could take my sweet time poaching eggs or manically cleaning greens or folding a cloth napkin into a swan (if only I knew how). I can preheat all day, and no one can stop me.

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With the work piling up, like dishes in the sink, I had to change course. That’s when I found meal prepping, or the art of making a bunch of food at the beginning of the week—a favorite pastime of macro-counting gym fiends; busy parents; and smart, practical people who figured out that planning ahead makes life a bit more bearable. (Pro tip: You also save gazillions of dollars.)

So for the past six months, I ditched the all-day cooking sessions for diligently prepped and packed and reheated meals instead.

But I couldn’t shake off the call of the wild. Was I turning into a basic food bitch? I had traded eggs rolls for efficiency and delicious French pastries for practicality.

My meals were bland and repetitive. The idea of sad desk lunches had turned into sad couch lunches: nondescript bowls composed of grains (brown rice, barley, farro), vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale) and some sort of protein (chicken-apple sausages, tempeh or tofu). As I dug deeper into meal prepping, I realized I was on culinary autopilot. Surely, there had to be a balance between convenience and apathy.

And so I reached the conclusion there's no need to fiendishly cook monotonous meals for a month, only to burn out and binge on Seamless. A more open-minded, wholehearted balance is necessary. We shouldn’t castigate ourselves for what we consume and how and where we choose to consume it. Because when I think about it, the best part about eating lunch at home isn’t what I’m eating, but rather that I’m eating it on my own terms.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a sourdough twist calling my name.

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