Go Brown to Be Green


I’ve become an avid brown bagger. It’s the easiest way I know to reduce my impact on the planet and eat well. If the styrofoam and plastic containers, plastic utensils, and unnecessary condiments and napkins all packed up in a plastic bag don’t make you cringe, how about the $8 to $10 you just dropped for mediocre, corn-syrup laden, nutritionally suspect food?

For most people, the problem is organization and planning ahead. Luckily for you, I have an entire section of my brain devoted to planning the next meal, so I’m going to help you with your lunch.

Tip #1: Repurpose

Plan your lunch at dinnertime. It’s as simple as making extra food for dinner and packing it up as you clean up the kitchen.

Tip #2: Super Size It (at home)

You can cook a whole chicken instead of just enough for dinner. It’s more economical and you can eat the leftovers the next day in a salad, taco, or sandwich.

Always double the recipe: this goes for soups, chilis, stews, and pasta-easy to pack and reheat.

Roast or steam extra vegetables and make extra rice at dinnertime, mix them together and eat them cold with dressing or reheat in the office microwave.

Tip #3: Cubicle Cheffing

Store food at work and have a desk picnic every day. Once a week, bring a variety of foods into the office from which you can assemble quick lunches.

Have on hand to mix and match:

Bread and crackers
Cherry tomatoes
Peanut butter
Hard-boiled eggs
Little cans of tuna
Leftover chicken or roasted meats
Washed salad greens
Olive oil
Interesting condiments like olive tapenade, red pepper spread, or pesto
Cut up veggies
Fresh fruit

Tip #4: Easy Tasty Meals

Keep it interesting. Lunch can be anything at all as long as it’s nutritious and balanced. Here are a few tasty ideas.

– Tomato, mozzarella and green bean salad
Frittata made with vegetables and cheese (good cold or hot and very transportable)

– Rice and Grain bowls: any leftover grain with avocado, greens, seasonal vegetables, and dressing
Bean or chickpea salad with canned tuna, celery, and vinaigrette

– Rice paper rolls with crunchy raw vegetables, leftover meats (if you wish) and dipping sauces

Tip #5: Office Swag

Start a brown-bag lunch club. If you’re friendly with your office mates, why not take turns bringing lunch for the group? It opens up a whole new world of ideas and it’s nice to share.

Editor’s note: to save time, make three sandwiches instead of one. It’s easy to keep the extras from going soggy: pack the tomatoes separately, avoid mayo, and wrap your sandwich in a paper towel before storing.

Editor’s update 5/08/08: This post was featured at the Carnival of the Recipes: Spring-Fever Edition. Check it out!

Image: digiyesica

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.