Hannah Berman

Although there are admittedly worse phenomena out there in the world, there's something so ultimately upsetting about pulling out a sad desk lunch on your break that it can almost seem akin to a natural disaster. You've worked hard for the first half of the day, and you deserve a reward (or at least an incentive to continue after your break is over). You know what won't provide that boost of energy you so desperately require? The greying tuna sandwich that has been stinking up your bag for a few hours now and will proceed to stink up the communal microwave and your breath for the rest of the day. 

What is a sad desk lunch?

A sad desk lunch is a lunch that you bring from home to eat quickly at your desk in order to maximize productivity.  Unless you pack something really jazzy, desk lunches can end up looking pretty pathetic — classic examples include wilted salads and lunch meat sandwiches. Any meal that is meant to get you pumped for your day but lacks color or taste can have the opposite effect, zapping your energy and at times even making you literally sad. 

These recipes, on the other hand, are easy on the eyes and delicious on the tongue. Since they're meant to be desk lunches instead of full meals, they're quick to prepare the night before or the morning of, and they're easy to transport in the container of your choice. They'll make you wonder why you ever bothered bringing depressing lunch meat into the office at all. 

13 exciting alternatives to the sad desk lunch.

1. Red Quinoa and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad

Domesticate Me

Quinoa is a fiber- and protein-rich ingredient which will help you find the energy you need to complete your day, and the butternut squash in this recipe offers anti-oxidants and beta-carotene. Other ingredients (like pomegranate seeds!) take this dish from a boring long-grain salad to an exciting mid-day event.

2. Chicken Shawarma and Sweet Potato Fry 


Though a bit more complex than your average desk lunch, this finger food packs up easily. The sweet potato fries aren't an essential component of the dish, but they're addictively tasty. 

3. Adult Mac and Cheese

Bon Appetit

Sometimes, eating healthy just won't cut it in the middle of a long slog. On those days, bring in Bon Appetit's Adult Mac and Cheese for an aggressively caloric pick-me-up. 

4. Greek Salad

BBC Good Food

Although your plating likely won't be as breezy and light as this picture, a Greek salad is a sight for sore eyes in any container when 12 o'clock rolls around. The smartest part of bringing a Greek salad to work is that the feta will really have time to marinate in the juices of the salad, which will elevate the overall taste. 

5. Collard Wrap Bento Boxes


If you're feeling frisky in the kitchen and itching to try something new, look no further. Using collard greens for your wrap is a healthy choice and an impressive culinary statement. 

6. Pineapple BBQ Tofu bowls 

Sweet Peas and SaffronThis vegan meal is not only beautiful to look at but also stuffed with nutrients that will give you the energy necessary to make it easy to attack the second half of your workday. Plus, your coworkers will be amazed at your creative pineapple usage.  

7. Cold Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles

Table for Two Blog

It's nice to bring in a meal that doesn't need to be microwaved every once in a while, just in case someone else in the office is planning on stinking the microwave up. These noodles require no heat and are easy to eat anywhere.

8. Coconut Jasmine Rice with Sesame Tofu

Choosing Chia

Buddha bowls are a collection of small portions of vegetarian food, often uncooked and always cold. This bowl will transport especially well because of its rice base, and you have the freedom to really customize the ingredients however you want! 

9. Pesto Caprese Sandwich

Olivia's Cuisine

Although most sandwiches veer dangerously close to the sad-desk-lunch category, this Caprese sandwich stands out from the herd due to its exterior of ciabatta bread and the fresh, vibrant ingredients inside. This sandwich will get you in the mood to grind until 5 pm — or even 7 pm if you end up eating two.

10. Lemony Roasted Cauliflower Risotto

Cookie and Kate

The cauliflower in this dish will lend you some necessary fiber and Vitamin B, but the star of the show here is the lemon. You might want to bring a few lemon wedges along just to shower the cauliflower a little extra before eating — it's so, so refreshing. 

11. Chicken Coconut Curry

Chelsea's Messy Apron

Some curries are a hassle to cook, but this one takes less than 30 minutes to be ready to pack away and bring to work. It's colorful, sweet (from the coconut milk) and sure to make your coworkers cast surreptitious, jealous glances toward your plate. 

12. Zucchini and Parmesan Frittata

Source: Once Upon a Chef

Once Upon a Chef

A slice of frittata is a great thing to bring in to the office. It doesn't smell, it doesn't take long to heat up in a microwave, and when it's hot, it tastes just as good as if it were fresh. Plus, since this cousin-to-a-quiche doesn't have a crust, it won't get disappointingly soggy. 

13. Lentil Soup

Recipe Tin Eats

Lentil soup is a great office meal because it can be eaten both cold and warm. Make a big vat of this stuff on Sunday night and you'll have enough soup to last you several days; each day, you can garnish it differently, and voilà — a whole new meal.

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