All the best-laid New Year’s resolution plans to eat better can go out the window when the midday meal rolls around at work. To help you make healthier—and more delicious—choices, we asked Under Armour chef Dan Churchill for some better ideas.
There is no tradition more American or more ubiquitous than the sad desk lunch. Characterized by its lackluster flavoring, transported in a permanently-stained reusable container, and warmed in the moments before consumption by an ancient communal microwave, the sad desk lunch is to eating as slipping and falling off a treadmill is to exercising in public.
Today, some 62 percent of professionals say they typically take their midday meal at their desks. And although the luxury of taking a full, glorious hour out of the office is not always available to everyone, if you do find yourself stuck inside come noontime, you can at least exercise a little more control over the things you eat while sitting there.
“You can definitely make your meals more nutritious, more colorful, and more flavorful without too much time or effort,” says Dan Churchill, a chef for Under Armour and owner of New York City’s Charley St. “It’s all about mastering a few quick skills: things you can do without a second thought, that your body will thank you for when that 3 P.M. slump rolls around and you need a pick-me-up.”
With his help, we’ve put together a New Year’s resolution present: a handful of easy, healthy lunch recipes designed to excise “sad desk lunch” from your calendar forevermore. All of them take less than 30 minutes to make, cost under $20, and make enough food to cover your lunches for an entire week. As for the smells emanating from the break room microwave, though, you’re still on your own.
5-ingredient turkey chili
Churchill says: “This is a major go-to in my life. Quick to make, keeps for days, and such a good one to re-heat on a cold day. You can also cook this entire recipe in a slow cooker. Just add everything in the morning, and it’s ready when it’s time to go to sleep.”
1.5 lbs lean ground turkey
3 cans chopped tomatoes with juices
3 cans low-sodium beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, diced
1 liter low-sodium veggie broth (or feel free to use another low-sodium kind of broth)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Spice blend (2 Tbsp. chili powder, ½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper)
- Start by heating olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and caramelize it for 7-8 minutes. Add spices and stir again.
- Add ground turkey, breaking it up into small pieces as you go.
- Add tomatoes, beans, and veggie broth. Stir well.
- Bring the mixture up to a boil, then down to a simmer. Cook over low heat for 25 minutes. (Cook it longer for a deeper flavor!)
- Enjoy with your favorite toppings. (Dan goes with cilantro, plain yogurt, and green onion.)
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10-minute beef stir fry
Churchill says: “If I’m short on time and need to make something using leftover odds and ends in my fridge, this is the one. You can put almost any kind of vegetable in here and it’ll be delicious. It’s nutritious, colorful take on the type of stir fry you might love getting from your favorite take-out spot. Plus, it’s cheap.”
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
½ cup red cabbage, chopped
1 cup snow peas
1.5 lbs skirt steak
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame oil
¼ cup green onion, chopped
- Add 2 cups water, 1 cup rice, and a big pinch of salt to a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 12 to 15 minutes on a low heat. Turn off the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving.
- While the rice cooks, coat the bottom of a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Heat the pan on medium-high heat and cook the meat. (If you need some help, you can follow Dan’s perfect steak tips.)
- Remove steak from the pan once cooked and set it aside.
- Add remaining olive oil and sesame oil to the pan. Once it’s simmering, turn heat to low and add garlic. Let it brown for one minute, then add all your veggies. Cook for between 8 and 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until veggies are tender and vibrant in color. Add soy sauce and black pepper, and cook for an additional minute.
- Once the rice is cooked, add it to the skillet with the vegetables and stir. Slice the steak and add it to the top of your dish. Serve topped with chopped green onion.
Famous one-pan chicken
Churchill says: “This is a self-saucing chicken that basically cooks itself. Make it at night, and you’ll have dinner on the table in 25 minutes. It’s a game-changer when you want dinner to be relatively hands-off, but still want to impress some friends.” Be sure to save your leftovers for grain bowls or pitas later in the week.
5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 large carrots, chopped into 1” pieces
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into 1” florets
1 small red onion, chopped into slices
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme
Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 400° F.
- Heat a pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working in batches if you need to, sear the chicken breasts on one side, then move to a plate.
- Toss all your vegetables in a bowl with the remaining olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and thyme. Lay the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables, raw side down. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil. Roast everything in the oven for 25 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
Churchill says: “This one helps me get out of bed in the morning. Prep it ahead of time, then add your toppings in the morning before you head to the office.”
2.5 cups plain yogurt
4 scoops protein powder
1 tablespoon honey
Fresh-cut bananas and crumbled walnuts
Mix the yogurt with protein powder and honey, and divide it into five containers or jars. Set in the fridge overnight. In the morning, grab one and add your favorite toppings, with an extra drizzle of honey if you like.
Elvis rice cakes
Churchill says: “These are my personal go-tos for prior to the gym or right after, if I’m in need of energy and a carbohydrate hit. The natural sugars in the banana and the sweetness of the peanut butter help to eliminate sugar cravings while giving you a bit of healthy fat and protein.”
2 rice cakes
2 Tbsp. all-natural peanut butter (look for one that doesn’t contain any salts or oils)
1 small banana, sliced
Cinnamon or sea salt, for topping
You can probably figure out the drill with this one: peanut butter and sliced banana atop the rice cake, sprinkled with cinnamon or sea salt. Simple? Yes. Better than a protein bar? Also yes.
Next-level boiled eggs
Churchill says: “These little guys are perfect for a mid-day boost. You can add them to your lunches, or keep them in the fridge all week long for a snack.”
10 large eggs
¼ cup hummus of your choice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
In a pot, submerge the egg in water and then bring the pot a boil. Cook for 12 minutes, then immediately remove it from heat and run the pot under cold water, being careful to not burn yourself. Once the eggs have cooled, slice them and spread with a bit of hummus. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle salt on top, and eat them secure in the knowledge that you’ll never be stuck getting lunch from a vending machine again.
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