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6 tips for starting a lunch club at work

For the last two months, I’ve been a member of a lunch club at work. Once a week, five of us get together to eat lunch, taking it in turns to bring in a home-cooked meal.

It started as an opportunity to catch up over a meal – rather than eating solo hunched over your desk – and also as a way to save money: it’s usually far cheaper to cook for five people once every five weeks than to buy myself a meal once a week at some of the cafes near my office.

But the benefits have been far greater than I anticipated. Having other people cook for you introduces you to new dishes, flavours and ingredients, and has helped me on my push to try other recipes. (Regular readers will know that since January, I’ve been challenging myself to get out of my boring old food rut by trying two new dishes each week. Flicking through recipe books to find dishes to make for lunch club has played an important part in this.)

For example, the first week that I was a member, we ate fennel, cherry tomatoes and crumble gratin from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook. It was a revelation. Such comforting flavours, perfect for a cold winter’s day, and yet it just wasn’t something that I’d ever thought of cooking.

I should know – that cookbook has sat on a shelf in my kitchen for just over a year, unused and unloved. Every time I opened it, I focused on the long lists of unusual ingredients, and quickly put it back on the shelf.

But since that introduction, I’ve become a bit of a fan of Ottolenghi and even made the crumble twice at home, altering the recipe to cut back on the sugar and adding wholemeal and spelt flours to the crumble topping. (I’m still inspired by my forays into wholemeal and spelt flours. See my blog post about making healthy pancakes for kids  with these flours.)

Actually Ottolenghi has proved to be the most popular inspiration overall for lunch club dishes – we’ve also eaten his delicious green lentils, asparagus and watercress salad, topped with Manchego cheese.  
Ottolenghi's green lentils, asparagus and watercress salad

Here’s what I’ve learned about setting up a lunch club:

  1. Keep it simple

    If you’re super-organised and you’ve batch-cooked something at the weekend ready for lunch club, hats off to you. But chances are you’ll be preparing this meal after work one evening or possibly first thing in the morning, and you’ll be pretty tired. To avoid lunch club becoming just another chore when it’s your week to cook, I like to avoid over-complicated recipes but stick to dishes that take around 30 minutes to prepare and cook if possible. (I think 30 minutes is the optimum time for cooking during the week. Read this Healthier Mummy blog post for more 30-minute dinners for week nights.)

  2. Don’t be afraid to try something new

    See lunch club as a chance to test out that recipe on willing guinea pigs, who are just grateful to be fed at all.

  3. Explore recipes using more economical foods, like pulses, cheese and vegetables, to spread the cost

    We’ve eaten dishes like lentils with Manchego cheese, giant couscous with feta, mushroom risotto and goats cheese tart.

  4. Avoid pudding pressure 

    Occasionally someone produces flapjacks, brownies, satsumas, chocolates or, on one marvellous week, a popcorn machine, but as a general rule, we feel under no pressure to produce a pud. Anything for dessert is frankly just a bonus.popcorn maker

  5. Don’t forget logistics

    Unfortunately, the sky’s not the limit – your meal has to be easy to transport to work (in my case on the Tube) and to store in the fridge for a morning. You may also need to bear in mind that the only way to heat up this meal is a microwave, and it must be served in bowls.

  6. Bring herbs and garnish

    At the last minute, you can chop up some herbs for extra flavours.

What I cooked last week

It was my turn to cook for lunch club last week. So the night before, after putting the kids to bed, I tried a new-to-me recipe, a chickpeas and spinach sauce, with a yoghurt, lemon and garlic dressing, which is a variation of a recipe also in Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.

I decided to serve it with couscous, which I made in the kitchen at work. So as well as my plastic containers of food, I carried into work a measuring jug, couscous, stock cube and clean tea towel to keep it covered while steaming.

Recipe for chickpeas and spinach, served with a yoghurt, lemon and garlic dressing

Ottolenghi's chickpea and spinach dish

Serves 4

Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 19 mins

400g tin chickpeas
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 400g tin tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
1½tsp ground cumin
100g baby spinach leaves
coriander to garnish

For the dressing:

170g Greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 lemon, juiced and zest grated

Fry the onion and seeds for eight minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for one minute. Add tomatoes, sugar and ground cumin and cook for five minutes.

Add the spinach and chickpeas to the tomato sauce and cook for another five minutes.

Put the yoghurt, garlic and lemon into a bowl, and mix together.

Pop into containers. Heat up the sauce at work, and top with roughly chopped coriander before serving.

 


Comments (22)

  • Avatar

    You Baby Me Mummy

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    What a great idea! I don’t work in an office anymore but this would have been great. Brilliant way to relax with colleagues x

  • Avatar

    Victoria

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    its sounds like an amazing idea, but with me not cooking it would work)

  • Avatar

    Kirsty - Hijacked by Twins

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    I used to love having a group lunch when I worked! The salad with the manchego looks delicious! Your salad sound so flavoursome :-) x

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Oooh, what sort of things did you cook at your work lunch club?

  • Avatar

    Jen aka The Mad House

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    A lunch clubs sounds like a fab idea. I wish they did one for people that work from home!

  • Avatar

    Louisa

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    What a fantastic idea. A great way to try new things but also there is a great social side to it.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Yes, it’s a really nice way to share a meal with friends.

  • Avatar

    lisa prince

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    great idea , and wow i want one of those popcorn machines , how cute

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      I know, we were all ‘ooh’ and ‘aaah’ when the popcorn machine arrived.

  • Avatar

    Astrid

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    This is a great recipe and lunch club soudn slike a great idea. I don’t work, but we cook a meal for six at my residence once a week and the concept of lunch club sounds great for that.

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Yes, great idea to get together with friends at your house for a lunch club.

  • Avatar

    kara

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    Lunch club sounds fun. I have to admit I am stuck in a rut with my lunchtime food

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      It’s really easy to get stuck eating the same food – I should know. I ate a bagel every day for lunch for about two years. It helps to banish bread and opt for salads and stews instead.

  • Avatar

    ninja cat

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    When can I come for lunch?

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Next week! Come along!

  • Avatar

    wendy

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    What a good idea, gives you chance to relax and chat

  • Avatar

    agatapokutycka

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    This is great idea.
    I am a loner working from home but I will share it with Mark, as he might give it a go

  • Avatar

    Fritha Strickland

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    that’s such a great idea! Although I bet I would always be the one that forgot! x

    • Avatar

      healthiermummy

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      Don’t you worry – your hungry workmates would remind you several times!

  • Avatar

    Rachel @ activities4kidz

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    I don’t work but this looks brilliant idea (and yummy!). It wouldn’t gave worked in my old job (teaching) as we never sat down long enough to enjoy a sandwich let alone anythinhg as delicious looking as this!

  • Avatar

    Sarah Bailey

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    What a great idea, I don’t work now, but I would have loved this when I did – such a nice way to socialise as well. x

  • Avatar

    Kerry

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    What a fab idea, wish we had something like this at work x

Comments are closed