Not only pizza and sandwiches: to be shared with colleagues, the office lunch break is above all a way to relax and unwind by enjoying good food, even better if brought from home.

The office lunchbox

The term schiscetta from the Milanese dialect schiscià (‘to crush’) refers to the typical school or office lunchbox. Bringing food from home is a common practice that offers many advantages in terms of nutrition and economy. Eating at the office can be a real nightmare in many cases, especially when there is no cafeteria or nearby luncheonettes with suitable offers. Salads and cold dishes are an everyday staple, but if your company is equipped with microwave ovens, there’s no reason why you can’t heat up winter comfort warm meals. Before providing some ideas for practical and tasty recipes, we would like to remind you of the many pros of the awesome lunchbox.

Pros

Less waste. Pointless to beat about the bush: yielding to supermarket-prepared meals is inevitable, especially for those who aren’t lucky enough to have luncheonettes near their workplace. Mixed salads and ready-to-eat soups can be a good solution when time is tight but, if they become a daily choice, the waste of plastic and other materials will rise. Many of these packaging include disposable cutlery and dressing, as well as many unnecessary compartments. Bringing food from home, of course, allows you to reuse plastic or glass containers, as well as dear old jars.

Saving money. A rather obvious, but still relevant point: preparing lunch at home saves money. Of course, there are also ready-to-eat options at a lower price, but the difference is marked.

Health. Again, an obvious factor that is worth stressing. Of course, there is no shortage of salads, and an occasional stuffed focaccia never hurt nobody, but there is no doubt that in your own kitchen you have more control over seasoning, use of fat, salt and other ingredients.

Perfect lunchbox hacks

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Grain salad

Barley or spelt, but also quinoa, couscous, amaranth: salads are always the ideal solution for the office lunch break. Dress them up with grilled or pan-fried seasonal vegetables (mix and bake them all together with a little oil, salt and pepper for a quicker version), pulses – dry ones to be preferred but, since we’re talking about convenience, you can go for pre-cooked ones too – or grilled chicken, perhaps with a light yoghurt sauce.

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Soups

Autumn and winter are soup seasons. Pulses and leafy vegetables are the stars, but even a classic pasta with beans or pasta with chickpeas can be eaten the day after (the Neapolitans know this well: the azzeccata version is very thick and tastes even better). And then there is the classic minestrone, not forgetting pureed soups – this is pumpkin season, so get stuck in! Soups are also a good way to reuse stale bread: just add it a few minutes before the end of cooking and let it soften. Bread can also be used to make tasty recipes such as Tuscan bread and tomato soup.

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Frittata

This ultimate egg-based dish never gets old and it is enjoyed by everyone. Made with vegetables or just eggs, success is guaranteed; a more original version is the rolled frittata, filled with rocket, parmesan flakes and dried salted beef, or other ingredients as desired; it can also be stuffed into a sandwich with lettuce or grilled courgettes. For the vegan version, mix one part chickpea flour with two parts water and cook in the oven or in a pan. Last but not least, the queen of leftovers: the macaroni frittata, made from leftover pasta.

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Meatballs

Meat, fish, pulses, vegetables, grain: whatever the ingredient, meatballs are always delicious. The classic meatballs made with minced meat are unbeatable both in tomato sauce and stew, but veggie meatballs can also be very satisfying: with seitan or tofu, or “simple” pulses, aubergines and bread in the summer, ricotta cheese and spinach in the winter. For a foolproof, cheap and tasty recipe, mash some boiled potatoes, mix them with a little Parmesan cheese, one egg, breadcrumbs and add diced ham and provola cheese to taste.

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Hummus

Perfect for those who don’t have the opportunity to heat up food, hummus is one of those dishes that everyone really likes. The traditional hummus is made with chickpeas, tahini – a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds – garlic, lemon, extra virgin olive oil and spices (usually turmeric and paprika), but it can also be made with beans or lentils, with the addition of different flavours and spices according to personal taste. The chickpea version can also be enriched with other ingredients – try it with sun-dried tomatoes: you won’t regret it! – and can be the perfect base for sandwiches or flatbreads. It can also be enjoyed on croutons or with raw vegetables such as carrots and fennels.

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Pasta bake

There’s not much to say about pasta casseroles: the Italian tradition par excellence. Just the smell wafting from the microwave is enough to make all colleagues turn away! Ragù, meatballs, vegetables, any ingredient fits perfectly, simply delicious even with just tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Don’t forget to create the typical “crust” on the surface, by adding grated cheese and activating the grill setting in the last minutes of cooking.

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Avocado toast

The most popular tropical fruit thanks to its buttery texture and herbaceous aftertaste, but above all because of its many nutraceutical properties. Avocado is a hearty and tasty product, to be enjoyed with fresh, savoury ingredients such as smoked salmon or feta cheese. Scrambled eggs or tomatoes can be added to the classic toast but, for a quick recipe, avocado flesh with a little salt, oil and pepper is enough.

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Savoury pies

Quiches, puff pastry dumplings, savoury tarts: any ingredient in a pastry shell takes on a new life, making it the perfect office lunch. Savoury pies are real time-saving recipes: surely it would be preferable to prepare the dough at home, but there are many good readymade puff pastry on the market, ready to be rolled out and filled as desired for a delicious and practical meal, not forgetting shortcrust pastry. One of the most classic fillings is ricotta and spinach (or other vegetables, such as winter wild herbs), but you can also make simple dumplings with ham and cheese, radicchio and gorgonzola cheese or mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

by Michela Becchi