I started working on a construction site when I was 20. I was technically office-based, but spent a lot of time on-site taking progress photos and doing interviews with some of the hands. Given the logistics of the location, it usually made more sense to eat out with the workers than tucked away in my little office cubby. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t take my lunchbox outside because it was a paltry little thing that literally wilted in the heat.
Consequently, my first month or so I almost exclusively ate at a nearby food truck, along with pretty much everyone else on the job. Obviously, the costs of doing this added up (and the limited food truck menu left me wanting). It took me a while to figure out what snacks and meals I could pack from home and what food only worked in a comfortable, refrigerated office context. Once I started figuring things out, I ended up sharing a couple tricks with my coworkers. Now, I’m sharing them with all of you!
Because it’s August, I’m going to focus on tomatoes. Not only is it very hot, which makes a juicy tomato a wonderful choice, but August is tomato season! You’ll find tomatoes all year long, but this is the time of year in the U.S. where they will be particularly flavorful and rich. Tomatoes are a great thing to pack if you don’t have a fridge handy during the day. I’ll actually let you in on a trade secret: raw tomatoes should never be put in the fridge. Ever. It does funky things to the texture and makes them mealy i.e. not pleasant.
So now is the perfect time try out a hearty wrap recipe with tomatoes as the star. I like a good wrap because it won’t get soggy as quickly as two fluffy slices of bread, which makes it a perfect candidate to sit in a lunchbox until noon rolls around. This is a personal recipe that is really simple and a riff on the classic BLT:
First thing to do here is fry your bacon. You can do this on the stove over medium to medium-high heat or in the oven at 400°F. Personally, I like it on the stove top and extra crispy. Set the bacon aside on a paper towel lined plate when it’s done.
Grab a saucepan and put about two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. We’re just sautéing the spinach till it shrinks down to about half its original size.
Roughly chop the basil before adding it to the pan. Stir it around a few times to combine and then take it off the heat. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if you like it a little spicier.
Rinse your tomatoes (that you haven’t put in the fridge because you know better now) and just slice them vertically into thick, juicy rounds. If your tomatoes are larger, you might want halve your pieces. Lightly pepper, then set aside.
Now it’s assembly time. Take your tortilla and spread some mayo on it. Then layer the spinach, the bacon, and the tomatoes before rolling everything up and sealing it with a toothpick or plastic wrap.
A couple tweaks ensure this BLT will be as delicious as possible by the time you eat it: first, go ahead and buy imitation or vegan mayo. There’s almost no taste difference (especially on a sandwich), but because it isn’t egg-based, you don’t have to worry so much about it lingering in your lunchbox unattended (though you should still refrigerate the jar). Second, substitute cooked spinach for lettuce. Unless you have a lunchbox that you know is going to keep your greens crisp (like one of these) don’t bother with raw lettuce. Limp lettuce just isn’t good, and if you’re using bib or romaine, it isn’t even healthy enough to warrant suffering through it. If you want to dress this up a little more, a bit of coriander, cumin, and some lemon zest over the fresh tomatoes make nice additions.
If you aren’t a spinach person you can use any dark, leafy green here. Kale is good. Broccoli rabe is good. Mustard greens and collards would probably be really good. Maybe substitute rotisserie chicken pieces instead of bacon. Go for it. The world (or the wrap) is your oyster! Except don’t use oysters. Please.
In addition to the above recipe, I thought I’d include some general snack tips in the inaugural edition of Smart Servings. You’ve probably already figured some of these out, but I’m mentioning them anyway: nut butters, jerky, dried fruit (I love dried apricots), bananas, grapes, whole little peppers, baby cucumbers, celery, and granola. These are easy, no-fridge-needed, no-brainer snack foods to toss in your lunchbox. But there are some trickier items you’re probably missing.
First, stone-fruit makes a great addition to your lunchbox. I’m talking about fruit with pits, like plums, cherries, and peaches. These also get mealy in the fridge, so go ahead and store these (along with your tomatoes) in a bowl on your kitchen counter near some sunshine. They’ll naturally ripen a little more and you can just toss them in your lunchbox on your way out in the morning.
Melons don’t get mealy from the fridge, but they’re very sensitive souls and don’t like drastic changes in temperature. Just like meat can tense when animals have a rush of adrenaline, melons tense when you change the temperature on them too suddenly. Go ahead and gently place some melon in your lunchbox (so it won’t get scared).
Field service is an industry where it can be hard to be healthy: long hours with quick lunch breaks in an occasionally high stress environment will do that. But that doesn’t mean you should be doomed to unhealthy choices or sucking down protein shakes while your coworkers have soda. This segment was created to give you cheaper, healthier, and hopefully tastier lunch ideas as opposed to fast food or your daily ham and cheese sandwich.