I should have made this pasta salad a few months ago. Pasta salads are resolutely picnic fare, and well, the season for picnics is kind of over. But pasta salads fall into the broader “grain salad” category, and as evidenced by the numerous quinoa, farro, barley, wild rice (and more quinoa) salads on this site, I love a good grain salad.
They’re especially perfect for packed lunches, since they can be made the night before and then eaten hot, cold or at room temperature. They also travel easily, and are filling enough to keep you out of the vending machine come 3 p.m. And since fall is the start of “serious” time, that weird three-month gap between summer and the holidays in which school and work and commitments and schedules and productivity seem to take on increased importance, a go-to collection of recipes for good packed lunches is essential. I’ve already gone through my tips for packing lunch here and here, but a few more:
1) Keep things interesting. Eating a sandwich five days a week is pretty boring, even if you switch up the sandwich fillings every day. (A Chipotle burrito sounds especially amazing when you’re tired of eating the same lame thing day in and day out.) Try salads one week, soups the next, pasta the week after — add new recipes to your rotation of old faves.
2) Don’t forget snacks. I get to work pretty early, so I pack my breakfast, lunch and at least one snack on a regular basis. I can’t make it through the day without at least one mini-meal, whether it’s apples and cheddar, bananas and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, sliced apricots and almonds, yogurt and granola, etc. Without one, I’d buy peanut M&Ms every day, and neither my wallet nor my waistline could handle that.
3) Vary your diet. If you eat eggs for breakfast every day, don’t pack a frittata for lunch. You’ll get bored (see: “Keep things interesting.”) and health-wise, it’s not ideal to eat a dozen eggs a day. (Unless you’re Gaston.) If I have peanut butter with my breakfast, I’ll pack apples and cheese for a snack, if I have a spinach smoothie in the morning, I won’t pack a spinach salad for lunch, and if I have a carb-heavy lunch, I’ll take chia pudding in the morning. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more how important it is to eat a balanced nutrient-heavy diet, and varying what you eat with each meal is essential to that.
This orzo salad takes all of the delicious components of a Greek salad (cucumbers, olives, red onions, dill, feta [plus tomatoes]) and tosses them with a bit of olive oil, vinegar and orzo, which makes the salad hearty enough to keep you full throughout the day. You could add white beans, toasted pine nuts, a teaspoon of pesto or tapenade, or you could leave it as is. Either way, I guarantee it’ll convert you to a “lunch packer.” Continue reading