What’s amazing about Val’s lunch boxes is that Val cooks the most amazing meals while coping with a demanding job as a nurse during the pandemic. We can imagine healthcare professionals arriving home exhausted with little time to rest before reporting to work again.
I had heard a lot about Val’s famous lunch boxes, so I asked Val if I could feature them in the blog. It didn’t occur to me that it would only add to her workload, but she would give me a dimpled smile and tilt her head and say: “I’ll do it on my day off.” (To write an article about her packed lunches and send photographs, that is) It has taken a while, but the wait was worth the while. Here we go…
“My Lunch Boxes” by Valerie Hollen
Here’s an assortment of the meals I prepare in advance for work, and here are some of the tips that have helped me:
1. The freezer is a busy woman’s best friend. Many things actually freeze quite well, and you can prepare dishes in advance so you aren’t caught unprepared when you are short on time and can’t cook everything fresh from scratch. Find out what freezes well and remember to freeze them in individual portions so you can just grab one and go.
2. Understand your eating preferences – for me, I’m not the type of person who can stand eating the same things for every meal for a week straight. If you’re like my fit friends who don’t mind preparing a week’s worth of chicken breast and broccoli at one go and making sure that doesn’t go to waste, then great! But for me, preparing that much food means that I get bored by Day 3, and then the rest of the food is likely to go to waste. I’d rather prepare smaller quantities of food that can last for 2 or 3 days, and maybe a few types so I can rotate the combination of dishes. That way it doesn’t feel like I’m eating the same thing over and over again.
3. Cooking doesn’t mean stovetop cooking only. Sheet pan meals cooked in the oven or air fryer saves both time and effort in clean-up. The slow cooker especially, gives me great food that doesn’t require that much hands on time.
4. Learning basic food safety guidelines, and maybe learning a tip or two from Japanese housewives when they pack their children’s bento boxes, will help ensure that you have both delicious and safe-to-eat food. (https://justbento.com/handbook/bento-basics/keeping-your-bento-lunch-safe)
5. Plan ahead!! I create meal plans for myself: maybe one week is Mexican week and I slow-cook pork shoulder carnitas as the main protein, and then I can make burritos and tacos with that. Or another week would be Korean week. And the next week is Filipino week. Have fun and expand your variety.
Planning ahead also means that on special days (or feast days), I know to pack myself a small dessert for lunch too. Usually it’s a single serving of good dark chocolate or jelly or fruits, but it’s enough to make me remember that it’s a special day. On a busy day in the hospital where it’s mostly organised chaos, that dessert can be an amazing mood booster (;
It’s worth the effort – both for financial reasons and just for general health – to pack your meals to work. If I can do it with the demands of my work schedule, I think most people can do it too!!
Posted by Chayo, HomSkil Editor 1, 21 February 2021