reality bites…

sidewalk cafe paris

As much as I’d love to have a life where my lunch break looks like this, the reality is that most days if I get out of the office at all, it’s to run a few errands and grab something to bring back and eat at my desk. 🙁 Not optimal, I know.

Between a busy and sometimes erratic schedule and just not having the mental energy to plan all of my meals, I haven’t been able to put together the kind of healthy and portion-controlled lunches that make managing my weight easier. Though I’ve been trying to stick to picking up from salad bars and grocery store sushi counters, it’s costly and still sometimes a guessing game with regard to food values. I came back from vacation in June a couple of pounds up from where I’m most comfortable, and haven’t been able to budge that number down.

For those who will suggest that I cook on weekends and make lunches for the week ahead, it’s a lovely idea, but I can’t always count on having uninterrupted time to shop and cook. And in all honesty, it requires more effort than I can muster right now. So, rather than hold myself to a standard of “whole and hand-made” for lunches, I’m trying a compromise…

frozen lunch

I’ve been finding better options lately in the frozen meals section, including organic and vegetarian/vegan selections. Haven’t tried this one yet, but I’ve tried a few of the “Amy’s Light & Lean” and have been pleased with those. I find they aren’t filling or satisfying enough on their own, so will supplement with some fresh green salad and fruit, maybe a hard-boiled egg for protein. (For me, a green salad makes anything feel more like a “real” meal.) These frozen dishes are a far cry from the tastes-like-cardboard sodium bombs of a few years ago. I can also calculate my Weight Watchers points easily from the nutritional information, even if points are not indicated on the package.

Do you pack a lunch for work? Any favorite choices?

Don’t forget, if you’re in the Bay Area and will be in the Los Gatos area this Wednesday, November 4th, Tish Jett will be signing her book Forever Chic at the Christmas Open House at Bianco. I’ll be there in the afternoon (as will Lisa from Privilege and Jennifer from A Well Styled Life) so hope you’ll stop in and say “bonjour” and get a signed copy of Tish’s book!

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  1. I started work at 7 am, but somehow managed to drag myself out of bed to make my lunch. Usually a wholegrain sandwich with protein and salad. Also, I would take some fresh fruit and maybe a pot of yoghurt. When I didn’t take my own lunch, I would pig out on a meat pie or a BLT in foccacia bread. Lean cuisine type meals are still processed foods and not particularly filling.

  2. Over the years I have found the only way to control weight is with a bit of effort on meal planning. Whenever I don’t do this I regret it. I was always thin and tiny, and then that lovely time of life hit where no matter what a woman does, diet, exercise, nothing helps and it all just gets stuck in the middle region. I never had this issue and it was really really depressing me. I also have worked behind a desk for the past several years which doesn’t help, and picked a lovely wine and beer habit in Europe that I never had when I lived in the US, which hasn’t helped my weight.
    I found the only way I can keep the weight off is by eating oatmeal at breakfast, a nice salad at lunch, 1-2 pieces of fruit, and drinking water all day oh and one coffee in the morning, then a nice meal in the evening.
    I just found these mason jar salad recipes on pinterest and make everything quick on Sunday and the rest of the week is grab and go. I put the salad dressing apart instead of the bottom of the jar and I was shocked that everything stayed fresh and crisp! I am sooooo picky about my food not being left over or old, so if I like it I think anyone can. Oh and I put oatmeal in a jar bring my milk to work and microwave it, then pour into the jar close the lid and it cooks itself. Some of them are no cook you can make in the evening and put in the fridge and it is done. The thing is I can’t be bothered making my meals each day so Sunday I just do everything and voila.
    I know life is busy but just that little effort on my day off makes my whole week organized, I can get up later, I don’t have to think about it and I don’t grab junk or eat crap food during the week. It has made a huge difference in everything from weight to my moods and my finances, as to go salads or take out during the week is expensive.
    One thing I do also is I take a 25 minute walk every day at work, rain, shine, snow, no matter what. Then I come back grab my salad and eat while working. My boss never ever says a thing because she loves the quality of my work and knows this keeps me sane and productive. I know it isn’t always easy to get this time, I worked for years in the US corporate atmosphere, but it is the law that you get a break, take it. I am supposed to also get 2, 15 minute breaks those I skip, but if I remember correctly the US you also get this. So it is possible to get out of the building and away from the desk.
    Thursday evenings I clean, Friday evenings I do groceries then the honey and I eat a nice takeout and watch a movie, then we have the rest of the weekend for nothing but fun, except my 1/2 hour meal prep on Sunday. I would rather push a bit during the week and keep organized to be able to completely enjoy my days off and it is really working, I am not as stressed and my weekends are used for what they are meant for, days off to unwind.
    I am speaking from experience, I used to go to college full time, two kids, work more than full time hours, two hour commute, remodel my house and managed a 4.0 grade average. It was crazy but I managed and it was all down to organization.
    I do have the once and a while treat at work if there is a birthday or something, and I have a joke, Friday everything is allowed as it starts the weekend. On the weekend I just enjoy my meals and don’t stuff myself till I feel sick and this is working wonders for my shape.

    This really has helped me enjoy my time off more because my moods are better, because I am not as stressed, and my clothes look better so I feel better.
    I really wish you all the success with things, because I do understand how life can make it so hard to take proper care of ourselves.

    1. I was going to recommend the mason jar salads, as well. I found great inspiration from this site, although I don’t think the woman is still actively blogging (
      The point is to spend some time chopping in advance. Since you enjoy a green salad anyway, which I do as well, prechopping vegetables and readying them for easy access seems key. Adding a grain like quinoa will add substance, and the boiled egg, as well. Salmon or Tuna Nicoise in a jar. Heretical? Perhaps, but simple, non-processed lunch.
      I appreciated this post, Melissa, and I, of course, enjoy this blog.

      1. She sure did pick a great subject, I woke this morning to my email exploding. I try to add a protein as well. In the end it is also about choices and the lean cuisine lunches are still better than ordering some huge comfort food take out and if it is working then hey that is all that matters. Whatever it takes to feel better and fit in the clothes we enjoy.

  3. Often if I am in a hurry and haven’t planned anything, I’ll put together a cheese, wholegrain crackers, and fruit lunch. Maybe I’ll throw in some crudities, or yogurt, and definitely a square of Trader Joes’s Dark Belgium chocolate. Sometimes I don’t even want to go to the lunchroom and use the microwave–so this lunch allows me privacy on the days I don’t feel social.

  4. I hear you about cooking on weekends. It’s just Hubs and I, no children, and I don’t always get my act together.
    It is hard to lose those last few pounds! A lot of times it’s habit that does you in.

    You’re ahead to take frozen lunches over buying lunch anytime. It keeps you away from the check-out line where they always manage to have some tempting sweet that’s so easy to throw onto your tray. As they say, once on the lips, forever on the hips 🙁

  5. I work at home more days, but my writing does require periods where I spend whole days at the university library, which means no ability to heat food. My go-to bag lunch is a riff on a salade niçoise: a green salad packed in one container, including any leftover steamed veggies in the fridge, a small can of tuna mixed with a lemon vinaigrette, and a French roll. Easy to pack, easy to eat, and better than the shrink-wrapped sandwiches available in the library cafe.

  6. I agree that these frozen dinners are processed food–but I do like Amy’s Light and Lean that you mentioned. They are at least organic and all vegetarian. And, as you said, have the nutritional information so that you can calculate points. I especially like Amy’s Light and Lean cheese pizza.

  7. I love bringing leftovers for lunch! It’s like having an awesome meal twice! We try to plan it into any meal that we make for dinner that there will be enough for one more portion. And if not, there is always time for a sandwich and a small chicken salad. Not that I’m a picky, but food allergies severely limit what I can eat outside out of the house and really saves me a lot of frustration.

  8. I took Lean Cuisine lunches to work for years. They were quick to cook, leaving me time to take a nice walk after eating. While they aren’t an ideal meal, I think they are as least as good as a sandwich made from processed meat. A couple things I would do differently: I’d take the meal out of the plastic container and put it in a glass container to cook, and I’d supplement it with a piece of fruit or a bunch of greens. And, yes, drink lots of water throughout the day. I know I tend to eat when I’m really just thirsty.

  9. Amy’s California Veggie Burgers are good atop a green salad. You could pick up a small salad at a salad bar or make one at home, then top with a little vinaigrette and the burger. Some avocado slices, too.

  10. I brought a bagged lunch for years to work (teaching school)…I had a fun little tupperware “bento box” thing and would put all my little nibbles on that and then sometimes use chopsticks…and a cloth napkin…It helped to elevate the mundane – whatever was in the fridge – to something special…I packed my kids lunches the same way…they didn’t eat “sandwiches”, rather, daily surprises of whatever…

    My secret weapon…rotisserie chickens…you can get for $5.99 at many grocery stores…and use for everything…

    Up your water intake – When I need to drop vacation weight, I do “intermittent fasting”…basically, the cabbage soup diet 2 days a week for a few weeks…on the weekend, when I usually lay low after “high living”…

    1. I totally agree with the rotisserie chickens. I pull the meat and store in the fridge, and can grab some chicken for lunch or dinner all week.

  11. With cooler weather, I make a big pot of stew or soup on the weekends, Leftovers are portioned out into microwaveable paper cups that you get at Costco. I freeze them overnight, then place them in a big freezer bag. As I leave for work, I put one of them in a quart bag with spoon. Add a few healthy cracker and you are out the door. It’s a simple heat & eat! If you are feeling ambitious – make 2 batches of soup so you have choices.

  12. Taking weight off and keeping it off is really tough when you have a desk job. If you are like me, exercise is a chore vs something I enjoy doing.

    It seems as though you have more than the average person on your plate (no pun intended) to deal with. I agree with the others that organization is the key. I have only myself to manage, and it’s still difficult.

    Costco sells a very affordable bagged salad called Baja Salad. It’s a cabbage based salad so stays fresh and crisp longer than a lettuce salad. I get two meals from the bag and add some sort of protein to it — typically skinless boneless chicken breast which takes less than 10 minutes to cook if you cut it into cubes and stir fry it in a non-stick pan with a tiny bit of olive oil.

    Another seriously easy meal is to get a spatchcock chicken (a whole chicken with the back cut out of it so it lays flat). Just put it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, slather it with a bit of softened butter mixed with thyme (or herbs de provence — yumm) and bake it at 375F for about 20 – 25 minutes per pound. Voila! Chicken for lunches all week. You can also make yourself up a batch of rice pilau and add frozen mixed vegetables to put the chicken on. It’s really tasty cold or warmed up.

    Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to continue with your blog. I really enjoy reading it and appreciate your ideas.

  13. I’m a fan of the Amy’s too. And you’re right, they’re just not quite enough food. Salad is the perfect addition. Looking forward to seeing you Wednesday. Have a safe flight!

  14. First — I must say that you look absolutely fabulous in your photos, and where ever you are hiding those extra pounds is absolutely not apparent, so in my humble opinion, you don’t need to worry!
    However, I do know that the way we feel is very important.
    And, with a busy desk job, the temptation is certainly there to eat “al desko” in order to get more done and get out of there at the end of the day.
    My go to lunch is always a salad brought from home. I make an overly big and very simple salad (with an arugula or spinach base) most nights for dinner, leave it undressed, and then save a little of whatever the protein source was — and as we are tidying up I pack undressed salad, some of the protein, another container with some yogurt and frozen berries and I’m good for lunch the next day.

  15. As a nutrition professional, here is my “two cents” for what it’s worth. Weight is basically a numbers game – eating fewer calories than you require means you will lose weight. The challenge is making sure you meet all your nutritional requirements – which means choosing nutrient dense foods. Now, having said that, Lean Cuisine, Amy’s etc. can definitely be part of this equation so don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for making this choice Susan. I think pairing one of these with a salad and a piece of fruit later in the afternoon is a perfectly acceptable choice – and as you said, it allows you to track your calories and nutrients. One of my favorite sayings is “don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good”. Is this a perfect choice? No – but then most of life isn’t about having perfect choices – it’s about making good ones and this one does fit in that category.

  16. Ha-ha! “tastes-like-cardboard sodium bombs!” So true. I follow WW also, and have a lot of faves from Trader Joe’s: sourdough rolls (2 pts each), cooked lentils (from produce section) on top of oatmeal with a dollop of hummus (6-8 pts), string cheese, and baby kale/chard/spinach mix.

    I also eat a lot of sweet potatoes.

  17. I’m sure you’re getting lots of fabulous advice but I thought I would throw in two cents. I am now retired but worked as a nurse practitioner for 34 years and have been a registered nurse for 40 years. My years working as a nurse in the hospital were in the critical care units. Working in health care frequently means meals ‘on the run’. One of the physicians I worked with took Lean Cuisine to work every day for her lunch. I usually made my lunches but they were simple means: baby carrots, celery sticks, left over pasta, small sandwich and occasionally salad. Soups can be easy. Amy’s cheese enchiladas were another fave of mine. Getting up from your desk every hour and zipping around the building helps supplement your regular exercise and is an absolute must if you are glued to a computer, the way many folks are today. I vote for Amy’s and Lean Cuisine and if you can occasionally make something over the weekend to take to work, even better. It’s so difficult for us as we get older to keep the pounds and inches off. Good luck and keep us posted!! We’re all routing for you! <3

  18. Not to beat a dead horse: you can make couscous by pouring boiling water over it, add olive oil, canned chickpeas, some prepared stuff (olives, canned tomatoes). Lunch for many days and no work or cooking.

  19. My go-to lunch, which I eat at home, would be easily packable as well. A Flat-Out wrap, 2 oz low sodium turkey, a tablespoon or two of avocado, a big handful of raw spinach, and a drizzle of low fat ranch dressing. Healthy, filling, and delicious, and about 6 points. You could stuff extra veg in there too.

    Lately I’ve been substituting chicken breast in place of the turkey, to cut down on processed meat. I cooked up several chicken breasts one day, then vacuum sealed them in 2 oz portions. I invested in a vacuum sealer recently; it is great for small families because you can still buy regular or family-size packages, or make a full recipe instead of halving it. Then vacuum seal the leftovers & they keep super well in fridge or freezer.

  20. Goodness, some interesting observations below the line along the lines of ‘I had 500 children and a job and yet still made my own lunches’. When you just said that doing prep on a Sunday wouldn’t work.

    Just do what you can. I have days where I don’t have time to pick up lunch too. I keep emergency noodles (add hot water) in my locker, plus try to bring a variety of leftovers/things from the cupboard that I can snack on….

  21. You don’t complain, but I have great sympathy with the fact that your spare time can’t be planned at regular intervals and extended “spare” time is a bonus. And you are also in the work force.

    When I cared for my husband I could rarely complete chores because my time was not my own – his illness set the agenda- no complaints from me, I was lucky enough to be retired.

    There are some good tips here for easy and healthy meals.

  22. I don’t know if you have a super target near by, but I really enjoy their premade salads & snack boxes. I also reuse the containers to make my own snack boxes.

  23. Preparing & cooking food is not my favorite activity, but here is something I love and takes minimal time. Mediterranean quinoa salad (tabouli style). I make up a big bowl and it lasts in the refrig for 3-5 days. Cook quinoa and refrigerate to cool. I use a vege chopper for broccoli, shallots, celery, cucumbers, bell/red peppers. Hand cut cherry or chopped regular tomatoes. Mix cooled quinoa, chopped veges, crumbled feta, garlic powder, salt, pepper, basil, oregano or your favorite spices and dressing. For dressing – any Greek, Italian, oil/vinegar type. (I like Zoe’s Kitchen fresh greek) … This salad is good just on its own & also a great side for grilled chicken (which I buy already grilled at the market.) Tastes good, healthy, addictive….

  24. I make my lunch every day. Bagged salad from Trader Joe, HEB, or Whole Foods is a great help. I add lots of other fresh veggies and whatever leftover lean protein I have on hand. I make my own olive oil and vinegar dressing and sometimes add a Wholly Guacamole Mini. Hard boiled eggs are great for snacking, too. When it’s cold I stir-fry some veggies, add chicken stock and chopped leftover chicken, steak, or pork chop and have soup for lunch. Sometimes I use the immersion blender before adding the meat. I lost 59 pounds recently and have no intention of gaining anything back. I’ve been taking my lunch every day since December 1, 2014, and it’s a habit now.

  25. Why aren’t we allowed to hit our goal weight, say “check,” and hold there. The constant weight battle is sooo frustrating! It’s an annoying but now accepted part of my life that I can’t just let go when it comes to food. I’ll either employ diligence or accept extra pounds. I’ve recently recommitted after finding the scales judging me again. I’m using the “My Fitness Pal” app (the little bugger is harsh!) and really paying attention to what I’m eating. Yes, it unfortunately involves some weekend prep time. I’m thinking of it as an investment in myself. That investment involves a lot of baby spinach and other veggies. I wish it involved brownies, but, alas, it does not.

  26. Actually you know what makes me nuts, is recipes calling for a little of this and a little of that then the rest goes to waste because it spoils. Like one lady mentioned couple spoons of avacado. Avacado goes brown once cut and is something only I eat at home. I would like to make a lot more different things, but this kind of thing stops me. I hope none of my comments made others feel pressured. Sometimes I forget, I am super organizer type A and shouldn’t expect others can do that. (I have been told it is exhausting to watch me on the go:) They said one day all this will catch up with me, and it seems to be true. I used to have great health all the time, now I can catch colds, broke my foot 2 months ago, banged my head last night on the granite counter, hubby said it is always something with me lately:(.

    1. Melissa, leave the pit in the avacado, it will help to keep it from getting brown.

      I like Amy’s, and recently discovered Evol Foods meals in the freezer case, they have some excellent choices.

  27. I note you didn’t ask for advice, but I’ll still ask–do you like to cook if you do have the time? Since your schedule is unpredictable, maybe if you do find a relatively free Sunday afternoon and the mood strikes you, you could cook up a big batch of soup and freeze it in individual portions. The soup would keep in your freezer for a couple of months, so this wouldn’t have to be an every-Sunday activity, and would give you a stash of homemade lunch options to rotate with the Lean Cuisine. Although I completely understand if cooking is the last thing you want to do. I have a love/hate relationship with cooking. I enjoy having tasty, healthful, nutrient-dense food that I made myself, but the shopping, prepping and cooking part can be a killjoy. It takes so much time!

    I work from home, which means I have access to my kitchen all day long. This is also not good for the waistline.

  28. Love so many ideas here! I usually prepare a bit extra for dinner & then use the extra salmon or chicken to top a bagged, pre washed salad. I also keep hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, & nuts ready to pack up or eat at home. In winter, I add a filling fresh soup from the market that I buy in advance in multiple portions & freeze. Occasionally I treat myself with a deli turkey sandwich or good quality chicken salad to go. I find that a filling, somewhat healthy lunch keeps my energy up & my mind off food for the afternoon

  29. I pack a lunch. If there’s nothing around I pack a “kids lunch” of peanut butter and jelly and a banana. If it’s a really good day I bring a frozen entree from home. If I plan ahead, I buy a few salads from TJs and those are good. Usually I don’t look much forward to lunches when I am on the job in the schools. It’s just for filler.