Bored of over-priced and under-satisfying sarnies? Lisa Salmon meets the ladies hoping to inspire a nation to make lunchtimes more special
Many workers simply grab a boring sandwich at lunchtime, or nip out for a pricey pastie.
But such dull dining does nothing for your health, or your wealth - a bog-standard sandwich, crisps and drink can be full of fat and salt, low on nutrients, and easily set you back around £30 a week.
But Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing insist that, with just a little preparation and effort, every lunch hour can be something to look forward to.
Making tasty and portable grub at home to take to work can be a lot healthier, cheaper and more appetising than buying a buttie from the high street, they promise. And the duo, both keen foodies who work in the publishing industry, have put together The Little Book Of Lunch to inspire people who are stuck in a boring lunch rut.
"There's no denying that there are overall health and financial benefits to bringing your homemade packed lunch in to work," says Craig.
"Lunch - especially while you're at work, working - is one of life's great pleasures, yet one that is easily overlooked. If you've bought a sorry eggy bap from the nearest sandwich shop, we're not surprised that you want to inhale it, then pretend it never happened.
"But if you have lovingly put together your lunch, chances are you're going to want to take some time to savour it."
The book's filled with simple, quick recipe ideas ranging from the exotic-sounding Faux Pho - a chicken noodle soup - to salads, dishes you'd be happy to eat for your evening meal (Thai fishcakes or aubergine and tomato gratin, anyone?), quiches, and traditional sandwiches, often with a twist to lift them from the realms of dullness.
The recipes can be made either the night before or in the morning before you set off, and they're accompanied in the book by meal planners and even suggested shopping lists, to ensure the cupboards aren't bare when you're inspired to create your own out-of-the-ordinary packed lunch.
With some of the recipes, for example, the tomato pasta dish puttanesca, the idea is to make a big batch for dinner and set some aside for the following day.
Generally, however, the lunches involve a little preparation the night before, and a little more in the morning, plus assembly at lunchtime to avoid sogginess.
"When preparation time is split into manageable proportions like this, then making yourself a nice lunch doesn't seem like such an extravagant task," promises Missing.
And she stresses: "A homemade lunch doesn't have to be a complicated affair; it can simply be some grated carrot and soft cheese on a couple of slices of rye bread, or a mini picnic of bread, cheese and pickles."
The pair agree that people unaccustomed to creating packed lunches will need to get into new habits to make their lunch revolution a success, and those habits include ensuring certain key ingredients are always on standby in the fridge, such as pitta (which can be frozen and toasted when needed), cucumber, mint, avocado, cherry tomatoes, jarred capers and olives.
"Many of these - say an avocado, or a small Tupperware of cherry tomatoes - can be shoved unceremoniously in a handbag, and assembled into lunch at work if you've no time first thing in the morning," Craig points out.
"The lunch hour's yours for the taking," she adds, "and though there will always be days when you're so busy that you work through, there's still something really enjoyable and spirit-lifting in enjoying a slice of home."
If you fancy taking that slice of home to work with you, here are three recipes from The Little Book Of Lunch for inspiration.
Spanish lunch: chorizo, egg & potato salad
8-10 small, or new potatoes
2 eggs, at room temperature
15cm piece of chorizo sausage
Olive oil for drizzling
1tbsp freshly chopped chives
Wash the potatoes and if on the large side, chop in half, adding to a pan of cold, salted water as you go. Simmer until they're cooked and can be pierced easily with a knife. Usually about 10-15 minutes.
To save time and washing up, cook your eggs in the same pan as the cooking potatoes: give them a good rinse, and pop into the pan with them. Cook for about seven minutes for a soft yolked egg, before removing from the pan and running under the cold tap.
Meanwhile, chop the chorizo into small chunks and heat a non-stick pan on the hob. Simply add the chopped chorizo, and cook until the fat begins to run and the sausage is crispy in places. Drain the cooked potatoes and add to your lunch pail. Top with the cooked chorizo, a drizzle of olive oil, and the chives. Give it a stir and sprinkle over some salt.
Wrap the two eggs in their shells separately in kitchen roll. On arrival at work, this dish is best left at room temperature.
At lunchtime, peel your boiled eggs and cut into segments, topping your potato dish.
2 spring onions, finely chopped and washed
450ml weak chicken stock
Very small splash of fish sauce
Handful of mint, leaves picked and washed
Handful of coriander, leaves picked and washed
Handful of basil, washed and leaves torn
Large handful of leftover chicken, roughly pulled into pieces
1 portion of rice noodles
1/2 red chilli
Srichacha chilli sauce (optional)
Add the spring onions to a non-stick pan a low heat, and cook until they start to colour.
Put the stock in a pan on medium heat, adding the fish sauce and the juice of a quarter of the lime. Heat until almost boiling, and while it's heating, prepare your herbs and place in a container.
Put the chicken in a separate container or wrap in a small piece of foil. Place the rice noodles in a large heatproof bowl, and pour over some boiling water. Cover with a tea towel and leave for three minutes.
Remove the spring onions from the heat and wrap in a small piece of foil. The stock should now be simmering, so turn off the heat and empty into a thermos. Drain the noodles in a colander, and place in a sealable container.
At lunchtime, carefully decant the hot stock into a bowl, then add the noodles, chicken, spring onions and herbs. Lastly, using scissors, snip the chilli into the bowl, and squeeze the the remaining quarter of lime juice generously. A squirt of chilli sauce can be nice.
Roasted red peppers with anchovy & tomato
(Serves 1 hungry person)
2 red peppers
1 garlic clove, sliced
16 cherry tomatoes
Olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Slice the peppers in half, down the middle of the stalk. Remove the seeds and white flesh.
Lay the peppers cup side up on a baking tray and stuff with the cherry tomatoes (four should fit perfectly in each pepper half), anchovies and sliced garlic.
Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes. The peppers will fill with a delicious juice when cooking: take care not to let this escape when packing into your lunch receptacle. Good served with bread or couscous to soak up the juices.
Three of the best
:: Quirky Stem Citrus Sprayer, £5.95, www.prezzybox.com
Turn citrus fruit into a spray with this handy little device, which has serrated teeth for simple insertion into fruit. Great for using over fish, on pancakes, or in any dish that needs a zesty citrus squeeze.
:: FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer, RRP £119.99, Amazon
As the name suggests, this gadget vacuum seals food, taking all the air out, to keep it fresh up to five times longer - so you can cook a big healthy meal, seal into portions and eat well for days.
:: Russell Hobbs Desire Slice And Go, RRP £44.99, Tesco, Wilkinsons and www.uk.russellhobbs.com
A 'shred-it, grate-it, slice-it, chop-it' device with stainless steel slicing and shredding attachments, a slicing disk, coarse shredding disk and a direct serving spout.
:: The Little Book of Lunch by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing is published by Square Peg, £15. Available now.