I am writing this from my desk at home, where I have worked for the past 11 years, having left the office environment behind for a freelance career as a food writer and journalist. I spend most of my days by myself, either here, with my house plants for company, or in my kitchen, writing recipes.
Back in July 2019, when I started writing my book, Solo, about how to cope – and not lose your mind – when working alone (inspired by my own struggle to do so and desire to help others avoid what I’d been through), I spent hours on home-worker Facebook groups, surveying other solo workers about what they’d like me to cover.
One surprising topic came up again and again: how to eat well when you work by yourself. Despite having spent more than a decade writing mainly about food, I hadn’t planned for food to be in the remit for the book.
I imagined the book would be all about productivity and work-life balance, managing loneliness, avoiding burnout, and creating a healthy solo working environment – all the things I had found difficult. But I quickly realised that I would need to cover food as well.
The people I talked to – from furniture designers to social media managers to management consultants – spent their weekdays eating toast, cereal and biscuits, or in some cases, nothing at all. They either felt they didn’t deserve to stop and eat something proper, felt too rushed and panicky, or they felt silly for taking time out to cook when they were the only person eating.
I found this incredibly sad, as well as worrying – numerous studies have shown that we need recovery periods during our working days. Without them we become miserable, overwhelmed and ultimately burnt out. Recovery is even more effective when we occupy our brains and bodies with something entirely unrelated to our jobs – spend a few moments chopping and stirring something delicious, and I guarantee you’ll return to your work better able to get things done.
Now, millions of us are in the same position as those solo workers I interviewed – and with all the stress that unexpectedly shifting to WFH has brought, work-from-homers are in greater need of the nourishment and respite that a proper lunch break can bring.
You deserve to be well fed, in part so that you can get your work done, leave your desk and get on with the rest of your life. And although it’s never going to be as easy as simply eating almonds for a better memory, your brain and body do need specific fuels.
For lunch, I try to focus on the range of the foods they need: protein, omega 3-rich oily fish, nuts and oils, as well as legumes and raw or barely cooked vegetables, which give me the complex carbs and fibre I need – both so that I feel full enough not to eat all the biscuits I can find, but also to feed the good bacteria in my gut. (Incidentally, if biscuits are your WFH nemesis – they’re mine – ban them from the house. Or keep them in the freezer. Frozen biscuits are revolting.)
These recipes all take less than 20 minutes – some much less – and are highly customisable. They’re designed to be made with things we might have in the fridge or freezer anyway, or from long-life foods we can store until needed. Because you deserve a lunch that’s both practical and delicious, even if you’re eating it alone.
Rebecca Seal’s book, Solo: How To Work Alone (And Not Lose Your Mind), is out now (Souvenir Press, £14.99). Order your copy from books.telegraph.co.uk.
Essential WFH lunch ingredients
- With a good collection of long-life things in jars, you’ll never have a boring WFH lunch again. Think roasted peppers, capers, olives, anchovies, miso paste, chipotle paste, harissa, tahini, kimchi, pickles, chutney...
- A well-stocked freezer means you won’t turn to Hobnobs: frozen spinach to go under a poached egg; sliced up sourdough for sarnies; Indian-style flatbreads like paratha to dip in reheated curry; wraps to roll around halloumi and salad, or leftover chilli and cheese.
- Fresh herbs in pots (not plastic bags) make any meal special – go for chives, basil, parsley and dill. Plus, looking after houseplants has been shown to help focus and concentration.
Easy WFH wins
Baked beans: I was a bit embarrassed when I put this in one of the Leon cookbooks I help to write, but it’s proved very popular: baked beans with added spicy chipotle paste, piled on toast with chopped avocado, red onion and lime juice…
Fish finger sandwiches: A thing of joy, done properly: crusty toasted bread, mayo, capers, sliced cucumber and crisp lettuce.
Frozen gyoza: Ready-made pot-sticker dumplings (I like the Ajinomoto brand) take five minutes to cook in a frying pan, just long enough to shred some carrot and cabbage and dress it in soy sauce, lime juice and sesame oil.
Leftovers: I chill or freeze leftovers and batch-cooks in one-person portions: curry, rice (for stir-frying with an egg and some peanuts), stews, bolognese sauce, roasted vegetables (for lentil salads); roast chicken for wraps or noodly broths…