We all need somebody to lean on.
Trading Lunches
Credit: Sara Tane


Of the many vivid memories I have from growing up, one of my favorites is hovering over the cafeteria tables with my friends, diligently mapping out how we would all trade lunches. Since one person’s mom was always heavy on the portions, and someone else had a snack cabinet made of dreams, there were plenty of decisions to be had as far as how all the packed baggies would be divvied up. I really enjoyed this.

Now that I am older and wiser (and have way less friends), my work lunch game usually consists of me packing some leftovers and consuming them at my desk. Sure, it’s not as exciting as grade school, but it gets the job done. And because I have the job that I do, the people around me don’t mind hearing me go on and on about all the delicious food I made at home (usually because, they too, have a home-cooked meal that they’re dying to talk about, as well).

This past week, in the daily conversation about what we’ve prepared for ourselves, my colleague/editor, Darcy, and I both realized something—we were pretty envious of what the other had meal-prepped for the week. Like the smart individuals that we are, we took this golden opportunity as an excuse to behave like fourth graders, and trade lunches at work. While our other coworkers did not show any outward expressions of jealousy, it’s pretty safe to assume that they mulled over their lunches, seeping with envy.

My weekend creation that I intended to nibble (quite literally) off of all week was a whole roasted chicken with sweet potato, fennel, shiitake mushrooms, and apples. It was amazing and autumnal and everything you could ask for in a meal. However, when I caught wind that Darcy went ahead and did it big with a sheet pan salmon niçoise, I was extremely intrigued. And thus, the trade idea was born.


Unlike my fellow MyRecipes staffer, Sara, I have zero fond memories of trading lunches at the school cafeteria table. It’s completely possible that such an exchange happened regularly and I just don’t remember, but the closest thing I can recall is occasionally going through the lunch line in high school when something highly desirable was on the menu (like chicken fingers or our cafeteria’s signature chicken alfredo pizza!), despite the fact that I still brought my own lunch, so that I could hand the prized cafeteria offering off to my other non-brown bagging friends to have extra. What can I say, I’m a giver (with a relatively poor long-term memory). Which is why I LOVED the idea of swapping lunches with one of my all-time favorite colleagues.

I mean, we already maintain a Monday ritual of coming in and discussing what we cooked over the weekend—inevitably inducing serious leftover envy, might as well take it one step further. And what could possibly be more fun than giddily packing up a lunch portion of the sheet pan dinner I’ve already enjoyed for a couple of meals (and am starting to burn out on) to share with my friend in exchange for a tupperware of theirs? I’ll tell you what, in terms of fun that you’re gonna have with your office desk lunch, nothing. Nothing could be more fun.

Honestly, I was fairly pleased with the sheet pan salmon niçoise situation I whipped up on Sunday night—mostly because it was 100% unplanned, but upon considering what I had in the fridge and whether I wanted to cook or eat a big bowl of high-fiber cereal for dinner, I realized I essentially had all of the components for a salmon twist on niçoise. And then the idea of throwing it all together on a sheet pan to minimize labor as much as humanly possible struck me. And by golly, it worked out great. I was stoked to report my sheet pan success on Monday. Of course, upon checking social media and seeing Sara’s robust, luscious, golden chicken perched atop a bed of autumnal jewels… man, the crispy skin, the gleaming veggies glazed in savory juices, the use of the word schmaltzy, how could I NOT end up with a taste for roasted chicken this week?

So when my colleague suggested a trade in our Monday morning brag sesh, I could not say, “UH YEAH” fast or enthusiastically enough. That night I packed her lunch in one of my finest glass to-go containers with love and care (only slicing off a very small fraction of her salmon to toss to my wide-eyed kitty, who Sara is not fond of), and set a reminder on my phone not to forget it the next morning, as I typically do with my own lunch. The Tuesday lunchtime exchange did not disappoint. In fact, beyond receiving the satisfaction of actually eating something I’d previously drooled over on Instagram, there was something so incredibly comforting and lovely about enjoying a homecooked meal that someone else prepared. I highly recommend (as long as you have office buds who you’d trust in a kitchen, that is).


The only reason we want to share this wildly successful lunch experiment with the Internet is A.) to brag, but B.) it’s a highly genius concept that you and your friends/colleagues should participate in. If you’re coming up on the mid-week slump where the food that you were so diligent about meal-prepping now sounds more unappetizing than anything in the world, you now have a fresh new meal to work into the rotation. Not to mention, your trading partner probably feels the same way about their food, and is equally excited to receive yours. Breaking up the monotony is key to a happy, meal-prepping life.

On top of that, being open to the food that somebody else cooks says a lot about you. You’re open-minded, curious, adventurous, and flexible—which are all great things to be! In fact, there’s a good chance that you’ll eat something that you might not normally make for yourself, thus broadening your culinary horizons. The power of friendship is truly immeasurable.

By Darcy Lenz and Sara Tane