Lunch at the Office

I have to admit, my least favorite part about living in New York are the inflated prices on almost everything! Since I’ve developed a seemingly good habit of buying fresh produce/food, and like to make my own meals, often the task can be difficult, or at least financially stressful. Determined to stick to it, I’ve had to force myself to figure it out and budget appropriately. Luckily, my favorite part about working in New York is that many companies, including mine (yay!) offer complimentary accounts through which to order lunch. While I recognize how lucky this is for my wallet, it is also still difficult for the human in me who could easily order free pizza, milkshakes, or grilled cheese everyday…especially when this is typical of my friends and colleagues.

I will admit I’ve had the occasional soup and sandwich on those gloomy, rainy days when comfort is required, but for the most part I have been able to get into the habit of rotating my favorite healthy choices throughout the week. The trick was first determining what these choices should be. For a while I just stuck to what I knew – a simple green salad, no cheese, plenty of veggies and a favorite vinegar dressing. Everyone has their own taste and even though I LOVE a good salad, eating the same one five times a week even with variations here and there was bound to become pretty boring. I decided to allow myself to try something new every time I felt this boredom creeping in, however the deal was it had to be something healthy that wouldn’t leave me feeling blegh. To be completely honest, as much as the thought of something greasy or fried sounds good, I truly recognize that me and my body feel much better when I avoid foods like this.

So after several weeks of trying out different places in the city – some forgettable and some life-changing, I finally developed a routine. Delivery in New York can be tough, not just for the unpredictability. I had my first experience speaking out as a dissatisfied customer when one of my favorites continually let me down. I didn’t want to stop eating their food, so I just explained my feelings and they were appreciative of the constructive feedback and even offered me a few additional free meals! Ultimately, though, the biggest challenge when ordering online is being essentially blind to the ingredients/prep behind the food you are eating. Since New York is such a big city and has a lot of random laws when it comes to food service, I found with a little research I could often find allergen and dietary information online. Just as well, every food industry business in the city has a health inspection grade that they are legally required to make public to their would-be customers. I focused on this information, as well as reviews on local directories mentioning quality ingredients and positive experiences to guide me in my journey. While I’m still trying new places every so often, I’ve narrowed my favorites to the following five! They’re all available to order from my corporate account, and I’ve enjoyed eating from these places so much that I’ve ventured to try them all with family and friends on the weekends, too.

Hu Kitchen
Definitely my favorite of the few – Hu Kitchen is, by design, “food for humans.”
 Most of their menu is made from organic ingredients, and all of their offerings are gluten free, dairy free, and soy free, plus contain no GMOs, cane sugar, canola oil, bread fillers, preservatives, or emulsifiers. Literally. Their entire menu. It’s so easy to order from Hu knowing I can even add a brownie or other chocolate goodie for dessert and not feel weighed down. My favorite is definitely their 1/4 garlic rotisserie chicken meal option – it comes with your choice of two sides. I usually choose as Cashew Milk Pineapple, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, but the photo to the right shows their mixed green salad instead of the tates. Yum. Yum. Yum!

If I’m being completely honest, Chop’t is probably my FAVORITE place to order from meal-wise, but I almost never get exactly what I order. To be fair I have to add a lot of additional instructions when ordering from Chop’t because their menu, while pretty easy to work-around, is organized in a way that is not super allergen friendly. My go-to order is their “first-time favorite” Chicken Tinga salad. The pre-made ingredients include spicy chicken tinga, cotija cheese, tortilla strips, kale and broccoleaf, with green onions and wild quinoa. I don’t like raw kale, so I ask for their “Chop’t Lettuce Blend” instead, which includes a mix of greens like spinach and mesclun (my favorite!). I also always omit the cheese and tortilla, plus add apples and dried cranberries. The dressing really makes the taste – referred to as Mexican Goddess, it’s a spicy + creamy blend that sets all the tastes on fire, literally!

Hummus & Pita Co.
For some reason still unbeknownst to me, I didn’t discover Hummus & Pita until way too late in life. I mean, I’ve always loved hummus, but I really had never had Mediterranean food at all until moving to NYC, and now that I’ve had H&P I don’t think that falafel I had from a street cart in Union Square last summer really counts. It’s really easy to avoid gluten and dairy at Hummus & Pita, too, other than a whole-wheat pita for stuffing. But of course, this isn’t necessary if you just want the goods. As long as you don’t opt for cheese, and choose a spice-based sauce – a platter or bowl meal is super filling and super light on the gut! A typical order for me would include Gyro or Chicken Taboon as my meat. I prefer Gyro because I eat a lot of chicken elsewhere, and I sometimes feel the Taboon is a little fatty comparatively. I love their Israeli Couscous and always get extra! The rest of my “fill its” come in the form of white pickled cabbage, grilled eggplant, mixed vegetables, or just spicy carrots. I then top with fresh tomatoes and their homemade blend of chimichurri. It’s always such a large serving of food and so reasonably priced for Manhattan – this is the place from my list I most often find myself ordering from outside the work week.

Just Salad
Just Salad has a forever one-up on Chop’t because of their ability to accommodate your fantasy salad with premium ingredients included in the base price of creating your own salad. For example, adding those apples and cranberries at Chop’t is a pretty penny compared to Just Salad where I can throw in the same, plus sweet potatoes, double chicken, and an extra dressing all for the same price. Just Salad falls behind Chop’t for me because their allergen information isn’t available online so I remain a little skeptical about their ingredients. All the same, a salad is still a salad, which isn’t something worse than a salad…so I’ll keep it in rotation

Muscle Maker
Last but definitely not least is the lil hidden gem of Muscle Maker. While they don’t seem to work too hard toward marketing themselves as an all around healthy, “no-frill,” all clean eats type of place, that’s exactly what they are. I can get plain grilled chicken with plain grilled vegetables – no oils, no butter, just salt and pepper, and the servings are enormous! I like ordering from MM when I know I’m really hungry and my body just needs what it needs. This is also a great spot that didn’t require I do a lot of research into before ordering because of how everything is just described as “plain,” which I would take any day over added ingredients or fillers!

Overnight Oats

I make overnight oats almost every day! It’s so easy for a quick and healthy breakfast, and the best part for me – I can usually get away with prepping the entire thing at my office using ingredients I can keep in our staff kitchen!

The necessary ingredients really come down to your personal preference! Of course you’ll need some type of oatmeal then just your favorite milk, flavoring, a source of protein (if you want), and fruit of choice! My recipe varies from time to time, depending on what I have available. (Added: I had to really make some changes during my elimination diet). I almost always use Almond Milk, but recently have tried homemade Cashew Milk, too! Both are great, in my opinion, but I sometimes find I like the taste of Cashew Milk better. For flavor I typically turn to cinnamon, vanilla extract, or honey, and while I rarely use peanut butter, it’s certainly an appropriate substitute for those who aren’t a fan of almond butter.  You can always add more than one of these depending on what you like! When it comes to added protein, this of course isn’t mandatory. I like to make sure I’m getting a lot of protein in my breakfast because I typically do a heavy workout in the mornings. I like adding a half scoop of my protein powder or Hemp seeds. Keep in mind, you can also trust you are getting protein from a nut butter or milk! 🙂

Add all your ingredients into a container (mason jars are my go-to!), and make sure it’s mixed well. Throw it in the fridge before going to bed and in the morning, add your fruit of choice on top and you’re good to go! It’s that easy! You don’t have to leave it for a super long time, but it also doesn’t hurt to leave it longer. I have prepped mine for as little as four hours, and have even saved a large batch I couldn’t finish for the following day. Allowing ample time for the oats to soak in the milk is what makes them soft and delicious, as if you had boiled them like quick oats.

The serving size is adjustable depending on your personal preference, as well. I usually can finish an entire 8oz jar with a full banana and bunch of blueberries, but I know many of my friends have mentioned they like a smaller serving. Keep in mind the oats soak up the liquid and added ingredients, so even as you are preparing them, it may seems they are well nourished, but it’s not a bad idea to add a little extra milk to ensure everything stays covered in the container. I sometimes even splash more milk on top with the fruit! My standard recipe is below, which is gluten free and vegan – Happy exploring! 🙂

Overnight Oats:

3/4 C Oats
1 tbsp Almond Butter
1/2 tsp Honey
1/2 tsp Chia Seeds
3 tbsp Hemp seeds
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
3/4 C (or more) Milk
Banana, Blueberry, Raspberry for topping