There's a certain amount of food shame associated with a backseat full of fast food containers, and the task of slathering some peanut butter on a piece of bread and throwing it in a plastic bag can seem as insurmountable as the Tour de France at 7 a.m. If your microwave at work takes five minutes to heat a cup of soup and all of the frozen food you've ever tried tastes like wet cardboard, maybe it's time to try the grocery store lunch route.
Whole Foods - Burger Fridays ($5) Mood: Passing the time until it's nap time. Our favorite way to sink deeply into a Friday afternoon cubicle stupor is by ordering the $5 Whole Foods burger basket. Available at the Lake Calhoun Whole Foods "Calhoun Diner," it's a build-your-own burger, made complete with a side of cajun fries. This all-beef patty is presented in an alluring manner with quality ingredients, including fresh organic vegetables, dill pickle planks, and ketchup and mustard that all come together gloriously on a gleaming bakery-fresh bun. Since this particular Whole Foods is so close to the chain of lakes, it's a great lunch to eat while watching others work out and make healthier decisions as you sit there, wiping fry grease on your pants.
Cub Foods - ($4.69 for a two-piece fried chicken meal including two sides + roll/butter) Mood: Looking for comfort on a plate. A two-piece chicken meal at the Cub Foods deli includes two sides (we usually choose the jo jo potatoes and coleslaw, but there are a number of other options including macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and corn) along with an adorable little ziploc bag that contains one tiny soft dinner roll and a pat of butter. The chicken is crispy, flavorful, and moist. Comfort food is almost an understatement for this lunch. Just got fired? This one's for you. The only real drawback is that it's not super easy to eat in your car. But really, what do grease and gravy stains on your shirt matter if you're going to be unemployed for the next year anyway? Though a car in the pouring rain is the best setting, this meal can also be eaten in the fetal position or while listening to REM's "Everybody Hurts." It's delicious, it hasn't changed in years, and it's served by deli ladies you will want to adopt as your grandmother. Salt with your tears and enjoy!
Kowalski's - ($6.99 for black bean/corn salad) Mood: Inspired to eat for your healt-- ooh, doughnuts! Kowalski's is a toughie if you're on the look-out for an inexpensive nosh, but the black bean/corn salad is fresh and delicious. If perhaps you've binged on too many fried chicken dinners or Burger Fridays, this lunch will feel like a delightful detox and you can float along for the rest of the day, light as air. Though the salad could be improved with a few choice ingredients (red onion, avocado and maybe some grilled chicken for the meat eaters), it's a refreshing lunch choice. But, then again, if you're strict about the $5 limit, might we suggest five of the delicious sprinkled doughnuts that are just within your line of sight?
Seward Co-op - ($7.99 Tempeh Reuben) Mood: Bored and looking for a small, sandwich-sized adventure. Don't google tempeh, just eat it. Going one step further than the Rachel, the Seward Co-Op offers the "Ruby" -- a Tempeh Reuben -- a true thing of beauty that includes the strange yet satisfying protein brick, and is bursting at the seams with shockingly purple cabbage sauerkraut and all of the other traditional Reuben fixins. While it is the most expensive meal on this list, it also happens to be the most filling, and the most creative. We like the real Reubens too, of course, but this one makes us feel healthier and more adventurous, like Kristy from the Babysitter's Club.
Lunds - Sushi Wednesdays ($5) Mood: Excited for a feast of a dinner and hoping to keep lunch light. Grocery store sushi may not be that appealing to some folks, but the staff is super friendly and the expertly put together rolls are good enough to satisfy any lighter lunch craving. The only drawback is the elongated refrigeration, so you'll run into rice that's a little too moist. However, the avocado is ripe, the cucumbers fresh, and the imitation crab meat is...well, imitation crab meat. Though the wasabi lacks some brightness, the soy sauce helps cover that up. A standard California roll is the way to go as far as we're concerned, and it's the perfect, even virtuous, option if you plan on going to town on a whole pizza for dinner.
Got any grocery store lunch secrets to share? Drop a note in the comments section below.
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