Construction workers burn three times as many calories per hour as employees working a desk job. Therefore, they need a hearty lunch that will fill them up and keep their energy high for the rest of the workday. At the same time, it needs to be portable and easy to eat on site.
Whether taking lunch on a crossbeam hundreds of feet above Manhattan or huddling around a table in a hut, workers cannot typically rely on any extra utensils or appliances being available. Pack lunch in a cooler to keep it within the safe temperature zone, and look for foods that will keep their integrity over the first half of the day. Delicate dressed salads can wilt, eggs and seafood are especially susceptible to harmful bacteria growth and flimsy breads filled with moist fillings will most likely turn soggy and fall apart.
Subs, sandwiches and wraps represent the ultimate portable food, providing the bread is robust and the filling not overloaded with dressing, which will saturate the bread and cause it to disintegrate. Bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato delivers a formidable protein boost, as do sausage and peppers, chicken breast and pesto, pork and red onion, and the classic Philly cheese steak.
Plain sliced white bread is often not the best solution a few hours down the road. Substitute with thick-cut slabs of sourdough or wholemeal, flatbread, or tortilla wraps, all of which are adept at absorbing moisture without wilting.
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Think of pies and pasties as lunch packed in a disposable container, perfect for eating with bare hands. The distinctive crimped crust on a Cornish pasty was specifically intended to be thrown away once the hearty filling of beef, potato, rutabaga and onions had been consumed, not least because tin miners’ hands were tainted with poisonous chemicals. The Michigan pasty is its U.S. descendent, a thick-crusted pasty packed with beef, carrots, onions and potatoes.
Caribbean food stores, and even some mainstream supermarkets, should also stock Jamaican patties, which add a lurid yellow color from turmeric and an appetizing kick from scotch bonnet pepper. While beef is the standard filling, alternative patties include chicken, vegetable and salt cod.
Carbohydrate from starches may provide a momentary rush, but tired muscles need protein above all else. Resurgent jerky supplies the answer, in a tough length of seasoned beef, turkey or pork. Cured and smoked, jerky will keep in a lunch box for days. Look for those that don’t contain MSG or nitrites.
Likewise, a hunk of smoked sausage will satiate a growling belly. Austrian landjager was specifically intended as a hiker’s snack, its gnarled, weathered appearance concealing densely packed pork. Polish kielbasa, Spanish chorizo and Italian salami are also ready to eat straight off the link, but should be kept in the cooler.
A handful of nuts is the ideal mid-morning snack, bursting with protein and salt but unaffected by storage. Include a bag of Brazil nuts, peanuts or cashews to replenish calories.
Comfort food will also provide a second wind to see you through the second half of the day. A pot of mac and cheese or potatoes with sour cream and pesto will supply carbohydrate. Neither side dish sacrifices much in taste from serving straight out the cooler, which is essential for foods containing dairy.
Take a leaf, too, out of the Indian worker’s manual and arrange an aluminum tiffin stack of rice or couscous, beans, vegetable or meat curry and flatbread. The bread can be used as a utensil for scooping up the other ingredients, with the whole lunch carried with a single handle.
Cleanse the palate with some fresh fruit and salad. Any washed fruit still in its skin will suffice, but consider a salad that will look as appetizing at noon as it did before the commute. Tomatoes in a zesty Italian herb dressing will hold up, as will crudites such as carrot sticks and celery. Pack a selection of chilled dips in insulated pots to perk up the course, ranging from protein-bursting hummus to mojo verde, infused with cilantro and chili.