This Cookbook Will Make Your Lunch Better
Olivia Mack McCool says her longest love affair has been with food. The recipe developer and author of Lunch has been cooking since she was young, taking notes from the likes of Ina Garten and Giada De Laurentiis on TV. After college, she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and started working as a prop and food stylist.
Lunch is packed with healthy — you guessed it — lunch recipes. Her first book is a must-read for anyone looking to step up their midday routine. We caught up to discuss all things healthy eating, recipe development and the one lunch she could eat everyday.
Tell me us little more about your relationship with food?
My relationship with health and wellness hasn’t been lifelong but now it’s front and center in my cooking. I grew up in New Jersey and, in my humble opinion, we have the best bagels and Italian food (particularly large plates of pasta). Growing up, I ate plenty of both every day. I didn’t realize at the time that those blood-sugar spikes were not serving me or my waistline at all. These days there’s much more integration of delicious food with a healthy balance. I want my obsession with food and cooking to last me a very long lifetime, so I’m discerning about what makes it on my plate. I will never sacrifice taste, texture, aroma, or wow-factor in my cooking but refined carbs and sugar are now down to a minimum. Processed foods? They’re not even making it into my shopping cart; there’s just no need for them.
Lunch is so important because it is right in the middle of the day, when we’re meant to be most productive.
I love what you said in the book’s intro about how we think of breakfast as the most important meal of the day, but it isn’t. What made you want to create a book centered around lunch?
Because I’ve had so many lunch blunders! It started in high school when I would go for the slice of pizza and cookie in the cafeteria and then not be able to stay awake in history class. It continued into my adult life when I would be on these huge photography sets, hauling Christmas trees or furniture starting at 8am, then lunch would come and jonesing for some comfort food I’d hit up the pasta and cheesecake on the catering table. You can imagine what the next 6 hours were like. Lunch is so important because it is right in the middle of the day, when we’re meant to be most productive. But many of us sabotage ourselves with poor but convenient lunch choices.
I’m guilty of a midday pizza slice that makes me feel sluggish or of skipping lunch all together on a busy day. Why do you think lunch tends to be a hard to nail meal for people?
I think lunch takes the most forward-thinking preparation because it’s a meal that is not often eaten at home. You don’t have your refrigerator or your fruit bowl within arm’s reach to inspire you. If a homemade lunch at work is what you’re after, there’s some organization and preparation that needs to take place. I also think a lot of people need comfort at that time of day. It’s the halfway point of the work day which might be stressful, and you want to soothe yourself for just a few minutes. I completely understand that emotion. Changing what you find to be “soothing” is just a matter of forming a habit of bringing amazing, satisfying, and energizing food with you to whip out at that moment.
What parameters did you set when developing your recipe? Is there something they all have in common?
The book as a whole has a theme of moderation running through all the recipes. This book is for people who want to up their healthy homemade lunch game but aren’t looking for a new diet. I’ve packed it with loads of colorful veggies, good fats, and a variety of filling grains. There’s no excess of anything—not too many carbs, not only veggies and no fat, not too much dairy. It was also built so that if you don't eat one of the things in the recipe, you can swap it out. Another important parameter is accessibility. I wanted someone in a big city and in a small town to both be able to find most of these ingredients in their local supermarket. If all the ingredients were on the level of fresh turmeric or sprouted quinoa, while being great ingredients, they wouldn’t help a lot of people. So I call for powdered turmeric and regular quinoa, which can be found in almost every supermarket in America these days.
I love that you create a weekly shopping list as a way to eliminate food waste — why was this important to you?
I don’t know why more cookbooks don’t do this! I read, write, and cook from recipes for a living. So I know how time-consuming it is so sift through the ingredient lists and make your shopping list. And then what if you miscalculated? You end up with too much or you’re off to the store again for what you forgot. I wanted to give the reader all the tools to make these weeks of lunches actually happen. You can snap a photo of the grocery list with your phone, and head to the store with total assurance that you’re buying everything you need and nothing you don’t. My goal was that by Friday’s lunch, which is the last homemade lunch of your week, all the fresh ingredients you purchased will be used up.
What about a favorite ingredient to work with? Or one you find super versatile that maybe isn’t top of mind for people?
I’d say my favorite ingredient is an organic, pasture-raised egg. You can’t beat the egg in versatility. Eggs pop up all over the book because they are the perfect balance of protein and fat. An ingredient that might not be a mainstay for everyone is ginger. I love ginger! I put it in my juicer, stir-fry with it, add it to soups, salad, dressings, and so much more. It adds that “what is that?” flavor and it’s incredibly anti-inflammatory.
If you could only eat one lunch for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’ve thought about this question before—and it’s sushi. Hands down. It has been my favorite meal since I was still in diapers! I think I might have been Japanese in a past life. Everything about sushi is pure comfort to me. Some of my favorite pieces are salmon, scallop, and masago with a quail egg. If you haven’t tried the last one, run, don’t walk, to your favorite sushi restaurant, I promise it’s amazing!