We’ve all heard that eating lunch at your desk is bad for your health and productivity. And yet every day, somewhere north of 60 percent of all working Americans will drop crumbs into their keyboards at midday. If they do get up at lunch, it’s just to pop out to get something from the nearest fast casual restaurant or food truck or to grab their container from the scary office fridge before taking it back to their workstations.
But there’s no need to spend lunchtime mindlessly scrolling through your social media feed while nibbling at leftovers. Get out of the office for a half-hour and learn about great art or center your mind before upcoming meetings. Take a little longer, and you can explore the city or even get inspiration for dinner.
Hear a concert in a sacred space
The pipe organ is a wonderful but often misunderstood instrument. Most people are familiar with the shrieks and groans used to ratchet up tension in horror movies, or the stately wall of sound that accompanies church services. But in the hands of an expert, the pipe organ is a wildly expressive instrument, summoning the call of woodwinds or the thunder of brass.
The National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle NW is home to one of Washington’s largest pipe organs, with 7,500 pipes operated by five keyboards and an array of foot pedals that requires a certain athleticism from organists. The church has hosted midday recitals since 1981, a tradition that continues every Friday at 12:15 p.m., as organ lovers file into seats in the rows of pews, each of which contains a cushion with a different state seal. The programs, which last 30 to 45 minutes, usually contain multiple selections, so “it’s like two concerts,” explains the Rev. J. Michael McMahon, the artistic director of Music at Midday. If you can stay for the whole program, great, but even if you only have 15 or 20 minutes to spare, you’ll hear some amazing music before heading back to the office.
Either way, leave a few minutes to look around the church — the building was designed by John Russell Pope, whose other D.C. landmarks include the National Archives and the Jefferson Memorial — and the small exhibition showing how pipe organs work. That way you’ll understand more the next time you visit.
National City Christian Church, 5 Thomas Cir. NW. nationalcitycc.org. Fridays at 12:15 p.m. Free.
More ideas: Many historic downtown churches offer free lunchtime recitals on a regular basis: The Church of the Epiphany, which predates the Civil War, features soloists, small groups and the Washington Bach Consort performing classical and modern compositions every Tuesday at 12:10 p.m. St. John’s Episcopal Church, located just across the street from Lafayette Square, will host concerts from 12:10 to 12:45 p.m. on the first Wednesday of the month, beginning Oct. 2. New to the recital circuit is St. Matthew’s Cathedral, which begins monthly pipe organ concerts on Oct. 9. All its events will be held Wednesdays at 12:45 p.m.
Be inspired by great art
Given that the operating hours for most museums neatly overlap with office hours, Washingtonians don’t often think about visiting the Smithsonian on weekdays. But many major museums offer lunch-adjacent tours or talks, making it easier to grab some culture.
The Hirshhorn Mid-Day Art Tour’s appeal is its unpredictability: A different guide leads the 45-to-60-minute tour each day at 12:30 p.m., and there’s no set agenda. One guide might lead a small group through “Manifesto: Art x Agency,” the museum’s exhibition focused on 20th century art movements, while another visit might feature several works from “Feel the Sun in Your Mouth,” a collection of recently acquired works.
No matter what you encounter, and even if you don’t think of yourself as “a tour person,” the guides will make it worth your time, giving more background and context than you’d get from the wall text or by hurriedly Googling the artist. Walking through “Manifesto” on a recent Thursday, one guide discussed Hannah Höch’s “Tailor’s Flower” in the context of the Dada movement, and how Höch wasn’t always accepted by male artists, even though Dada saw itself as progressive.
Guides also encourage visitors to talk about what they see in the art, and what they find appealing, or not, and you’ll be inspired to pipe up. Because most tours don’t follow a particular story line, visitors are welcome to stay for as much of the tour as they’d like — and you might find yourself wishing you could put off going back to the office.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SE. hirshhorn.si.edu . Tours daily at 12:30 p.m. Free.
More ideas: While most major Washington museums offer regular tours of their collections, not all take place at midday. The National Gallery of Art’s lunchtime program is the most varied: Docent-led tours include “Glimpses of Life in the Dutch Golden Age” (daily at 12:30 p.m.), “Artists’ Choices and Why They Matter” (daily at 11:30 a.m.) and, weather permitting, tours of the Sculpture Garden (Friday at 12:30).
Find inner peace
By the time noon rolls around, you could face dozens of problems that cause your blood pressure to spike: Fussing kids, Metro single-tracking, project deadlines, a lunch left at home. And there’s still half the workday to go.
The Eaton Workshop’s Eaton Wellness offers a brief and all-too-necessary escape at its free daily community meditation. Participants file into the K Street hotel’s Buddhist temple-inspired meditation room, leaving shoes and cellphones in cubbies outside. Some take rugs, blocks or cushions from the stacks along the wall before settling in; others just adopt the lotus position on the wooden floor.
The guided meditation makes it easy for beginners to leap in: As you envision a tranquil beach or sitting in a rocking chair at a cabin in the woods, perhaps with a thunderstorm passing in the distance, the guide encourages you to breathe deeply, and connect with your inner self. The sonorous drone of singing bowls, with the occasional strike that peals like a bell, creates the perfect soundtrack for centering and healing. The 15-minute class flies by all too quickly, and before you know it, you’re coming out of your meditative state, reflecting on gratitude, and preparing to go back to the office in a much better place than you were when you entered.
Eaton Workshop, 1201 K St. NW. eatonworkshop.com. Meditation daily at noon. Free, no reservation required.
More ideas: If 15 minutes aren’t enough, keep your lunchtime self-care session going with yoga classes, which conveniently begin at 12:15 p.m. ($20), or a 40-minute detox in the hotel’s infrared sauna ($40; bathing suit suggested).
Get delicious ideas for future lunches (and dinners)
The idea seems counterintuitive: Why spend your lunch break watching someone else prepare food instead of buying and eating your own? But a lunchtime spent at the U.S. Botanic Garden is more like an investment: Not only will you leave knowing more about ingredients and foodways, but you’ll have ideas for future meals, and how to eat more healthfully.
The Botanic Garden has long featured cooking demonstrations, but several years ago, says public affairs specialist Devin Dotson, organizers decided to offer them on a more regular basis and, more importantly, make them free. “We were teaching visitors about plants you can grow at home,” he explains, but they’d come back and say, “Well, I grew these vegetables, now what should I do with them?” This coincided with the 2016 renovation of Bartholdi Park, which allowed the Botanic Garden to add a “kitchen garden” full of edible Mid-Atlantic plants. The new focus of the cooking demonstrations, Dotson says, became not just tips on cooking with plants but deliberately using “what’s in season, so it’s what you’re growing [at home], or what you can find at a local farmers market.”
Cooking demonstrations, held in the garden’s atrium on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month, are led by the Cook sisters: Adrienne Cook, a former Washington Post gardening columnist, and Danielle Cook, the head of the nutrition program at Georgetown University Hospital’s Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Clinic. The demos are breezy conversations about a topic — summer fruits, such as raspberries and blueberries, or how to make the most of the flavors from a tomato. The duo usually prepares two dishes, which are passed around as samples. (It’s not uncommon to have 50 to 100 people show up on a Thursday, Dotson says, which is why there are two back-to-back demonstrations, each lasting about 40 minutes. Crowds are a good mix of tourists, who tend to leave quickly, and local office workers identifiable by their ID badges.)
While most events are scheduled, it’s worth keeping an eye on the garden’s calendar. Earlier this month, the garden came into a supply of pawpaws from a local farm, and quickly organized a tasting with chefs Billy Riddle and Jennifer Carroll, who prepared a pepper ketchup and a pineapple pie using the sweet, delicious fruit.
The next classes, on Sept. 26, will be focused on fall produce, including tomatoes, onions, potatoes and greens.
U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW. usbg.gov. Cooking demonstrations held on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at noon and 12:50 p.m. Free.
More ideas: One Friday per month, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History hosts Cooking Up History, a cooking event drawing on one element of its permanent exhibit “Food: Transforming the American Table.” These events are a little more cerebral and less process-driven than other cooking demonstrations around D.C. The next installment, at 1 p.m. on Sept. 20, focuses on “The Mexican Food Revolution,” with guest Carlos Salgado, the trailblazing Mexican American chef who founded Taco Maria, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Costa Mesa, Calif.