A Week of Lunches

November 4, 2015

I know what you’re thinking. How boring. Brown bagging lunch every day to the office and sitting at your desk while you eat it.

No way, baby. Homemade is far from ho-hum. Look at it this way. If you work outside your home, as many of us do, you’re also eating lunch outside the home several days a week. That can get expensive and pack on unwanted pounds because you don’t actually know what’s in your food.

Some of us eat on the run, needing what I call “one-handed” that you can eat on the go (as much as I hate the idea of that. I love sitting down and enjoying every meal but I live in the real world and feel your pain on this one).

Taking your lunch to work puts you in control of what you eat and how much, which is great for your health and wellness. This doesn’t mean you avoid social situations; give yourself some flexibility to eat out with friends of colleagues on occasion, like on Fridays as a kick-off to your weekend. Ordering carefully at a restaurant means you won’t sabotage your health.

Packing a lunch daily presents you with ways to save money, be creative with your cooking, incorporate variety into your diet and up the ante on your veggie and fruit intake. Try these ideas for making your brown bag meals the envy of your colleagues.

1. Dip It…Dip It Good!

I hear you sighing. Here she goes with the veggie stick tip. Sure, carrots and celery can be infinitely boring on their own, but add a richly-flavored hummus, baba ganoush or Thai chili sauce and you’re in veggie heaven. I like packing packaged baked tofu, celery stalks, carrot spears and endive leaves with my favorite dip (which happens to be hummus) for a protein-packed lunch. Add a piece of fresh fruit and some whole grain bread or crackers and your taste buds will be doing the happy dance.

2. Wrap It Up

There’s no need to re-invent the wheel for lunch. Wraps and sandwiches are some of the best and most satisfying ways to eat your midday meal, whether on the go, in the car or at your desk. I start with baked tofu or fried tempeh, sautéed vegan sausage, hummus or a bean dip and build from there. 

Then I raise the bar with toppings. I love hot spice, so hot peppers are one of my go-to sandwich additions. Pickles are always in my pantry so I can add that delightful sour bite to any sandwich.

Sprouts, lettuce tomatoes, shredded carrots, guacamole and fresh herbs take my sandwiches and wraps to new heights of yumminess. 

Finally, don’t fret about bread. Wrap your sandwich fillings in radicchio, lettuce or collard greens to lighten things up and create one-handed lunches that will satisfy and stimulate your taste buds.

3. Savor Soups

One of the most satisfying lunch ideas is soup. Give me a thick soup laden with veggies, beans and whole grains and I am in lunch heaven. Add a salad, some crackers or whole grain bread and you’re all set.

Carry your soup in a Thermos to keep it hot and just before enjoying, stir in some finely chopped leafy greens or herbs (that you pre-chopped and toted in a plastic container) for freshness and to raise the volume on taste. 

4. Think Like a Kid

When I was taking lunch to school, I knew my mother would include a surprise treat in my meal every day. I so looked forward to it! From homemade cookies to fruit salad to applesauce to whole grain pretzels or precious dark chocolate, your lunch need not be the same sandwich and apple daily. Make a mini-smoothie as a treat to get you through the afternoon slump. Treat yourself like you were packing this lunch for someone special…because you are.

5. Finger Foods for Lunch

Even seriously busy people can eat well while on the go. Believe me, I have days when I go from the moment my feet hit the floor and I need to know I will be well-nourished. The night before, I make nori rolls (link to recipe here) or roll raw veggies and hummus in a collard green leaf, skewer cooked and raw veggies with baked tofu so I can eat my lunch on a stick, so to speak. 

It’s not ideal, but it ensures that I eat well on the most chaotic of days.

6. Make Meals Ahead

I know; I know. You don’t want sandwiches and wraps every day. Me neither. Try this. When you’re cooking, take the time to make some extra food that will freeze well, like a vegetable lasagna or vegetable pot pie. Take them with you to work for a gourmet “heat-and-eat” lunch.

Cook more pasta than you need and assemble a salad from raw and cooked veggies, or beans like chickpeas or cannellini (use canned when needed). Whip up a simple dressing and pack it all in containers to take to work. Simply dress your salad and enjoy. The same holds true for a veggie salad. Assemble it the night before; make your dressing and carry both to work. Dress and enjoy!

7. Leftovers Save the Day

I saved the best for last. The easiest and most delicious way to brown bag it with style is to cook just a little extra food each night and pack it up for lunch the following day. You’ll have a great meal with very little additional prep time. From soup to salads to cooked veggies and casseroles, your dinner can give you the chance to feast (healthfully) for lunch as well.

To make all these tips work, you need to plan a wee bit. 

*Make sure your pantry is stocked so you’re never stuck without ingredients. 

*Buy containers you can carry easily to work. I like plastic or glass containers with locking lids, insulated bags, Thermos containers and ¼-pint jars for sauces, dips or dressings.

*Prep and assemble ingredients you can use in a couple of meals. Slice and dice onions, carrots and celery so you can sauté at a moment’s notice. 

*Prep salad ingredients so you can put them together in seconds. 

*Cook a couple varieties of beans so you can add them to a soup, salad or stir-fry for protein. 

*Keep hummus and baked tofu in the fridge for a quick lunch protein.

*Keep wraps, pita and whole grain bread on hand for sandwiches. I keep my breads in the freezer so I can thaw as I need them ; they stay fresh and I don’t waste since I know I won’t be eating them daily.

It’s easy to plan for and eat well at lunch every day, whether in the office or on the go. Taking care of yourself ensures you will have the energy and stamina you need to take on life’s little adventures.

And the real cherry on top? You have time to take a walk and not sit in restaurants while you wait for food. It’s a win-win.