It’s so easy to fall into the trap of buying lunches too high in kilojoules, fat and salt from restaurants and cafés, fast food outlets or sandwich bars. Plus the serving sizes are often far in excess of what we need. Not a recipe for healthy eating.
A recent article by Jessica Migala on health.com, made me think about the benefits of taking your lunch to work, and how to do it well.
When you take your own lunch each day, you choose exactly which foods to include and how much you eat.
You can make healthier choices to meet your nutrition needs, plus save a lot of money – maybe to enjoy a holiday or splurge on great wardrobe additions!
Think about it. It’s easy to spend around $10 a day, or more, on food and a drink if you buy lunch and snacks. That’s at least $50 a week; over a working year that’s $2,400! So much cheaper to bring food from home.
So, where to start?
Choose a selection of airtight containers for single-serve meals, ingredients or snacks to carry your lunch.
Make sure they protect your food: can prevent food being crushed and keep it fresh and crisp; can separate ingredients that should only be put together just before eating; or suit microwaving for hot dishes like soup or casseroles. Also, find a small insulated lunchbox that keeps food chilled.
Then plan how/when you will prepare your lunches. When I cook dinner, I often cook extra and freeze or refrigerate leftovers in single serve containers. But you might prefer to get up a little earlier to make lunch before you leave home. Or do a weekend blitz and prepare a range of meals for the week ahead to freeze – some for dinners, some for lunches.
Five tips for lunching well
1. Enjoy leftovers ‘with a twist’
There’s no need to eat exactly the same meal the night before, then again for lunch the next day.
One of the easiest options at this time of year is to use the left over roasted vegetables and turn them into a yummy roast vegetable salad. I generally add some cooked quinoa or some marinated tofu, or a handful of roasted almonds for a protein boost. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and squeeze some lemon juice for added zing.
Soups are also fabulous and super easy. I make a big pot of vegetable soup on the weekend and that does for a couple of lunches during the week. I spice up some lentils, add a dollop of Jalna Greek yoghurt (low fat for me) and a smidge of parmesan with my microplane and heat it up at work. So delicious!!
2. Choose more than sandwiches
Everyone has favourite sandwiches – ham and cheese on multigrain; salmon or tuna salad on rye; chicken and avocado on wholemeal bread. But to really enjoy home-made lunches, try to be more creative.
My favourite easy-peasy salad is my version of salad nicoise. I use some salad greens - usually baby spinach but love any bitter greens like roquette or red lettuce variety radicchio - add some smoked trout with horseradish or canned tuna, an egg cut into quarters, some red onion, cucumber, a handful of cherry tomatoes, some blanched green beans and a tangy vinaigrette dressing. I also love my home-made hummous, packed full of chickpeas and lots of raw vegetables like carrots, celery, snow peas, beans, cucumber, fennel, with some 100% wholegrain rye biscuits.
If that’s too much trouble, just bring half an avocado to work with some vegetables and biscuits and make some guacamole; or simply add lemon juice and a dash of tabasco; or avocado and yoghurt works well, plus gives you a calcium boost. The key thing to remember is that your lunch needs to have vegetables, so think creatively on how you can include them in your lunch selection. Don’t’ forget to bring your salad dressing in a separate container and toss the salad just before you want to eat it.
And don’t forget about snacks – small tubs of yoghurt, fruit or nuts are good and preferable to muffins, cake or chips. And occasionally adding ‘treats, like a choccy protein ball or coconut something is fine too.
3. Share lunches with others
If you can find like-minded fellow workers who regularly bring their lunches, encourage weekly ‘share days’. One day you bring lunch for two; another day that week your colleague provides the meal. More variety and easier to have one day a week you don’t have to bring your lunch
4. Swap al desko for al fresco
Take a break, clear your head and enjoy getting out of the office to eat lunch. It helps to revitalise your mind and simply walking around relaxes those tense muscles from focusing on a computer screen. You can’t always find a sunny spot to escape to eat, especially not mid-winter, but at least stop working when you do eat. It’s easy to eat mindlessly if you work at the same time, which may lead to overeating or eating amnesia.
5. Be flexible
You don’t have to eat home-made food every day. Even two to four days a week is good. And don’t worry if you brought your lunch, be prepared to leave it in the office fridge if someone suggests meeting up for a chat or you have an unexpected work lunch out. It’s all about enjoying eating well.
Flinders University ran a Bring a Healthy Lunchbox To Work challenge to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet. Here’s their suggestions for lunches over five days:
Day 1: Pasta salad: add half a cup of cooked, raw or canned vegetables to cooked pasta.
Day 2: Tuna, spinach and corn mini frittatas. To add more veggies today, use mashed avocado, hummus or spicy pumpkin dip as a spread instead of butter or margarine.
Day 3: Ricepaper rolls filled with strips of carrots, capsicum, red chilli and cucumber; shredded iceberg lettuce; bean shoots; and roughly chopped fresh coriander/mint/Thai basil; vermicelli rice noodles. For something more filling, include shredded chicken, pork, prawns or tofu strips. Serve with Hoisin or sweet chili dipping sauce.
Day 4: Crunchy Waldorf salad. Made with chopped red and green apples; celery; orange segments and walnuts. Serve with a dressing of low fat natural yoghurt, a little reduced fat mayonnaise, orange juice and chopped parsley.
Day 5: Moroccan chickpea & couscous salad. Ingredients include couscous; raisins; chicken or vegetable stock; extra virgin olive oil; lemon juice; minced garlic; ground cumin, coriander, ginger; grated carrot; diced red pepper; finely sliced red onion; canned rinsed, drained, chickpeas; chopped flat leaf parsley.