I was fortunate to be a guest on Midweek Crisis this week and talk to Renae about strategies for bringing healthy lunches to work or school.
Already in these few weeks of the New Year I have heard a number of clients resolving to bring their own lunches to work more often. While the motivation may be financial, with a little planning the strategy can also stimulate your tastebuds and reap health benefits.
The Earl of Sandwich
The perennial lunch favourite is the classic sandwich, but so much can be done to value add the goodness of this standby. Firstly, think about the bread. While the packaging may allude to high fibre and grainy healthfulness the real test is what I call the “squish factor”. If you put the loaf at the bottom of your shopping basket, would it get bent out of shape? The solidness of the loaf and how heavy it feels is a key to its over all nutrition. A chewy, heavier bread is usually more slowly digested and satisfying, so we don’t get hungry again a few hours later.
Fillings: Try replacing the same old processed, salty or sweet spreads with something that packs a more nutritious punch.
Consider trying: hommos, nut paste (eg: cashew spread), boiled egg, tinned fish (go easy on how often you choose tuna due to the potential mercury content), tahini, and lean roast meat.
Value add with lots of salad, if you are worried about it making your sandwich soggy take the prepared vegetables in a separate container.
For a wheat free alternative, pile your fillings on corn, rye or rice crackers. Alternatively wrap the filling in taco shells, cos lettuce leaves or mountain bread for a change.
Beyond the sandwich
Plan ahead and make more of your evening meal so there are leftovers, or adapt them to make an easy lunch dish.
Try roasting extra vegetables to be the base of your salad the next day.
Leftover brown rice can turn into a simple rice salad.
Take soups and stews in a wide mouth thermos.
Frittatas and savoury slices are delicious the next day on their own, or in a wrap with salad.
When preparing dinner cut up some extra carrots and other vegetables to have raw as snacks.
Hard boil an egg or 2 while having breakfast – these make a great ‘protein pill’ addition lunch to give you extra energy on busy days.
If you don’t have a chiller use a large plastic container with a ziploc bag of ice cubes at the bottom, to keep salad ingredients from getting warm and soggy.
Keeping it healthy
Try to avoid: processed meats (too much salt, fat and nasty additives), fried food, chips and lollies.
Be aware of the added sugars in most muesli bars – try fresh or dried fruit, or fruit leathers for a sweet hit.
Raw nuts and seeds make a good between meal snacks.
Don’t forget about the basics of safe food handling:
Try not having leftovers that are more than a day old (though a vegetable based soup that is appropriately stored can last 3). Rice in particular needs to be kept chilled and used no later than 12-24 hours after cooking.
Clean your lunchbox out well each day and if reusing a drink bottle throw it through the dishwasher or give it a hot wash to stop the growth of mould and bacteria.
The art of eating
It’s not just what you eat but how you do it. Avoid sitting at the desk and eating while you work. Multitasking and bad posture hampers your digestion. What’s more you’ve gone to the effort of preparing the food yourself, give yourself a break away from your workspace to enjoy each mouthful – you’ve earnt it!
It’s important to leave the building if possible at lunchtime – move your body, get a little UV and breath some fresh air. Mentally – breaking the day up by getting beyond the confines of your workplace tends to lift the spirits and increase productivity.
If you are easing into the routine of bringing your own lunch – plan to make it every second day initially or arrange it around your shopping and cooking routine at home.
A once a week/fortnight/month communal lunch with workmates can broaden your culinary horizons. It’s even better if there is a courtyard or nearby park to enjoy it in.
More lunch ideas
Check out these sites for some interesting lunchbox inspiration.
Lunchmatters a Melbourne based blog with menu ideas, shopping hints and healthy ideas.
Vegan lunchbox a vegan mother’s intriguing documentation of her son’s lunches. Easily adaptable for non-vegans too.
Laptop lunches although primarily a vehicle to sell their bento-ware, there are great ideas for school lunches that are work for big kids as well.