Guest Author: Monda Rosenberg
It’s not often dietitians take a lead from Dolly Parton, but they have this year. Just as her smash hit song “9 to 5”—with typewriters pounding out the background beat—became an anthem for everyday workers, dietitians are hoping their “Eating 9 to 5!” slogan for Nutrition Month in March will strike a chord with fellow Canadians.
How does Dolly kick-start the day? “Tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition.” Dietitians advise having a good protein source with that cup of java so you’ll have the energy to drive your ambition. A few good ideas are 2 minute microwaved oatmeal, grilled cheese or peanut butter on whole wheat. If you never seem to have the time to pull something together, go to the Dietitians of Canada website at http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-Month/Nutrition-Month-2015.aspx and click on five different, bilingual, print-ready fact sheets. Nutrient rich ideas are listed to grab-and-go and avoid the drive-ins and energize nibblers to snack on during the subway ride, wait for your bus, or when you reach work. There are also clever, easily-doable tips for adding punch to your lunch, midday pick-me-ups, and making better vending machine choices.
Nearly half of Canadians report not being happy with their workday diet. In a perfect world, we’d leave home with a healthy lunch tucked in our computer case, backpack or purse. This may be ideal, but few of us manage it.
Even people who pack children’s lunches don’t always rustle up anything for themselves. Time is the usual culprit. For many, it’s all too easy to go out for lunch or pop into the work cafeteria. That isn’t what we want our kids to do, so why do we punish ourselves?
The reasons for packing a DIY lunch are many. At the top of the list: having exactly what you like to eat. Being able to control your meal’s nutrient DNA—including calories and sodium content—is important. Then there’s cost: a mere $6 forked over for lunch every day easily adds up to over $1,500 in a year.
A nutritious lunch needs protein, carbohydrates, and fiber to keep you fueled and feeling full until dinner. Try to include fruit, vegetables, and a whole grain. It takes under two minutes to tuck cheese between a couple of slices of multi-grain bread, pop some cherry tomatoes or baby carrots in a bag, and tuck in a banana.
The smartest way to kick-start lunch is while you’re making dinner the night before. Doubling up on what you’re cooking can pay off for many lunches to come. Roast two chickens at once—it takes no more time—or do extra pieces of whatever you’re cooking. Refrigerate that second chicken while you’re eating dinner. Then it will be cool enough to cut into lunch-size pieces. Bag legs separately. Slice breasts for sandwiches, wraps and salads. Collect all those small bits (even from the bones) for boosting the protein count of soups or sandwiches, or to toss with salsa and wrap in a tortilla. Freeze whatever you won’t use within a 2-3 days.
Roast a separate pan of vegetables along with the chicken, and pack some as a lunch salad with chicken or feta tossed in.
While the potatoes are simmering, put on eggs to hard cook. They’ll take less time than the spuds and keep well in the fridge for days. No need to mash with mayo, simply tuck in the lunch bag for nibbling as a breakfast-on-the run or part of a multi-snack lunch.
Make extra when it’s a chili, curry or stir-fry night. (Just be sure to set the extra aside before dishing up dinner or it may wind up on your dinner plate as seconds!) Pack into a single-serving reusable container and freeze to eventually be microwaved at work. Include lettuce leaves or tortillas for wrapping. If you need more inspiration, check out our Easiest Ever Thai Chicken Express, and Easy Chicken and Fried Rice.
Many sides take well to freezing including cooked rice, pasta and quinoa. You can also bag small amounts to bulk up soups or use as a base for curries or salads. Even lasagna works well in individual portions. Freeze in containers that fit in your work microwave. Three or four meatballs snatched from a classic spaghetti dinner take mere seconds to defrost and reheat in the microwave. Yummy tucked in a crusty bun! In addition, consider our Mini Mexican Meatballs.
Most slow cooker meals and some casseroles freeze well. An encore appearance of a slow cooker chicken tagine perfumed with Middle Eastern spices, a curried pea soup with smoked sausages or baked enchiladas can star as a soul-soothing lunch. It’s easy to do these on the weekend. (Have some for dinner and freeze the rest.) Because chicken doesn’t need to be tenderized, it shouldn’t be simmered for hours while you are at work for the day —four hours max in the slow cooker is ideal. Freeze in a microwaveable container to grab as you run out the door and they’ll help keep your entire lunch chilled. Freeze water in juice bottles to sip refreshingly cold and you won’t be tempted to spend on pop or coffee. Plus, it’s smart to start every meal by downing a glass of water.
Check out Chipotle Chicken, which is wonderful over canned black beans. Korean Meatballs in Barbecue Sauce make tasty crusty bun stuffers. Slow Cooker Vietnamese Noodle Soup (a.k.a. pho) or Yellow Split Pea Soup With Chicken Meatballs just need a big spoon for slurping.
Packing Your Lunch, Smart
Strive to pack litter-free in a cloth bag. Avoid single-serve packaged foods. Take a small jar of granola versus a wrapped bar. Wash and reuse glass jars from pasta sauces. Layer salad fixings in a canning jar with wilt-free items such as cherry tomatoes in the bottom, and then add dressing. For more ideas, check Wastefreelunches.org and Lifewithoutplastics.com.