I just finished up a huge lunch made by my Spanish mother-in-law so this seems like a suitable post at the moment. I’m on vacation so healthy lunch is not a priority, but come next week I will be back to eating healthy, satisfying lunches and this is something I’ve wanted to share with you guys for some time.
As a teacher I don’t have the option of going out for lunch during the work week. In my former life as an attorney I often took long lunches outside the office. Although there are times I miss having this option, I tend to eat much healthier lunches because I bring mine to work each day.
Lunch is by far the easiest way for me to infuse my diet with good, low-fat eating. I’ve tried really hard to create good breakfast habits, and although I’ve been fairly successful with smoothies or juicing in the morning, I often go through periods of wanting nothing but coffee at my normal 7am “gotta hit the road” time. Lunch, however, is something I am always ready to devour and I find healthy salads really satisfying mid-day.
I’ve found there are two really important keys to keeping up a good healthy lunch habit –
1. Make and pack your lunches Sunday before the work week. Salads are simple to create but require a great deal of washing and chopping. Doing all of this just once before the week starts ensures you will have lunch available each day with no additional effort.
2. Mix it up! If you have the same thing each week you will get bored and be more likely to eat out, or stick something in the microwave.
So, here are my easy steps for creating healthy lunch salads you can enjoy each week. On Sundays I set up five tupper ware containers and follow these steps, dividing the ingredients into each container and voilà I have lunch done for the entire week.
ONE: Pick a base. This is your main ingredient and these are some of my favorite options:
There are so many varieties out there so you don’t always need to stick to one type. I love baby kale, arugula, baby spinach, and romaine. And they are great all mixed together too. One note, if you use lettuce as your base make sure you DRY the lettuce really well after washing. Otherwise it will make the salads soggy. I wash, dry, and chop at one time and never have problems with packing five lunches at a time so long as I dry the lettuce well. Or I simply divide lettuce from a convenient container like those above (and shame on me, I rarely wash boxed lettuces so I hope they actually do wash three times :)).
Barley, bulgur, farro, quinoa, couscous, Israeli couscous (my favorite!) and rice are all great, hearty options if you want a grain base. You can also do a mix of greens and grains.
TWO: Add chopped vegetables.
This is self-explanatory, but there are really so many options so don’t limit yourself to cucumber and tomato. I love the new varieties of petite bell peppers out now. Mushrooms, raw corn cut off the cob, snow peas and other raw vegetables are all great options. Again, make sure you dry all ingredients well, especially the mushrooms.
This is my favorite way to add variety to my salads. Some wonderful options to provide texture and taste:
Marinated vegetables like baby artichokes
Fruit, dried and fresh
Crumbled cooked tempeh or tofu
Scoop of hummus (pack it separately)
Tuna or other fish
FOUR: Decide on a dressing.
Most days I simply leave a wedge of lemon in each salad container and I have a bottle of olive oil at work – I use those to dress my salads. But I also love to make vinaigrettes with fresh herbs. I do this by simply processing fresh herbs, S/P, lemon, and olive oil in a small food processor until smooth (much like a pesto, but not as thick). Again, to prevent the salad from becoming soggy you should pack the dressing separately. Mason jars are great. Bring one to work and use your dressing throughout the week. If you buy a dressing make sure to read the labels closely so you don’t ruin your beautiful, healthy salad with unhealthy wasted calories.
See here for instructions on making frozen herb patties you can use to make dressing even when you are out of fresh herbs. Summer is approaching so that’s the time to preserve all the beautiful herbs popping up in the sun. Enjoy!