I’ve already learned to evade the Starbucks trap by making healthy breakfasts at home. I make these breakfast cookies about every other week and they have worked wonders for my wallet and my waistline. My next challenge is lunch. I used to go home every day for lunch, which saved me money and ensured that I ate a healthy homemade meal. Plus, 30 minutes in front of mindless TV in the middle of the work day definitely helps to preserve your sanity. Since starting a new job in January, I haven’t gone home once for lunch and I’ve only brought my lunch a handful of times, for these reasons.
- My new office is too far away from home to squeeze in another commute in the middle of the day.
- I am working downtown, surrounded by tons of awesome lunch spots.
- Most of my coworkers grab lunch out, and it’s hard for me to say “No thanks, I brought a sandwich.”
Lucky for me, my company has started a new healthy eating initiative in which we are encouraged to bring a healthy lunch to work 3 days a week. My coworkers have organized a lunch club that gathers to eat a healthy brown bag lunch (Bring Your Own Brown Bag!) and track our progress daily. Because I have been lazy about getting creative in the kitchen for my daily lunch, I am excited that this program is giving me the extra push I needed.
BYOBB is more fun with reusable bags
I plan to start featuring at least one fun and healthy lunch per week in case you want to join me and need some ideas. I get bored easily, so it should be no problem to come up with some interesting ideas for brown bag lunches. Added bonus, all of my lunches are vegetarian by default, so if you are trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet, if you need to avoid meat on Fridays for Lent, or even if you want some fresh ideas for your school-aged vegetarian son or daughter’s lunchbox, hopefully you will find some inspiration. Here are three lunches to get us started.
Vegetarian Gumbo with Brown Rice
This should be made the night before, and it keeps well in the fridge so you can get several lunches out of it. This is more Creole-style than Cajun gumbo, because you don’t have to worry about making a roux. Beans replace the meat that is found in traditional gumbo to offer a source of lean protein.
- Start with some cooked brown rice. Hint: try to make a few servings of brown rice early in the week and keep in the fridge so you can grab a healthy grain whenever you need it.
- In a slow cooker, combine the following ingredients: frozen gumbo vegetables or frozen okra (example), frozen vegetable soup vegetables, 15 oz can black, kidney or mixed beans, 15 oz can diced tomatoes, 1 Tbsp Creole seasoning (or any combination of herbs and spices that appeal to you), salt and pepper. Cook on high 2-3 minutes then season to taste.
- Store rice and gumbo separately overnight, and in the morning pour one serving of gumbo over one serving of brown rice in a portable dish. Add hot sauce for extra spice. Refrigerate then reheat at work.
Tempeh Veggie Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread
Make the tempeh the night before, then assemble the sandwich in the morning. Serve with fresh cut carrot sticks and hummus or the dip of your choice.
- Prepare tempeh. Cut one block into thin strips and saute in olive oil in a pan, browning on all sides until it is crispy on the edges. Add your favorite Asian marinade or stir fry sauce to the pan (just enough to coat), lower heat, and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
- Assemble sandwich. Between two slices of whole wheat bread, place a layer of tempeh, baby spinach leaves, thinly sliced cucumber, sliced tomato, fresh cilantro, and light mayo or vegannaise. Refrigerate or pack with an ice pack during the day and eat cold.
Kale with Chickpeas and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes
This recipe is from the March 2011 issue of Real Simple magazine and the original is found here: Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes. I adapted it to what was in my refrigerator, substituting kale for chard and adding a little parmesan for deeper flavors. If you are sick of brown rice, you could serve this with couscous or another grain. Cook the night before (it’s really quick), refrigerate overnight, and reheat the next day.
With a little planning, I think I can successfully overhaul my lunch routine to make sure I get all the nutrients I need to stay sharp in the afternoon, and save a few bucks while I’m at it.
What are your tricks for healthy brown bag lunches?