Recently the fitness center at work gave a talk on healthy lunches and asked me to help out. Since the presentation was proprietary Health Fitness stuff and I’m not a Health Fitness employee, I couldn’t present the material covered in the slides. Luckily, RDs can not only spout about nutrition science, we know how to apply it as well.
I genuinely think that more people would pack their lunches if there wasn’t an abundant variety of disgusting “sandwich got smooshed by my apple” “banana explosion” “soggy slimy salad” issues to deal with. The actual execution of a balanced lunch depends largely on how you pack it and what you pack it in, so today we’re breaking it down by type of meal.
Grain Bowls and Salads
A lot of times, I throw my leftovers into a “bowl” – type meal. However, I don’t always have leftovers in totally balanced ratios: sometimes just meat, sometimes vegetables and grains; so I’ve become accustomed to adding frozen vegetables here or canned beans there to even out my vegetable-starch-protein ratio. Use the following guide to build your bowls and salads:
|GRAINS||½ cup||Leftover brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro, cous cous|
|VEGETABLES||1 cup||Roasted vegetables left over from dinner; sturdy greens like spinach or kale, microwaved|
|PROTEIN||½ cup, 3-4oz||Leftovers from dinner, deli meat, canned beans (rinsed and drained), canned tuna|
|HEALTHY FAT||Varies depending on source||¼ avocado, 1T dressing made with olive oil|
- Choose greens with darker colors for more nutritional benefit
- The greater variety of vegetables, the more nutrients
- Protein will keep you full
- Carbohydrates have a place in your salad and will maintain energy levels
- Hold dressing separately (see below container suggestions) or at the BOTTOM of the container to prevent soggy salad!
- Ziploc 4-cup, Gladware Soup & Salad containers (24 oz), or this Pyrex glass option provide enough space not only for food storage but to toss a salad or mix up a bowl
- 1.18-oz Sistema Dressing container is specifically designed to hold dressings and sauces to toss in later
- These Kitchenaid bowls are super sturdy and have good locking lids that work great for taking to work
- Rubbermaid Lunch Blox are like legos for food storage! You can get specific kits with different containers that are ideal for entrees, salads, or sandwiches along with smaller containers that interlock to hold sides, dressings, or snacks.
Make Ahead Meals
Foods that freeze well can be made on the weekends and stored in the freezer for as long as 3-6 months (check foodsafety.gov for specifics). Anything that is cooked in moist heat generally freezes and reheats well – chicken cacciatore over whole wheat cous cous, soups and stews, thai curry, red beans and rice with extra vegetables and turkey sausage…the options are limitless.
- Be sure to include protein, carbohydrate, and vegetables
- Bean soups have the most protein and fiber, keeping you full for longer
- Broth-based soups may require the addition of a whole grain or protein side to round out the meal. Try a wheat roll and a Greek yogurt!
- Meals can be made and portioned into 2-cup screw-top containers like these from Ziploc cooled on the counter, and frozen.