Build A Better Lunch

23 Aug

We all know that packing lunches, whether it’s for work or for school, is a good idea. It saves money, it’s healthier than take-out or cafeteria food and hopefully we’re wasting less by using up leftovers. But bringing lunch every day seems to be one of those things that we all know we should do and plan on doing, but we make excuses when it actually comes down to doing it.

For those of us who do actually manage to pack lunches, we often get stuck in a rut and pack the exact same thing every day. I like to have a lunch that I can look forward to. A turkey sandwich on whole wheat and an apple just isn’t going to cut it for me. Plus if your lunch isn’t satisfying, you’re going to find yourself making a trip to the vending machine or the community candy jar anyways. Or if you’re a kid, you will just toss your lunch in the trash and try to convince your friend to share his cookies and chips with you.

So we came up with some creative and delicious ideas to help you start brown bagging it and get you thinking outside of the (lunch)box.

Lunch ideas for adults…

First let’s talk about how to build a better salad. Salads can get especially boring, but they don’t have to be! The possibilities are endless with salads. Use these tips to bring some life back into your salads from Women’s Health.

  • Get creative with your base. You don’t have to just use boring iceburg lettuce. Try using seasonal greens and vegetables that you haven’t heard of before, cooked grains or noodles.
  • Pump up the protein. Including protein will make your lunch more satisfying, plus it’s a very important part of a balanced meal. Some easy protein additions are canned fish, fully cooked shrimp, rotisserie chicken, beans or lentils.
  • Add color. As a rule of thumb, the more color, the more vitamins and minerals you’re getting. So make sure you’re using a variety of produce to make your dishes look awesome and keep you healthier.
  • Toss in something soft. Having soft textures mixed in makes the dish extra satisfying. Think soft cheeses, avocado or hearts of palm.
  • Fire up the flavor. Use all sorts of different flavors to keep from getting bored. Nothing is off limits. Use citrus fruits, spicy veggies and zesty herbs. Different combinations will give vastly different flavors, so experiment to find your favorites.
  • Top it of with some crunch. Everyone likes crunch. It gives balance to the mostly soft dish. Try different kinds of nuts and seeds or some extra crunchy veggies. I also really like roasted chickpeas or wasabi peas.
The salad we made in class was a strawberry, medjool date and pepita salad, which took all of these ideas into consideration. You can use a creative base with seasonal greens and maybe some quinoa and/or chicken for protein. The medjool dates and strawberries give a nice soft texture as well as color while the pepitas lend crunch. Here’s another great salad for you to try as well as some other good lunch packing recipes:
Berry Goat Cheese Salad (serves 2)
Make this salad even easier by using rotisserie chicken meat or if you aren’t feeling chicken, substitute some turkey or canned salmon. If you want a vegetarian version, nix the chicken and add some quinoa.
1 tablespoon pecans
3 cups baby spinach
½ cup halved strawberries
½ cup blueberries
1 yellow tomato, cut into eighths
2 purple radishes, thinly sliced
1 skinless chicken breast, 6 ounces, grilled
1 tablespoon goat-cheese, crumbled
¼ cup sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon orange zest
12 tablespoons nonfat Greek yogurt
1 large pinch salt
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor or whisk together until smooth.
  2. Toast pecans in a 400 degree oven for 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine spinach, berries, tomato and radishes. Drizzle with dressing and toss gently.
  4. Divide between 2 plates. Place half the chicken on each salad and sprinkle with nuts and goat cheese.

Tuscan Style Tuna Salad (serves 4)
You can eat this alone, over a bed of greens, on a wrap, with crackers or veggies for dipping.
2 6-ounce cans chunk light tuna, drained
1 15-ounce can small white beans, such as cannellini or great northern, rinsed
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. Combine tuna, beans, tomatoes, scallions, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir gently.
  2. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Mexican Bowl
There are no measurements with this recipe because it is very flexible. You can use as much or as little of an ingredient as you like. Or even add new ingredients in!
Brown rice, or substitute quinoa or any other grain you’d like to try
Black beans
Diced tomatoes
Diced red onion
Chopped cilantro
Avocado slices
Fresh lime juice

  1. Add rice to a bowl. Top with beans, tomatoes, onion, cilantro and avocado. Squeeze lime juice over the top.
  2. Serve warm.
Lunch ideas for kids…
Just a couple things before I share the recipe ideas:
  1. Kids don’t need to eat “kid food”. They are definitely capable of eating and enjoying whatever food you make for yourself, so don’t create extra work for yourself. The only thing you may need to change is the way you serve it. Examples below.
  2. Kids don’t care about food pairings or preparation. Just because you think it’s gross to dip grapes in garlic hummus doesn’t mean that you should stop them from doing it. And if they want to eat their vegetables frozen straight out of the bag, why not?
  3. Let your kids help pack their own lunch! It gives you a chance to teach them about foods and also makes it more likely they will eat their whole lunch because they helped create it.
Try the tuna salad recipe above with veggies for scooping or make a vegetable boat and fill it with the salad. Here’s a boat from the Disney Family Fun website with a pretzel and cheese sail filled with egg salad. Other veggies can make good boats too, such as cucumbers or tomatoes.
Strawberry mice are a fun fruit side for kids. These mice from The Happy Raw Kitchen have almond sliver ears, raisins eyes and nose, fruit leather tails and even “cheese” made from apple slices. Obviously, you could just save yourself some time and use real cheese.

Another very simple but fun kids lunch are turkey roll up snails. You just make a roll up with a tortilla, turkey, cheese, spinach, tomato and avocado (or whatever else you’d like to put in there). Then you cut the roll up into several pieces for your snail spirals. Then you make a little snail head out of a pickle with little tiny carrot spears for their feelers. Not turkey eaters? Try a almond butter, banana, craisin wrap.

Fruit or veggie kabobs are always a good go-to side. Kids will eat almost anything if it is served on a stick. You can add some dip with the kabobs too.
Do your kids beg for Lunchables but you cringe at the thought of them eating it? Make them a homemade Lunchable. This is seriously the easiest lunch there is to make. You just have to stack a bunch of stuff up and let them take care of the assembly. Use crackers, cheese, veggies, turkey, hummus and anything else you can think of.

Some good sides to go along with this lunch would be some stuffed dates or cucumber cups. You can stuff dates with soft cheeses or nut butters. Try almond butter with coconut flakes or tahini with pecans. You can make a big batch of these at once if you want, then freeze them and pop them in lunches the night before. They will be thawed and ready to eat when you are.

To make the cups you simply scoop out some of the inside of the cucumber, as shown below (from food(ed)) and then fill them with cottage cheese, yogurt, nut butters, veggie dips, hummus, salads etc. Also you can save the scooped out bits and add it back on top like a hat.

Any great lunch ideas out there? Please share them with us!

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