Healthy And Easy Lunch On The Go
Many of us have to settle for a sandwich or packed lunch for our midday meal, but if you’re worried that yours isn’t as healthy as it might be, here’s how to get the balance right.
Carbohydrates Come First
Many people feel best if 50% of their daily calories come from starchy carbohydrates. Good choices include bread, rice, pasta and potato. Make fillings or toppings the secondary, rather than the primary part of the meal.
Far from being fattening stodge, starchy carbohydrates provide minerals, B vitamins (essential for a healthy nervous system) and fiber. Even more importantly, they are your body’s favored form of fuel, and are ideal at lunchtime to boost flagging energy levels and keep you going throughout the rest of the afternoon. For the longest-lasting boost, always choose high-fiber options (such as wholegrain bread or wholemeal pasta), as fiber slows down the rate at which carbohydrates release their sugar into the system.
Nutritionists recommend we eat two or three daily servings of protein – as this is essential for the repair and renewal of muscle and tissue – so including some in your lunch is a good idea. Tasty choices include lean meat, skinless poultry, fish (e.g. salmon or sardines), pulses (such as beans), nuts and eggs. The key to health is maintaining variety throughout the week, and rotating your sources of protein so that if you always have meat in the evening, you have fish, poultry or pulses at lunchtime.
Keep Up The Calcium
Dairy products are a good source of calcium, and eating two to three portions a day helps build and maintain strong bones. To help reach your daily quota, why not have a low fat yogurt with your lunch, or a glass of semi-skimmed or skimmed milk? Hard cheese, such as Cheddar, is also packed with calcium but very high in fat. If you can’t resist the cheese option, try half-fat Cheddar (which has just as much calcium), or plump for Edam, which is also lower in fat. Just a few shavings of Parmesan cheese supply a decent amount of calcium but contrary to popular opinion, cottage cheese isn’t a good source of the mineral (although it is very low in fat).
Avoid Refined Carbohydrates
White flour, white sugar and white rice are all classed as refined carbohydrates which retain little fiber and few of the vital vitamins, minerals, trace elements and enzymes that are a vital part of a healthy balanced diet. If you look at the list of ingredients on food packaging you will see that many foods low in nutrients and high in fat contain refined carbohydrates. More and more foods are becoming available in their unrefined form, so wherever you can, choose wholemeal or wholegrain alternatives.
Say No To Fat And Sugar
For good health we need very little fat and sugar. Ways to cut down on fat at lunchtime include not buttering bread for sandwiches (or using a low-fat spread if you can’t do without), avoiding mayonnaise or salad cream (or using reduced-calorie versions instead), and forgoing crisps. Cut down on sugar by avoiding chocolate bars and biscuits (eat fruit instead), and watching what you drink. Fruit juice contains naturally occurring sugar, has no additives and is a rich source of vitamin C. By contrast, sparkling ‘spring water’ drinks can contain as much added sugar as soft drinks, as well as artificial additives.
Fruits And Vegetables
Lunch should always contain some form of fruit or vegetables (both if possible). Fruit and vegetables are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and the World Health Organization recommends that we all eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Ways to eat more with your lunch include stuffing sandwiches or pitas with lots of salad ingredients (or having a bowl on the side), drinking a glass of fresh fruit juice and always finishing your meal with a piece of fruit, or a can of fruit in natural juice, if you prefer.
Home And Away
Here’s how to transform the food you would usually eat at home into portable lunchtime feasts:
- Use leftover new potatoes to make your next day’s lunch. Chop them and mix with fromage frais or a reduced-calorie salad cream, then toss with chopped chives and a handful of watercress
- Chop extra vegetables (such as carrots, pepper, celery, cauliflower, broccoli), and take them to work with a roll and a low-fat cheese dip
- Mix leftover pasta with peanuts or toasted pine nuts, pesto and Parmesan shavings
- If a microwave is available, cook a potato and top with tinned, low-sugar baked beans or chickpea dhal
- Add cooked, leftover vegetables to canned soup for extra goodness
Do’s And Don’ts
DO experiment with interesting breads. Try multi-grain, granary or tomato bread, pitas or wholegrain baguettes.
DO buy, or grow, windowsill pots of herbs for pepping up lunchtime salads. (Coriander, basil and chives are particularly good.)
DO take a can-opener to work for last-minute lunches (e.g. canned fruit in natural juice, tuna, pasta or mixed bean salads).
DON’T get stuck in a rut with lettuce and cucumber. Go for variety, with nutritious peppers, beetroot and watercress.
DON’T drink coffee or tea with your lunch – they contain caffeine and tannins that can interfere with iron absorption.
Don’t Forget The Kids
If you find yourself making up the same packed lunch for your kids to take to school every day, here are a few ways to vary it, and possibly make it healthier too!
- Instead of crisps… try nuts and raisins.
- Instead of an apple or banana, try Satsuma, small bunch of grapes or other seasonal or exotic fruits.
- Instead of a fizzy drink, try orange juice or a carton of chocolate or strawberry milkshake.
- Instead of sandwiches, try slices of veggie-topped pizza.
- Instead of a chocolate bar, try low fat digestive biscuits and a handful of sultanas.
Recipes On The Go
Packed lunches have to survive being carried around and need to stay fresh until lunchtime. These ideas fit the bill perfectly, and they are healthy, and quick and easy to prepare.
- Roasted Red Pepper Dip
- Chicken And Avocado Tortilla
- Carrot And Cress Triple Decker
To make a quick Pasta Salad, mix 125 g cooked pasta shapes with 50 g cherry tomatoes (cut into quarters), 40 g sliced smoked ham, 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives, and 3 tbsp fromage frais dressing. Season to taste.
For a protein packed Fiber Rich Salad, combine half a large can of mixed beans with 3 finely chopped spring onions, half a red or yellow pepper, diced and 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley. Stir in 2 tbsp French dressing. Season to taste.
Or go for a zingy Mediterranean Style Pasta Salad. Mix 125 g cooked pasta shapes with 25 g roughly chopped pitted black olives, 25 g crumbled feta cheese, 25 g roughly chopped sundried tomatoes in oil, 100 g diced cucumber and a few fresh basil leaves. Stir in 2 tbsp French dressing and season to taste.