September is here and with it comes a return to routine for both adults and children alike. Dinner time and weekends continue to be times to relax over food and to enjoy preparing and eating food; both provide opportunity and time to indulge our chef like tendencies. On the other hand, the purpose of weekday lunches is not to indulge our love of food but rather to provide us, in a short period of time, with nutritious food to help keep us going until dinner time. It helps if weekday lunches are tasty, don’t require an age to prepare and travel well.
Bringing packed lunches to work, college or school can be cost effective and result in us eating better from a nutritional point of view. With this in mind, I’ve prepared my top tips for helping you to make packed lunches easy to make, convenient to transport and tasty to eat. These lunch tips and ideas are for the most part suitable for both the office and the school yard, as who wants to be preparing different lunches for different family members?
Top tips for packed lunches.
1. The most obvious option for a good lunch is to make twice the portion of a nutritiously balanced dinner in the evening time and keep half for lunch the next day. Dishes such as frittatas, tortillas, quiches, lentil salads, pastas, potato salads and roast vegetable to name but a few taste just as good when eaten at room temperature as they do when eaten hot.
2. Pinterest users will be familiar with the ‘Salad in a Jar’ craze. Storing salads in jars is a really nifty way to transport a salad without risking leakage or soggy greens; I am not a fan of either. Transporting your salad in a jar doesn’t mean mixing your salad together the night before and merely packing it in a jar. There is more to the technique than that and there is an art to assembling your salad in the jar. Start with your dressing in the base of the jar, then build your individual salad ingredients in layers, starting with wettest ingredients at the bottom and working your way up to the elements that you want to keep crispy and freshest on top, e.g. leafy greens and crunchy nuts. When it comes to lunch time, just tip the jar into a bowl and toss. No soggy leaves to see here.
3. Of course you can always forget about transporting a packed lunch to work each day and instead keep some key ingredients in the office fridge. Just make sure not to stray into Ross from Friends territory and maintain perspective if work colleagues borrow/steal your food from the communal fridge. At the start of the week, bring avocados, tins of chickpeas, hard boiled eggs, a lemon, feta cheese and leafy greens with you to work. Keep olive oil, sea salt and pepper in your desk drawer. In about five minutes max, you can whip up a chickpea smash salad that is way more tasty than one would expect from improvised kitchen facilities and rather filling at the same time. Of course this isn’t one for school kids as I doubt teachers would thank you when they have to play commis chef to a class full of children every lunch time!
4. While this next tip is probably the most boring of the lot, it is also the most useful. Planning and prepping ahead is the key to healthy lunches for the week ahead. You might scream, what about spontaneity and impulsiveness? However, just go with me on this one. Don’t waste your spontaneity and impulsiveness on weekday lunches, there are far better uses for both. Instead, get organised at the weekends and spend a little time planning and prepping food. Roast chickpeas, hard boil some eggs, make a frittata, batch cook lentils, etc. This doesn’t mean spending your entire Sunday in the kitchen; an hour of efficient food prep on a Sunday will see you lunch ready for the week ahead.
5. If your work place is the ‘Brady Bunch’ of workplaces, start a homemade lunch club. Team up with like minded co-workers and rotate making lunch for the group each day. Beware that you may be subjected to mockery by other co-workers but who cares. If there are five of you, each member of the group brings a homemade lunch for five to work each day; meaning you only need to bring lunch once a week, but everyone has a healthy homemade lunch every single day of the week. This may also work in a school scenario where a group of parents grouped together and one day a week each parent supplied a homemade lunch for the children of the entire group.
To help you even further on your way to nutritious and tasty packed lunches, here are some of my favourite ideas for healthy packed snacks and lunches.
• Hard boiled eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are the royalty of snacks. Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs at the weekend and keep them in the fridge. Use them throughout the week to make all manner of snacks and lunches. Drizzle olive oil over a hard boil egg and mash it up, seasoning it with sea salt and black pepper for a protein filled snack. Add some avocado and lemon juice and we are moving from snack territory into lunch territory. Add some greens, tomatoes, spring onion and roasted chickpeas and soon we have a full on lunch time salad.
• Roast Chickpeas: If you are new to roast chickpeas let me assure you that they are amazing. Take two cans of chickpeas and drain and rinse them. Toss them in a little olive oil and season them with sea salt and black pepper and a little chilli flakes. Pop them on a baking sheet and into the oven for 30 minutes at gas 5/190C. They will come out deliciously crispy. Pack in an airtight container for snacks or to add to salads.
• Frittatas: Eggs have to be one of the handiest foods there is and frittatas are the perfect way to add extra veggies to lunch time. They are just as nice eaten at room temperature as out of the oven. They take about 20 minutes to prepare and cook and they provide 6-8 lunch servings. To help you out, I’ve included a basic frittata recipe below that contains both spinach and broccoli and gold stars all round for anyone eating a serving of both of these vegetables at lunch time.
• Smoothies: Despite some dismissing smoothies as fads, I am sticking to my guns on this one. If there is an easier way to get a shed load of green vegetables and some really good proteins and fats into you in such a convenient way, I don’t know it. The real issue with smoothies is that a smoothie is just liquified food, so whether it is nutritious or not completely depends on what you put into it. It is possible to make a delicious green smoothie that doesn’t taste like sludge. Just practice a little and follow some good recipes. Don’t be tempted to go overboard on fruit and turn your smoothie into a liquid dessert. Focus on vegetables and add a little fruit to sweeten it. To make them more filling, look to oats, nut butters and seeds. For a recipe which has been given the seal of approval from many kids, try my Back to School Smoothie.
• Savoury Muffins: Call something a muffin and both adults and children alike cannot help but like it. Savoury muffins are delicious and very often nicer than the sweet versions. They transport so well and are even nicer eaten at room temperature than hot. They are also a means by which to eat extra veggies at lunch time. My recipe for Savoury Courgette Muffins is the perfect lunch box filler and are extremely quick to prepare – they can easily be whipped up for the week ahead in ten minutes while you are in the kitchen making Sunday dinner.
• Energy balls: No packed lunch feature would be complete without mention of energy balls. While we might not eat a sweet treat at lunch everyday, there are some days when we cannot resist. On those days, energy balls are a really good option as while they contain sugar from dates, they are high in protein and healthy fats meaning that they are quite satisfying and we only need a small amount to satisfy sweet cravings. My Nut-Free Energy Balls recipe is easy to make and perfect for workplaces and schools that are nut free zones.
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