Written by Becky Alexander and Michelle Lake.
Most of us eat the same things each week for lunch, with cheese and ham sandwiches being the most popular. Not everyone works near a Pret or wants to spend 20 minutes of their break queuing so we have come up with lots of ideas to make taking your lunch to work more interesting and delicious.
Noone wants to shop all the time, so you need to buy ingredients that are going to last until the end of the week. Packed (by Becky Alexander and Michelle Lake, Feb 2017) is full of quick ideas for grown-up, healthy lunches. These are five of our star ingredients that we always have at home. They all last for ages and are packed with nutrition, so you can add them to whatever you are already making or throw them all together to make a hearty salad.
- Rocket leaves. A bag will last a week in the fridge if you don’t pile things on top and squash them. Spinach leaves are pretty good too. More delicate leaves tend to wilt after a day or two. Add rocket to your sandwiches and salads, or stir a handful into a bowl of hot soup to boost your veggie intake. You can also whizz rocket leaves with a little olive oil to make a pesto to spread in sandwiches instead of butter. Aim to include a handful of leafy greens with every lunch; they are bursting with phytochemicals which have been found to be cancer-protective.
- Peppers. Orange, red and yellow peppers can be sliced and eaten with a dip or as the base for a salad. You can get ahead by slicing up a few, pop in a container and keep in the fridge to add to your lunches throughout the week. Green ones are only really nice when cooked. Jars of roasted peppers are good too, so why not buy a jar for the cupboard for when you run out of fresh salad? No need to add a dressing either – just a squeeze of lemon. Aim to add some brightly coloured veggies to your lunch to get optimum amounts of carotenoids which help to keep eyes and heart healthy.
- Feta cheese. A pack of feta will last for ages in the fridge. Just a small amount adds lots of flavour; crumble it in to your salad or pasta. You can freeze leftover cheese if you don’t get through it in a week or two. Add some olives from a jar (cheaper than the ones in tubs) and you are on your way to a Greek salad. Feta is one of the healthiest cheeses around - it’s lower in saturated fat and higher in friendly bacteria that most other varieties. Made from goat’s or sheep’s milk and naturally lower in lactose, many people find feta easier to digest than other cheeses.
- Cooked lentils. A pouch of cooked black or Puy lentils is so easy to use. No need to rinse, just open the pouch and spoon about half into your lunch box. Add chopped pepper, feta and rocket, or whatever you have in the fridge, squeeze over some lemon, and you have an easy and very nutritious lunch. Freeze the rest or keep in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days. Protein-packed lentils are a fabulous lunch choice; they release their energy slowly to keep you full until home-time.
- Chickpeas. Cans of cooked chickpeas are a bargain and a great plant source of protein and iron. Look for the red or brown ones which are lovely in a salad or roast vegetables. You can also stir them into soup. I like the creamy white ones roasted: rinse, then mix with a little olive oil and a little paprika. Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Add to salads and soups or eat on their own as a snack. It’s easy to make your own hummus by whizzing them up with some extra virgin olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin. Feel free to throw in other ingredients like roasted peppers or olives. Hummus makes a great filling for sandwiches and wraps or spoon into a pot and bring along some veggie dippers.
Becky Alexander is a food writer (The Guild of Food Writers) and food book editor for companies such as Dorling Kindersley, Penguin and Bloombsury. She writes a fortnightly food column for The Herts Advertiser newspaper focussing on seasonal, local food. Becky recently appeared on a BBC Radio programme giving commuters easy ideas for their lunches. Michelle Lake DipION CNHC mBANT is a registered Nutritional Therapist and has been running her own busy practice, Mission Nutrition in St Albans for over 10 years. She trained for four years at the Institute of Optimum Nutrition on its internationally acclaimed nutritional therapy course. She is a member of BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and The Complementary and National Healthcare Council (CNHC).
Becky Alexander, Michelle Lake
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