Brown bagging it is a time-honored way to save money and eat well on a budget. Too often, though, our packed lunches end up with snacks that are filled with sodium, fat, and sugar. So how can pain patients create healthy, satisfying lunches that help manage symptoms? In this edition of Eat This, Not That, we look at delicious swaps for a healthy lunch every day, plus tips for planning ahead to avoid the morning rush.
Instead of: A sandwich
A standard sandwich, no matter how delicious, is still a standard sandwich. Easy to assemble and quick to eat, sandwiches have been a lunch staple for as long as people have brought their own lunches to work.
Maybe you are getting a little bored with your turkey-wheat-mayo combination. Maybe peanut butter and jelly just doesn’t float your boat. Or maybe you just want to pack more nutrition into your healthy lunch while maintaining the convenience of a sandwich.
Try: Tortellini salad with figs, walnuts, and prosciutto
Sandwiches are fast to assemble, but so is this salad with its balance of savory and sweet. Dark, leafy greens pack a pain-fighting punch, and walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids, crucial for inflammation and a healthy heart.
Working to minimize the meat? The prosciutto is optional. Swap in some roasted and salted pumpkin seeds for texture, taste, and more nutrition.
Instead of: A big, hearty lunch
You know what happens: you pack a huge, delicious lunch. Two hours later your body is still so busy digesting your mid-day meal that you can barely keep your eyes open. You know you need good nutrition to get your through the day, but a simple salad is too light to be satisfying.
Try: Tapas-style rations
Tapas is small, snack-sized portions of food. Take some time in the beginning of the week and fill zip-top snack bags or small plastic containers with a variety of the following pain-fighting goodies:
- Almonds or mixed nuts
- Smoked salmon
- Red grapes
- Papaya (dried or fresh)
- Wild-caught tuna with chopped avocado
- Roasted broccoli
- Spicy roasted chickpeas
Spreading snacks out in two-hour intervals may help maintain a more level blood sugar, preventing the afternoon slump.
Instead of: Tired romaine lettuce mid-day desk salad
Romaine lettuce, that crunchy workhorse of a salad green, stands above iceberg when it comes to nutritional value, but only just barely. Some greens, a few sad hothouse tomatoes, and a chunk of green pepper don’t have to be your fate at lunchtime.
Try: Kale salad with farro and avocado
Gluten-free, easy to make, and bursting with inflammation fighting fatty acids and vitamins, this delicious salad is satisfying and so good for you.
Toss leftover dressing with pasta, grilled chicken, and roasted vegetables for an easy and healthy lunch (or dinner!).
Instead of: Turkey wraps
Wraps are amazing lunch options. They are easy to make and easier to eat, but as with the sandwiches, sometimes it seems like you are just going through the motions when it comes to choices. Plus, you are toying with the idea of Meatless Monday but don’t want to focus on cheese and hummus.
Try: Sweet potato wraps with caramelized onions and pesto
Move over, boring wraps. There is nothing boring about this flavorful, exciting wrap. Sweet potatoes and basil are both powerful anti-inflammatory foods. Combined with naturally sweet caramelized onions and “meaty” Portobello mushrooms, you won’t miss the meat. Bonus tip: these wraps can be made ahead of time and frozen for fast lunch prep.
All of the above swaps won’t do a bit of good if you run out of time in the morning and end up eating out of the office vending machine. For stress-free mornings try these tips:
- Plan your meals: Take some time to plan daily meals for the week. This will help build a shopping list and assist with planning any prep for the week.
- Cook on the weekend for all week: Make freezer-friendly lunches on Sundays so that all you have to do is grab and go in the morning. Some wraps can be heated up for a hot mid-day meal; others are meant to be eaten cold. You can also make a big batch of soup and freeze in individual portions for the week.
- Chop all of your veggies when you get them home: The second you come home from the grocery store, chop veggies and rinse and dry any salad greens you will use for the week. Make healthy choices the easiest ones in your ‘fridge.
- Cook your grains ahead of time: Cooking one or two batches of different whole grains (farro, brown rice, etc.) makes it easy to throw together a hearty lunch salad in the morning. Double bonus: cook a big batch of grains for dinner, then save the rest for lunch.
- Prep time-consuming elements ahead of time: Caramelized onions can take at least an hour to cook properly. Homemade salad dressing isn’t difficult, but it is one more thing in the morning. Prep all elements of your lunch recipes ahead of time.
- Bonus tip: If you work in a suitable environment, see if your coworkers might want to plan a healthy lunch potluck once or twice a month. Focus on healthy options, and ask your coworkers to bring the recipe. This expands your culinary horizons and gives you new lunch options!
How do you make a pain-friendly healthy lunch that’s fast, delicious, and interesting?