While many consider breakfast the most important meal of the day, lunch is equally essential and it’s often forgotten in our busy work schedules.
Lack of time and preparation often means we’re reaching for convenient options that are more processed and expensive — and it’s our wellbeing and afternoon productivity that can suffer.
Good food should be easy and keeping things simple will help you make healthier choices, writes Dr Sandro Demaio.
Takeaway and pre-prepared foods usually come with more added fat, sugar and salt than the meals we make at home.
Over the course of a week, and years, these additives really start to weigh heavily on our health.
Even swapping just one or two bought lunches per week for a homemade meal will make a significant difference to your general health, your wallet and the environment.
Now, home-packed lunches might bring back memories of squashed sandwiches and brown apple quarters from school, but these five tips will help make packing a healthy and delicious lunchbox simple.
1. Make lunch at dinner
You don’t have to rise at the crack of dawn to prepare a delicious lunch — leftovers are an easy and economical option.
Making extra serves when cooking dinner will save you both time and money. Then all you have to do is grab a container from the fridge as you run out the door in the morning.
Leftovers will usually keep for 24-72 hours in the fridge or up to several weeks in the freezer.
Try making a pot of minestrone soup or a large veggie casserole, eat one serve for dinner, pop one serve in the fridge for lunch, and one serve in the freezer for later.
After one week of making dinners, you could have work lunches prepared for nearly three weeks and never have to eat the same thing two days or meals in a row.
2. Use leftovers creatively
Leftovers can easily be used to create a different but equally delicious lunch in no time.
Roasted, stir-fried or sautéed vegetables can be added to almost anything. Put them in a sandwich with some pesto or cheese for a cafe-worthy toastie, add them to another night’s leftover pasta for salad, or try them on top of plain tortilla chips for quick and healthy office nachos.
Or experiment with using a leftover stir fry or roast as the base for a tasty salad. Assemble by placing your leftovers at the bottom of a container or jar with a salad dressing (the sauce or oils from your leftovers may become a dressing that’s free of added hidden sugar or salt in store-bought dressing), and add some leafy greens on top to keep them crisp.
3. Use a whole grain or legume base to make hearty lunches
Forget expensive protein balls and bars — legumes such as beans and chickpeas, are nature’s original convenience superfood.
4. Front-load your veg intake
We’re all guilty of falling short of the recommended five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day. But bringing lunch can be a great way to front-load our fresh fruit and veggie intake to hit these goals more easily.
Packing our lunchtime meal with veg also provides valuable micro nutrients such as B vitamins in leafy greens and legumes, which are essential for concentration and brain function.
The high fibre content and slow-release energy of vegetables also helps to keep you fuller for longer and avoid the dreaded 3pm slump.
Aim for three serves of vegetables and a piece of fruit at lunch and you’re over half way there.
5. Invest in a couple of good-quality containers
Nothing makes the idea of BYO lunch less appealing than the idea of a flimsy lunchbox leaking at the bottom of a handbag or backpack.
A few sets of well-sealed containers will make it significantly easier to prep and carry lunch, even if it’s haphazardly tossed in a bag while running out the door.
Having more than one container allows you to keep a few options in the fridge or freezer, ready to go at any time (see tip one to avoid lunch menu boredom).
You don’t have to spend big money on fancy containers but it’s important they are made from BPA-free plastic that won’t disintegrate or leech in the dishwasher.
Glass jars are also a great option as glass is food safe and jar lids will stick tight, even after high temperature washing.
You could save money and reduce your household waste even further by reusing jars from groceries as lunch containers.
To sum up…
Life is busy but with a little effort we can make big changes to our physical health.
Over time, swapping the average takeaway lunch for a BYO meal could save you hundreds of dollars a month and reduce the amount of single-use plastics in our landfill and oceans.
Original article by ABC Life