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Strategies for lunch

Celery and carrots
Eating healthily and losing or maintaining one’s weight are hard things to do in a busy life. We’re surrounded by fast food options everywhere: the din of junk food has become deafening, especially now that so much of it claims to be healthy (for example, Subway claims to be healthier than McDonald’s, which is objectively true but still doesn’t ever make Subway a good option for someone who wants to eat actual food).

I struggle most with breakfast and lunch. Breakfast is characterized by little time and my ‘morning fog’ which I try to lift with two mugs of steaming hot coffee every day. The idea of actively making food in the morning, involving the application of heat to foodstuffs, often seems overwhelming. So I typically end up having instant oatmeal and a slice of toast with nut butter, or oatmeal and a sliced apple (the organic Ambrosias are particularly delicious right now).

Lunch, though, is the real struggle. I work in a part of town where healthy, vegetarian-friendly options are hard to come by. Here are my options:

  • All day breakfast places serving omelettes
  • A so-so Indian place that has some vegetarian options
  • A sushi place that serves only limited vegetarian options and has only white rice
  • A “by the slice” pizza place whose pizzas are delicious (but there’s no way I should have pizza at lunch, or – probably – ever)
  • A middle eastern place that serves very good falafel sandwiches or plates
  • Various Subways, McDonald’s, Swiss Chalets, Harvey’s etc.
  • A neighbourhood alternative eatery that’s a little scary and whose food is very greasy
  • Various low-end Korean, Thai and Chinese restaurants that typically make everything with fish sauce and chicken stock (and who, when asked to use something else, produce really bland food).

The better places in the area are essentially cheap sit-down restaurants, and visiting them requires a little time and forethought, something I can’t always muster during a busy consulting day. As for the rest – if I try hard, I can pick out the ones where I can ‘make do.’ But I think lunch needs to stop being about making do.

So that’s my dilemma. If I want to eat well, I have to start packing a lunch every day, something I’ve never done in my life. I also need to find ways to snack healthily during the day when I get hungry because my new diet will have fewer calories than I ate before, so snacking will become a necessity (and the snack cupboard at work, kindly provided by my employer for free, is unfortunately a little house of horrors consisting of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and all those other lovely things industrial food production bestows upon us).

Here’s what I’ll do:

Snacks

Healthy snacks can include:

  • Roasted almonds (I buy them raw at Costco and roast them myself in the oven)
  • Dry-roasted cashews
  • Trail mix
  • Finncrisp or Ikea-style dry Swedish crisp bread broken into pieces
  • Apples or other fruit
  • Fruit leather

Lunch

I think the point about lunch is that it has to be easy to pack in the morning, easy to carry around, easy to re-heat or eat cold, and healthy. While I love reading Vegan Lunch Box, I find the suggestions/recipes often a titch fussy and can’t really imagine doing the same amount of daily prep.

Mark Bittman, whose Food Matters I’m currently reading, suggests that the success of his suggested eating plan hinges on being prepared to ‘do the work.’ I think that eating vegetarian, and eating well as a vegetarian, requires a ton of prep work. You need to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, chop and store them, and remember to take them with you. Bittman suggests that this is “easier than you think, as long as you’re equipped with the right containers.”

Personally, I bring lunch to work about half the time, and it’s usually a soup (or something soup-link if not an actual “soup”), one that contains vegetables or legumes and grains, so it’s pretty substantial. They’re based on the same quickly prepared foods you would eat if you were home.

So, my lunch ideas include:

  • Pre-prepping vegetables like celery, carrots and bell peppers (everyone tells you to do this and store them in the fridge in Tupperware containers filled with water)
  • Making a couple of rice pilaf dishes every week in my rice cooker (see my recipe) and taking portions to work with me each day
  • Bringing apples to work and complementing lunch with ‘something sweet’
  • Preparing a quick earth bowl in the morning and taking it with me (see my recipe)
  • Veggie soup based on Bob’s Red Mill Vegi Soup Mix, which is delicious
  • Amy’s makes very good vegetarian burritos… but that veers off into the prepared foods again, so I’ll try to minimize that.

That’s it so far. The objective is to take the daily frustration out of lunch and to find ways of having good, healthy, simple food by doing the absolute minimum of weekly prep work. Let me know if you have any other ideas.

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