Lunch is the meal that often gets neglected due to a lack of time and planning. We often find ourselves skipping the meal all together or resorting to fast foods or just munching the boring sandwich, wishing for something tastier.
Enjoying a nutritious lunch is essential for maintaining optimal energy levels throughout the day, necessary for performance and appetite control. This not only avoids inappropriate snacking late in the afternoon but also helps us to enjoy a lighter dinner.
Read: Planning healthy snacks
An adequate lunch is packed with fibre, antioxidants, essential fats, vitamins and minerals, consisting of the following food items:
1. Low fat, omega 3 fat rich protein foods such as low fat yoghurt, fatty fish (peppered mackerel/ sardines/ pilchards/ salmon/ tuna) low fat cheeses, chicken (without skin), boiled eggs and lean cold meats (pastrami/ roast beef/ham)
2. Whole grain, high-fibre, low-GI starches such as wild/ brown rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, corn kernels, canned chick peas, lentils and beans, as well as whole wheat crackers and heavy seed breads.
3. Vegetables and/or fruit – a variety of salads, vegetable soups and fresh fruit
4. Fats rich in monounsaturated fatty acids such olive oil based salad dressings, avocado pear, “lite” mayonnaise, olives and all types of nuts and seeds. The nuts provide bioactive substances that lower cholesterol and a tasty dressing make all the difference to a salad.
The first step in managing a healthy lunch is to invest in a good lunch container, and if you are spending time on the road, a cool box and ice packs. The second step is dedicating a little time in preparing or delegating the task at home or at the office. The following examples should not take you more than ten minutes to prepare
Create a scrumptious salad
Vary your typical mix salad by using either Rosa tomatoes OR a variety of lettuce OR cucumber as a base. Then add one or more of the following salad ingredients for variation:
1. Left-over vegetables from supper, e.g. minted peas or roasted butternut, green beans, broccoli florets (always cook more vegetables for dinner) fruit, e.g. crunchy apple or pineapple, canned/fresh artichokes or asparagus, baby corn, mange tout, baby carrots, shredded cabbage, baby beetroot, bean sprouts, pickled onion, peppadews, gherkins etc.
Read: Shopping for vegetables
2. Add a whole grain AND a protein AND a fat to create the following:
Tuna corn salad served with an olive oil based vinaigrette, or a salmon lentil salad with sliced avocado pear, or Ricotta, cheese and chick pea salad, served with a "lite" creamy dressing (see recipe). Create something different by adding nuts, quinoa and chicken to salad ingredients or roll some cold turkey onto a salad with butter beans. Enjoy a Chicken quinoa salad or Cold turkey and bean salad.
Easy meal on the run and for the road
When you are in a rush, add the following food items to your cool box. Healthy proteins choices of tuna/salmon or lean cold meats, e.g. cold shaved turkey, or “lite” cheese wedges, combined with whole grain crackers and a portion of fresh fruit.
Fresh fruit with a sweet tang
A favourite easy meal can be made in a few minutes by keeping a variety of cut fresh fruit, such as melon papaya, strawberries, mango ruby grapefruit, oranges (available from all shops) in the fridge at work. Add a tub of plain low fat yogurt and top with a handful of raisins or cranberries or unsalted nuts for a delicious meal.
Steaming soup for the cold days
Prepare a soup packed with a variety of vegetables, lentils/beans and barley on the weekend, or alternatively buy a pre-prepared chunky vegetable soup in a bag. Add half a can of beans (butter or kidney beans), lentils or chickpeas to the soup for some protein power. If you use a soup without the barley, add whole grain crackers for sustained energy throughout the afternoon.
Read: Power up with soup
Prepare something more wholesome – the sweet potato
Microwave a medium sweet potato for a few minutes until soft. While cooking, mix half a container low fat cottage cheese with chopped peppers, spring onion, celery, grated carrot and herbs and spices.
Store this in the fridge overnight and take to work in separate containers. Cut the sweet potato open and stuff with the cheese filling for a lunch packed with calcium, vitamins and phytonutrients (carotenoids and flavonoids).
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The dietitians from Nutritional Solutions are Health24's expert team of registered dietitians.