Portable lunch suggestions?
So, I'm trying to eat better with the ultimate goal of losing weight, and save money along the way. I want to eat "real" food, that's tasty and healthy. I'm not so into counting calories and all that, just eating healthier--more fruits and veggies, and so on. Not necessarily low-carb, or low-fat, or any other restrictions. Just good, filling food that is good for me, portable, and inexpensive. Rather than eating out when I'm at school, I want to start taking my lunch, but I'm horrible at coming up with ideas. I'm looking for ideas for things that are portable and don't require re-heating (some days I can get to microwave, but I can't always count on it). Any suggestions from my fellow brown-baggers?
I found it difficult to honor my diet when I just took fruit and veggies (and sometimes low cal crackers) to work. So I started cutting up various fruits (or veggies) and mixing them in a sort of compote. Sprinkled with a bit of lemon juice and could get creative and my lunches had variety - which always helps.
Peanut Butter and Bananas or fruit preserves (I'm partial to apricot) on whole grain bread is one of my favorite brown bag lunches. Apple and some cookies for dessert.
I also like turkey breast, romaine, tomato, avocado with a little mustard and mayo on whole grain roll. Some cut up fruit and a slice of cake for dessert. If you can get to the microwave, wash all down with a nice cup of chamomile tea.
How about pasta or rice salads (oil & vinegar dressings, not mayo-based, natch)? You can customize these almost infinitely with whatever veggies and dressings you like. I'm a big fan of black or white bean salads, as well; super cheap and easy and tasty too. These can always be wrapped in a tortilla or pita, though I find you should bring the pita along and fill it just before you eat, otherwise it can get soggy.
Single-serving no-sugar-added applesauce cups are handy too. Terrible for the environment, I know, but good for my eating habits, because I can always fit in one for a little extra nutrition, and I'm much more likely to eat one of these than if I have to get it out of the jar.
I'm a big fan of the wrap for lunches. There are so many ways to make them, they roll up quickly for food prep, and fit nicely into either a Tupperware container or a Ziploc baggie (though some can get mushy in there).
First, I always look for a wrap/tortilla made of whole grains with at least five grams of fibre, low calories and a little fat (you will need to check labels... i.e. I saw a "whole grain" tortilla yesterday that was 130 calories, with 4g. of fat and only 2 g. of fibre. Over in the deli section I found the Cedar's brand Whole Wheat Wraps which are only 80 calories, with 3.5 g. fat and 6 g. of fibre.) La Tortilla Factory Whole Wheat Tortillas (which I order online because my supermarkets nearby don't carry them http://latortillafactory.elsstore.com... ) have 80 calories, 3 g. fat and 14 g. of fibre. (And they taste great!)
Now, the fillings. Lots of folks love the deli meats, unfortunately they are just not my cup of tea. But I do like grilled or roasted chicken, turkey, or lean beef, with loads of Dijonnaise (Hellman's Mustard with a creamy texture), and handfuls of mesculun salad mix or any other green that catches my eye (for freshness) that week. I also make fish salads, tuna, sardine, salmon, shrimp, etc. Today I made a salmon salad... I roasted a piece of Wild Alaskan salmon a couple of days ago, then refrigerated. I cut off a big chunk, flaked and put into a bowl, and threw in (I know I'll catch flack for this but...) Hellman's Lowfat mayo, then chopped sweet onion, fresh chopped parsley, celery salt, fresh cracked pepper, and mixed up. I then plopped it into my tortilla, and threw on a sprinkling of sliced almonds, and couple of handfuls of salad mix, rolled and packed.
Not only was the sandwich wonderful tasting but I was full for hours and hours (only needed a small dinner... must be all the fibre!).
Wraps are so fun to make because you can change them up as you fancy; sometimes I slice grapes into them, or throw in raisins or dried cranberries, carrots, apples, whatever.
In addition to wraps I often make Brown Rice or Whole Wheat Pasta salads... but that's another post!
Quesadillas -- add veggies of your choice to the cheese, salsa and tortillas in the pan. Cut up and bag, and you have a sandwich on the go. You can even add some shredded meat.
Salad. Buy one of the bags of salad. Put some in a portable bowl with o&v, s&p, herbs, cheese. Shake before eating.
Greek salad with tabouleh or falafel in pita bread. (bag separately or the pita bread will be soggy).
Spaghetti and sauce
A lot of great ideas already. If you want more variety, I will add onigiri (Japanese rice balls) to your line-up. Just cook sushi rice the day before, let it cook and mix in whatever ingredients you like (like salmon flakes, tuna, etc.) and wrap with seaweed. Or even more maki rolls in a lunch box.
Someone mentioned pasta salad. A simple cold noodle salad with a light soy seasme dressing, top with some cucumber and meat (chicken, or fish, or shrimp, if you want) will be great.
Sandwiches like smoked salmon with bean sprouts and cucmber (with little dressing or even none) will be nutritous and healthy
Skip dried fruit - I can eat a whole bag of dried apricots and still be munchy, or I can eat one apricot and be satiated. And since each dried apricot has the same number, give or take, of calories as a fresh one.... yeah.
As for fruit: I have found pears to be exceedingly filling; apples make me hungrier. Grapefruit is great if you have time to deal with it. Clementines are delicious and easy to eat on the go. Bananas are great and have their own wrapper to keep you from getting messy, heh.
If you want stuff like melon, buy whole ones and chop them up at home - you can just bag them for several lunches in advance, and it's a lot cheaper than buying the pre-cut stuff at the store. Another nifty trick is to just put frozen berries in a container; by lunchtime, they've thawed. The taste and texture of thawed berries don't measure up to fresh ones, sure, but they still taste pretty good.
As for veggies: Check out stuff that's easy to prep and that holds up well for a couple days in the fridge (carrots, bell pepper, broccoli).
Also, I would check out the Yoplait light yogurts and/or the Mott's natural applesauces. Both are reasonably priced and taste good, and they're quite easy to grab & go.
Here's another option --bento box lunches. There's a new Get Started Bento Challenge which you can read about at http://www.justbento.com --and that website, plus the author Maki's sister website http://www.justhungry.com are full of really great, healthy, economical, and yummy ideas. Even if you don't participate in the challenge itself or take pictures of your lunches, etc., it still may be a good source of inspiration.
I really like quiche as a lunch bag dish - just bake them in mini tart pans and they are the right size. A filling with lots of veggies is easy to do, you can bake several at once (even with different fillings for variety) and they keep well.
I'm on a nonprocessed foods quest myself, so I'm trying to substitute whole grains and beans for bread and meat.
Garbanzos, as I've said elsewhere, are tasty with just salt, pepper and good olive oil, at any temperature. You have to use dried, soaked, cooked beans to maximize the flavor, though.
Quinoa (or bulgur, or couscous), black beans, diced tomatoes (Muir Glen canned are better than what's in the grocery store right now), red or green onions, dressed in lime juice with a touch of sugar, is delicious. Throw in some diced black olives, corn kernels, and/or pine nuts for an added vegetable/protein boost. Again, good at any temperature.
i've been making a really tasty cold quinoa curry salad with slivered almonds, chopped fresh mint, cranberries or currants,diced pear or apple, and a vinaigrette (olive oil, lemon juice, honey, finely chopped shallots, curry powder, and salt and pepper). if you make a big portion, just consider adding the diced fruit fresh each day because by day two or three the pears can get a little soggy...