As some of you may know, we are recently remodeled our kitchen to accommodate small cooking classes in our home. As a result, we were unable to consume our usual home-cooked fare, so I thought I would give you all some ideas for how to revamp your work lunch when you haven’t found the time to prepare your lunch at home. Here are some of my go-to meals that I can grab on the go and feel pretty good about:
- Instead of Ramen:
Instead of ramen, I typically purchase a packet or two of rice noodles or gluten-free ramen noodles and combine them with half a bag of frozen vegetables, such as broccoli, Normandy vegetables, or a stir-fry mix.
Watch out for MSG and other nasty ingredients in the noodle packs. If you cannot find noodle packs without these ingredients, leave the spice packet out and substitute MSG-free broth, miso, or a small amount of tamari or Braggs aminos with some cayenne pepper, chili oil, red pepper flake, and/or other spices. I used to keep Bragg’s aminos and a small jar of cayenne pepper in my desk cubby, just in case. It’s also great to add some sea vegetables, such as wakame, arame, or dulse, to the mix.
- Instead of Mexican food or Taco Bell:
When I’m feeling like Mexican food, I pick up a bag of frozen rice or beans and rice (such as the Engine 2 brand), a bag of frozen bell peppers and zucchini, and a jar of salsa. I typically use about half of each bag and as much salsa as I want for one meal. Top it with half an avocado for a real treat!
- Instead of take-out Chinese or other Asian:
Most Chinese restaurants add MSG to at least some of their dishes, and factors like oil and sugar can vary widely among restaurants. I pick up frozen rice or rice noodles, a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables, and a high-quality sauce or simply some tamari to make sure I know what I am eating and to save some money. Annie Chun’s products do not contain MSG, so look for them when in doubt.
- Instead of Indian food:
Many Indian restaurants use large quantities of ghee and other high-fat dairy in their dishes. Again, a bag of frozen rice, some frozen vegetables, perhaps a can of garbanzo beans or lentils, and a well-chosen sauce is usually a great improvement on Indian delivery.
- Instead of sandwiches:
Instead of adding more wheat and gluten to your diet, consider purchasing gluten-free wraps and grabbing some ingredients from the salad and/or olive bar at your local store: lettuce, tomato slices, cucumber, olives, and even tofu, lean meat, and beans with a small amount of mustard or dressing to create your own super wrap. Some salad bars have falafel and other fun ingredients, as well, so you could opt for a hot wrap. Any creation of your own is almost certain to taste better, be of higher quality ingredients, and provide better nutrition than what you would find at your local sub shop.
You could also keep some soy-free veggie patties in your work fridge to make bun-less burgers topped with some salad-bar fare.
Be you are prepared for the days when you may not have time to stop on your way to work to purchase ingredients. Try keeping a bag of frozen rice and a bag of frozen vegetables in your freezer at work, a good dressing in the refrigerator, and some basics at your desk. Personally, I recommend keeping a couple of lemons, some cayenne pepper, tamari or Braggs aminos, a couple of packs of rice noodles, and a couple of long-lasting fruits, like apples and citrus, at your desk to ensure you have healthy lunch options, just in case.
However, while the options above are infinitely better (and cheaper) than the lunch options you likely would have found offered at a restaurant, fast-food establishment, or convenience store, they are not the optimal lunch and should not be relied upon in lieu of preparing other meals. These more-convenient options would not provide the variety required to satisfy your tastes for long, and they are not the most nutrient-dense options possible; they are simply an improvement over the alternative. Please continue to strive towards optimum nutrition through preparation of fresh, whole-foods-based meals. They are, after all, for someone you love.