Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pack Your Lunch!

It's September. Part of me is tallying all my regrets from this summer. I didn't spend enough time at the beach, plant enough lettuce to get me through the summer, or can enough tomatoes to last me through the winter. But the other part of me is grateful for all the time spent with family, for the surplus of garden-fresh basil, mint, eggplant, and peppers that I've had to find creative uses for, and for the routine of the fall. I started my second year of grad school last night after taking the summer off in an attempt to maintain my sanity by spending more time outdoors and in the garden. But now, my routine through the end of December will involve shopping, cooking, homework, and fun over the weekend, Stats on Monday evening, Managerial Economics on Tuesday evening, Body Defined on Wednesday evening, Elemental Yoga on Thursday evening, and Gentle Yoga, a massage, or dinner out on Friday evening. I should be able to fit in my favorite Farmers Market and Slow Flow Yoga on Saturday and hope to find a good yoga class to do with James on Sunday, too. It might sound busy or boring depending on how you look at it, but there's a strange kind of peace in knowing what's going on every minute of every day.
So much better than cafeteria food!
As we bid farewell to the sun and say hello to the changing colors of the leaves, I want to continue eating fresh and local food for as long as possible. Tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash, eggplant, lettuce, herbs, carrots, stone fruit, beans, and greens are all still plentiful at local farmers markets across the northeast. The end of summer hours and the beginning of the school year don't have to be synonymous with cafeteria food high in fat, sodium, and calories and low in the vitamins and minerals that are much more abundant in fresh, locally sourced produce that hasn't been shipped all the way to your plate from Chile or California.

I threw some rolled oats and barley flour in the bread machine last night and woke up to a fresh loaf of multi-grain bread that I used to make delicious sandwiches for today's lunch (pictured above). I spread a thin layer of homemade pesto on one slice of the bread and some homemade hummus on the other slice and layered baby spinach with cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden. Roasted peppers (pablano, bell, and sweet carmen) from my garden added the finishing touch. I sliced up some more cucumber to have with a side of hummus and rinsed some grapes and in less than ten minutes, I packed lunches for myself and James.

Here are a few helpful tips for packing lunches for you and your family that will help you get the most nutrition and taste out of the least amount of time:

  • Pack nuts to get you through a week and stash them in your desk for when hunger strikes.
  • Pack lots of veggies! Keep a bag carrots and a few cucumbers in the fridge at work and you won't have to worry about bringing them every day. Don't forget about other veggies like sliced peppers, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and grape or cherry tomatoes.
  • Fruit! Stick with what's seasonal and it will taste like it did when you were a kid. Stone fruit and apples for September. Berries at the height of summer. 
  • Stock low-calorie high-fiber crackers like ak-mak and melba toast in your desk just in case you run out of veggies. 
  • Dress up your salad. Boring salad sucks. It shouldn't be all shades of green. Add tomatoes, carrots, red onion, celery, sunflower seeds, roasted or grilled veggies, and/or beans. Try making your own dressing and keep a bottle in the fridge at work. 
  • Make a batch of hummus every week. Spread it on veggie sandwiches for extra fiber and protein. Bring a pint-sized container full to work on Monday and you'll have enough to snack on with carrot sticks, cucumbers, or melba toast all week. Change it up by adding some fresh basil, olives, roasted peppers, or sun-dried tomatoes. It's easy to find recipes online that you can make in a food processor or blender. You're likely to have all the ingredients in your pantry already (chick peas, olive oil, tahini paste, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper) and prep time is less than 10 minutes. You control what goes in and the taste of the finished product. Best of all? You'll save lots of money if you're used to buying hummus every week!
  • If you have a bread machine, use it! It's fast and easy to throw a few ingredients in before bed. I'll be posting some bread recipes soon, but baking two loaves a week can save money and while it might take a little more time than buying bread at the grocery store, you can control what goes in and vary the nutrient profile you eat with every loaf. Goodbye boring (or expensive exciting) bread. Hello hearty whole grains. Rye and wheat flours, oats, cornmeal, and seeds add protein and fiber. Bonus points if you opt for organic!
  • Pack something sweet, but make sure it's got nutritional value, too. Gummy vitamins, calcium chocolates, and ginger candies are my favorites. 
  • HAVE FUN! When packing for your kids, keep it colorful and pack lots of finger foods. Check out for lots of great ideas! 
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