Gourmet Lunchboxes for Grown-Ups

One soggy sandwich, some questionable cheese, and a bruised banana – anyone for a packed lunch today?

If the stale smell of your sticker-clad school lunchbox still lingers in your nose every time you consider bringing your lunch from home, it’s time to erase those memories with some nutritious and delicious adult lunch ideas for when you’re at work or on-the-go!

Packing your own lunch instead of grabbing something quick on-the-go is a great way to cut excess calories from your diet and control what you eat more effectively. Not to mention, it can save you a dollar (or fifty) a week.

BYO lunchboxes have fewer calories

It’s 12:30 and your stomach is starting to grumble. There’s a Dominos five minutes away from your office, a McDonald’s just around the corner, and a food court right next to that. What’s it going to be today? If you’re concerned about your waistline, the best answer is “none of the above.”

When it comes to excess calorie consumption, eating fast-food or takeaway meals for lunch can be a weight control nightmare. Fast-food is notoriously fat-laden and unhealthy, but even with a reasonably nutritious choice from a restaurant, you can wind up eating almost all your calories for the day in one sitting. Once you add a soft drink, garlic bread, an oversized serving of salad dressing, and perhaps a cappuccino to finish your meal, you could be looking at around an extra 1000 calories you really didn’t want or need.

However when you pack your own lunch, or even just a frozen meal to heat in the microwave, you have far more control over how many calories you consume and what size portions you eat.

Take your lunch to the next level

When it comes to packed lunches, most people’s imagination stops short at a Vegemite sandwich. However, if you can stretch your imagination past the Vegemite jar, you might find the lunch you pack is more delicious than any takeaway option available.

Start by stocking your fridge and shelves with healthy foods you enjoy, which can be easily used in packed lunches. Remember, if you’re saving money by resisting eating out, you can spend a little more on some gourmet ingredients. Pesto, olives, hummus, cheeses, wholegrain breads, gourmet salad ingredients, low-fat dips, yoghurt, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits such as strawberries, peaches and mangoes are some great starting points.

If you can store food at work or pack them in an esky or cooler bag, even better. This way, you can make fresh sandwiches and salads on the spot.

Great ideas for grown-up lunches

“I recommend brown-bag lunches to clients for weight and health reasons,” says dietitian Joan Bushman.

“When you make your own lunch, you can better control the type of food you eat, the portions you eat, and even the amount of money you spend,” she explains.

Bushman says her favourite packed lunch is something simple, with an extravagant touch. “A baguette with lean ham, cheese, sliced tomato and fresh basil, some veggie sticks, and a small piece of gourmet chocolate.”

Try some of Joan’s other top recommendations for gourmet workday lunches:

  • Homemade or canned soup (take in a thermos or heat in the microwave) with some added protein, like a small tin of tuna or salmon, and a side salad.
  • Sushi (nori) rolls, and raw veggies or fruit.
  • Homemade salads with protein such as hard-boiled eggs, lean ham, chicken, tuna/salmon, and avocado served with wholegrain crackers.
  • Brown rice or couscous salad (you can prepare a large amount at the start of the week) with currants or sultanas, chickpeas, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and other raw veggies.
  • Toasted sandwiches using wholegrain bread and low-fat fillings, with salad on the side.
  • Fresh Vietnamese rice paper rolls with chicken or tofu.

The mighty microwave

If you have access to a microwave, your lunch just got a whole lot more interesting. Soups, frozen vegetables, leftover pasta, baked beans … all microwaveable delicacies are at your command!

“It’s so easy to keep a bag of frozen veggies in the freezer,” comments dietitian, Allan Borushek. “You can also freeze cooked brown rice. Just throw some veggies and rice together, add some protein such as canned tuna, cooked chicken or leftover meat, and heat in the microwave. You have a tasty, healthy meal just like that.”

Try some of these other ideas:

  • Asian-style instant noodles (low-fat varieties) with added veggies and tofu.
  • Microwave a potato, split and top with corn kernels, diced tomato, fresh basil and a sprinkling of low-fat cheese.
  • Small tin of baked beans heated in the microwave, served with a wholegrain bread roll.
  • Reheat a homemade low-fat veggie slice or frittata, such as zucchini slice.
  • Freeze a loaf of wholegrain bread. When needed, pull out 1-2 slices and toast, adding some low-fat cheese and tomato, and microwave for a grilled cheese sandwich!

Try stocking up on fresh fruit as a snack or lunch food, otherwise you’ll be looking for a high-calorie, high-fat dessert to finish off your meal such as biscuits or chocolate. Tempt your taste buds with exotic choices, such as kiwi fruit, strawberries, cherries, mangos, papaya, pineapple, passionfruit and nashi pears – or make a fruit salad with all your favourites!

And beware of calories from soft drinks and juice, quench your thirst on water instead.

“But packed lunches are so anti-social!”

One of the great things about ordering lunch out is the chance to socialise with others, and take a break from your office or home space. But just because you pack your own lunch doesn’t mean you can’t still socialise or take a break.

If your colleagues are heading to a food court for lunch, it’s totally acceptable to take your lunchbox with you. If you feel like you need to buy something, order a coffee (low-fat!), tea, or diet soft drink. Of course you can’t take your lunch to a restaurant, but you can always eat your lunch beforehand, and just go along for a drink (diet soft drink, tea, coffee).

An even better solution: set an office trend. You might be surprised how many others will join you in bringing lunch from home. “What’s in your lunchbox today?” can become something of a competition in work places, and you can all head outdoors to enjoy your home-cooked meals together!

One of the bonuses of not eating out at lunch time is the freedom to spend your lunch hour doing something other than hunting for food. You can:

  • Take a walk
  • Do some shopping
  • Read a book
  • Go to the gym
  • Call a friend
  • Take your lunch to a park and dine in the sunshine

Whatever you decide to do with your bonus hour, and whatever delicacies you pack for lunch this week, enjoy!

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