Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Healthy Lunches: When Fresh is Not an Option

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© photo copyright Carrie Boyko 2009
Prosciutto and Provolone Rolls
with Dried Fruit and Baked Pita Chips

This post is part of a series on eating healthier. While shopping the exterior of our supermarkets where we find the freshest and most nutritious foods, shelf life and cost can become issues. The objective of this post is to assist you with ideas for healthier eating, when avoiding processed foods is not an option. My goal is to give you some inspiration for making healthier lunches, even when you cannot go with the fresh stuff. If you'd like to get the full picture, check out the first two parts:

Breakfast Foods: Your Healthiest Processed Food Options

Processed foods are located throughout the interior of the store. Because refrigeration is required for most meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables, processed foods have an obvious edge. Additionally, their much longer shelf life and already prepared status makes them a good match for our convenience-driven lives.

It is hard for some of us to think in terms of getting back to natural. Processed foods lose much of their nutritional value and often have preservatives and other no-nos on their ingredients lists. Yet, fixing fresh foods can become a habit with a little work on your technique. More on that in another post. Let's talk about some of the processed foods that are better choices, when ready-to-go is more of a must:

Protein Sources
  • Slices of lunch meat from the all-natural section can include ham, turkey, prosciutto, roast beef and pepperoni. Perhaps you will find others in your own natural foods store. My favorite indulgence at lunchtime is to take a couple of large slices of pepperoni or prosciutto (full sized) and place a slice of organic provolone cheese between them like a sandwich. Then I roll this us up and wrap it for lunch. Mmmm.....mmmm....good.
  • Take the above and add organic bread to make a healthy sandwich without the nitrates of many packaged lunch meats, and lots of fiber. Lettuce and tomato add vitamins, as well.
  • All kinds of nuts are now available at natural food stores in the bulk foods area. You can select the amounts and types of nuts you like and package them in small amounts to augment your protein for lunch or a mid-afternoon snack.
  • Granola is a similar, crunchy treat that is delicious when stirred into a container of organic yogurt. You get the combination of creamy, fruity yogurt, along with the crunchy granola. Don't forget to pack a spoon if you are taking it with you.
  • Edamame, steamed and salted, is a wonderful finger food with loads of protein, healthy fats and fiber. These can be eaten warm or cold. Packaged, roasted Edamame is also available.
  • Bean soups, as well as those made with chicken, turkey, beef or other meats, all make for healthy lunches, even if canned and heated up. Thermoses made with wide mouths are perfect for these takealong lunches. 
  • Assorted cheese and nut platters are a nice lunch, with a little flair. Add some dried apricots for a good balance and it will take on a Mediterranean feel, if you  are packing lunch on-the-go for yourself.
Toss in Some vitamins...the tasty kind:
  • Adding vitamins to your meals usually means fruits and vegetables. When choosing processed foods from the middle of the store, your choices are limited. Start with soups--preferably the ones that are full of veggies.
  • Dried fruits have a longer shelf life and add a nice variety to lunch. The ones in the photo above are Organic Dried Mango and Organic Dried Tart Cherries, both from The Healthy Edge.
  • Containers of jello, apple sauce, fruit salad, and diced fruit (peaches and pears); try to find the fruits that are packed in their own juices, rather than the sweetened ones. Unsweetened apple sauce is also available.
  • Vegetable and fruit juices are available in so many varieties and blends these days; there is no excuse for skipping juices, except cost. If the price tag puts your brakes on, simply add a bit of water to make the bottle go a bit further (about 1 part water to 3 parts juice will hardly be noticed). One more note: Don't forget the reusable bottles; you can do your part to help save the landfills, when packing your take along lunches.
Dairy Products
  • If dairy products are not on your no-no list, you certainly can derive a great deal of Calcium and protein from adding these to your lunches.
  • Yogurt, cheese slices, milk, cottage cheese, kefir or drinkable yogurt all have much to offer in nutrition. Watch the sugar content in yogurt, kefir and drinkable yogurt; some are higher than others.
Side Snacks
  • Try to avoid fried chips and shoot for baked ones, also watching for baked Pita chips and bagel slices. There are many seasoned varieties available now, some made with vegetables for extra vitamins and fiber.
  • Pretzels are generally lowfat, but I would suggest you watch the salt for anyone who may be advised to limit their intake.
  • Air popped corn is a high-fiber munchie that is also quite filling.
  • Baked tortilla chips add extra vitamins when paired with a small container of salsa or guacamole.
Before I put this all in my lunchbox, I should mention that water is king when it comes to beverages. Although I mentioned juices, they should never replace water. When fruit is not available, juice is your next best choice. Just don't forget the water.

I'll be back soon with my dinner ideas. Be sure to check back to read up on selecting healthier dinner options from the processed foods available.

Keep an eye out, too, for upcoming changes in the site. I have big surprises in store for you. Curious? Check back regularly. I don't exactly have a target date yet, but there will be a super duper DOT COM dipper happening here, along with a salon-style makeover. Don't worry guys, it's not a girly thing. Actually, it's so main stream you will probably ALL like it. Keep checking in. Feel free to send questions and comments.

One last thing. Do you like my cheap version of a Bento Box in the photo? I got that at Target for about $10 a couple of years ago. It has a fork and knife in the lid, for handy takealong lunches. You can learn more about it at an earlier article, Bento Boxes meet Target.

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