Starting in January 2010, I decided to make a concerted effort to eat heathier lunches - and try to save some money while doing it. For years, I've bought lunch during the workday - either from a cafeteria or from a nearby supermarket. While I've tried to keep these lunches healthy, it wasn't until I read Superfoods and other books that I realized that as "healthy" as I tried to keep my lunches, I wasn't taking advantage of the nutritional benefits of many foods. I was also getting quite bored with the local salad bar that had limited choices, some of which would be close to rancid.
This is my attempt to improve my lunches, my spending, and my overall health - not just keeping lunches low on calories, but also maximizing the nutritional benefit of vitamins and micronutrients in natural foods.
I have a number of criteria for a successful lunch. I wanted my lunches to be...
- Satisfying. When I've had unappealing salads in the past, I would tend to snack more later in the day. I need to face facts: A bowl of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes won't cut it for me. I need something more substantial to keep me satisfied longer.
- Highly nutritious. I got on a bit of a nutrition kick after reading Superfoods.
- Inexpensive. I can easily spend $5 (or more) on a sandwich. Can I have better lunches for less money?
- Quick to prepare. I'm at work; I need to fit lunch within 30 minutes. The prep time for these meals needs to be very short.
- Easy to prepare. If I were at home, I'd have a world of appliances and cookware available to me. But I'm at work. These meals can't require use of an oven or stove (microwave and toaster oven are okay) or carving knives (plastic knives are okay), and other equipment must be kept to a minimum.
- Low on waste. I'm not a fan of throwing out food - I'd rather plan ahead and get only what I need. And if I'm looking for value, throwing away half of a can of beans decreases the value of a meal by half.
- More interesting than salad. I get bored of traditional salads pretty easily. The lunches I'm proposing here are un-salads: they will often contain salad-like ingredients, but they're more along the lines of a meal than a salad.
So, can I do it? Can I create meals that are healthy, inexpensive, easy, and delicious? Let's find out!
By the way - proper health also requires decent breakfasts and dinners, as well as exercise. For breakfast, I've been using nonfat vanilla yogurt from a large container, combining wild blueberries (get them frozen, microwave them for ~20 seconds), and wheat germ - a recent discovery that isn't bad at all!
I've tried to keep the list of equipment as short as possible. Here's what you'll need if you want to make the meals on this page:
- A small strainer
- A can opener
- Containers for leftovers
- Access to a refrigerator, freezer, and microwave oven
|Cost||$1.39/day, plus incidentals|
|Total Cost||$4.17, plus incidentals|
|Equipment||Can opener and storage containers for the peas and tomato; strainer for the peas|
- Wash a bunch of the spinach and put it in a bowl.
- Drain and rinse the chick peas. Add about 1/3 of the can of peas to the bowl.
- Use a fork to take out 1/3 of the stewed tomatoes, and add them to the bowl. You might also want to add a little of the juice from the can.
- Top with cracked pepper, if you wish.
This un-salad can be a little messy - the leafy spinach has a tendency to fling tomato juice around - so eat carefully, but enjoy! If ripe cherry tomatoes were in season, I would have used those; but since the SuperFoodsRx book says that canned tomatoes are as nutritionally complete as fresh tomatoes (I would doubt that claim a little bit), I feel comfortable adding them to this un-salad, and adding some additional flavor with the Italian stewed tomatoes.
You'll finish the chick peas and tomatoes after 3 days, but you'll have leftover spinach. Coming up soon: Leftover Salad, with spinach, cilantro, and corn!
|Cost||$1.39/day, plus incidentals|
|Total Cost||$5.57, plus incidentals|
|Equipment||Can opener, strainer, and storage container for beans; microwave for frozen squash|
- Get a plate; fill approx. 3/4 of the plate with butternut squash cubes. Microwave on high for about 1:30.
- Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans with your strainer.
- Get a bowl. Add the squash, then about 1/4 of the beans (store the rest), and about 1/4 of the salsa.
- Toss. Top with cilantro, if you wish.
This is a nice meal - it's filling and flavorful. The salsa is your source of tomato vitamins.
The fresh cilantro cost $1.99 for a bunch. I only used a couple of leaves here, so I didn't add it to the expenses. I'd only recommend cilantro if you plan to use hefty quantities of it in another meal - otherwise, you may wind up throwing away what you don't use (I find that cilantro keeps for around 1.5 weeks if stored in the fridge).
|Cost||$1.50/day, plus incidentals|
|Total Cost||$5.98, plus incidentals|
|Equipment||Can opener and storage container for salmon|
- Get a bowl. Throw some spinach in it.
- Add about 1/4 of the salmon; store the rest in your leftover container.
- Add corn kernels, or something else colorful, if you wish.
- Add salad dressing
First, let's be clear: Canned salmon is not pretty. It may contain skin and bones. But salmon is also extremely good food you. As long as you don't mind picking out pieces of vertebrae (you can eat the smaller bones, they're not noticeable), you'll have a nice, healthy lunch.
In my first attempt at this, I added sunflower seeds for an extra helping of good fats (you can see them in the picture). I don't recommend adding sunflower seeds, or anything along that level of crunchiness, because you won't be able to tell if you're eating a seed or a fish bone.
I use only a few corn kernels for a more vibrant appearance; because I used so little corn, I didn't add it to the expense list. If you have some frozen corn, throw a couple of kernels on. I don't even find it necessary to microwave the corn (as long as it's not frozen too solidly).