Revamping your Packed Lunch
With pubs, restaurants and many cafes being shut for weeks now and schools starting to open this month, the packed lunch has likely played a much bigger part in people’s lives than normal. This is likely to continue due to the global pandemic and with people having also to find new ways to ‘get outside’ with family and friends, picnics are the perfect way to enjoy time outside. Many people will still have concerns about buying takeout food or indeed are still unable to venture out amongst other people for health reasons. So let’s take a look at how to revamp the old packed lunch, because whether you are an adult or a child, there is no reason why you can’t make your packed lunch exciting, delicious and healthy, all at the same time.
A packed lunch is not limited to a sandwich, packet of crisps, piece of fruit and a chocolate bar or biscuit. If this describes your packed lunch then hopefully this article will provide a little more inspiration and creativity to your packed lunch, which will add to your lunchtime enjoyment. However, many people are ‘sandwich people’, and if you are in this category, you are one of the many that do not count a packed lunch as a packed lunch if it does not contain a sandwich, so especially for these people let’s take a quick closer look at sandwiches.
The bread you choose for your sandwich will make ALL the difference to the final result and with all the breads available nowadays you can have a hard choice on your hands to know which is best to choose. Most people, even if they don’t abide by it, will be aware that the general consensus has always been that brown breads are healthy and white breads are not. However it is not quite as simple as that and it can be very easy to be misled by labelling, leading you to buy breads that you believe to be healthy and wholesome, when in fact this is not the case at all. Generally speaking whole grain breads are the healthiest, but remember whole grain bread is NOT the same as whole wheat bread, they are different things and you should always opt for the whole grain option. This is because whole wheat bread undergoes a similar refining process as white bread where much of the goodness such as wheat germ and bran are stripped from it and only partially replaced. Whole grain breads contain the full ‘whole grains’ and so provide a nutrient and fibre dense bread. If you are not sure check the label as it will state 100% wholegrain.
There is also increasingly positive research showing the health benefits of consuming sourdough bread, which is likely down to the fermentation process that it undergoes and which may alter its starches and make them healthier and far more easily digestible. This is particularly the case for diabetics and those needing to manage their blood sugar levels as well as those suffering from IBS symptoms where benefits have been seen in some studies, although more research is needed to conclude these effects. So if you insist on your packed lunch containing a sandwich, opt for either whole grain bread or sourdough to ensure you are getting maximum health benefits.
For sandwich fillings, the only limitation on this is your imagination, as there are so many delicious ingredients out there now that the choice is endless. Cold roasted vegetables such as peppers, shallots, baby corn and even broccoli can make a wonderful sandwich filling when combined with a scraping of pesto and some slices of fresh cheese. This is also a great way to improve your vegetable intake to increase your chances of reaching your ideal of ‘ten a day’. Adding finely chopped celery, carrots and avocado to a yogurt and fresh lime mix is also another tasty option, which again bulks out the filling and increases your vegetable intake.
Ok, that’s enough of the sandwich as we want to try and revamp the standard packed lunch after all, so let’s take a look at more creative alternatives to the sandwich.
You might be familiar with the blueberry muffin or the chocolate muffin, but what about the butternut squash and feta muffin, or the parsnip and pepper muffin or the carrot, courgette and mozzarella muffin or the halloumi, sun dried tomato and courgette muffin (hopefully these will be fluttering your taste buds)?
All of these are super delicious, incredibly easy to make, fantastically healthy and even better, can be made in a large batch and frozen. Taking them from the freezer in the morning they will be defrosted and ready to eat by lunchtime, so no more faffy sandwich making and a good time saver too on those mornings you are running late. Like sandwich fillings the ingredient options for savoury muffins are endless. You can make these muffins from wholemeal flour, white flour, gluten free flour or even rice flour and there are many recipes to choose from on line so you will definitely find something to tantalise those taste buds.
Savoury muffins are also a great way of disguising vegetables from children and getting them to eat what they usually won’t, so a great tasty, but healthy addition to any child’s lunch box.
Crisps are a popular favourite of the nation for packed lunches, but many varieties, including vegetable ones, contain high levels of fat, salt and sometimes flavour enhancers such as monosodium glutamate, which many people can be intolerant too. Why not therefore make your own vegetable crisps using the veg you are likely to have in your kitchen. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potato all make tasty crisps and are very easy to make. Start by heating your oven to 200oC. Chop all the vegetables very thinly so they are round in shape and rinse them under the tap briefly, before patting dry with a paper towel. In a bowl place about 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil and coat the sliced vegetables thinly in the oil. Lay these vegetables in lines, on greaseproof paper upon a baking tray and bake in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until they are crispy and golden. Leave to cool. Once cooled these crisps can be kept fresh in an air tight container for a few days and are another tasty and healthy addition to the lunchbox.
To many people the word ‘salad’ is synonymous with the word ‘boring’, but that most definitely does not have to be the case. Salads can be a great way of eating more fruit and vegetables and if you are also one of the many people cutting out or down on flour, wheat or just bread, then they make a good alternative to sandwiches or savoury muffins. Don’t just stick with the same usual classic salad ingredients though, or they will become boring. Instead of lettuce as a base, use chopped fresh herbs, which can really make a salad and the taste buds come alive due to the wonderful flavours they provide. A mixture of parsley, coriander, basil and mint are great choices. Herbs packed full of nutrients, so they offer a variety of health benefits too that bog standard lettuce does not offer. For example, Basil leaves contain a natural compound called eugenol, which has been shown to aid digestion, has a strong anti-inflammatory action as well as having a positive effect on the nervous system with some evidence showing it could possibly help alleviate mild depression and anxiety. Coriander also contains many medicinal compounds that have been shown to have many health boosting properties including, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, helping aid digestion and reducing diarrhoea symptoms. Coriander also contains Citronellol, which has antiseptic properties and has been found to be useful in the treatment of mouth ulcers.
To bulk out the herby salad above add a healthy grain such as quinoa or rice or add pulses such as lentils of chickpeas. This will help provide a good source of fibre and protein and help to make your salad more filling and more energy dense so you won’t get hungry again within an hour of eating it. To this you can also add all sorts of colourful fruit or vegetables, nuts, seeds, anchovies etc. to make a salad packed full of nutrients. You could also simply dress your salad with fresh lemon or lime juice, which is an effective way of boosting your vitamin C levels and giving your salad a bit of a zing.
Whether you are a child or an adult, no lunch box would be complete without a sweet treat. This sweet treat though does not have to mean a chocolate bar or a high sugar yogurt or a biscuit. These are all fine for an occasional treat but are not healthy options on a daily basis. Quick equivalents to these can be easily used instead and can even taste better in some cases.
For a sweet hit why not add a couple of Medjool dates to your lunch box. These literally are like eating smooth, soft caramel and hard to believe that something that tastes so naughty and delicious has some fantastic health benefits too.
Medjool dates are an excellent fibre source, something that most people severely lack in their diet, but that is essential for healthy digestion and bowel function. They are also high in antioxidants, which are important for brain function and overall health, and they are also a good source of several vitamins and minerals including potassium and B Vitamins. Medjool dates can also be used to make chocolate energy balls, which when combined with cashew or almond nut butter and cocoa powder make a sweet chocolatey tasting treat, which are perfect for the lunch box and also freeze exceptionally well too. Other ingredients can also be added to these small chocolatey date balls including coconut, crushed walnuts and ginger.
Popcorn is another excellent choice to add to a lunch box and can make a great sweet treat. The small addition of maple syrup, honey or cinnamon transforms popcorn into a lip licking treat and will be popular with both kids and adults alike. If you are also watching your weight, popcorn is very low in calories but a high fibre source so will help keep you fuller for longer and help prevent you snacking later.
We are all guilty of getting stuck in our old ways, and the current situation of the lockdown and Covid 19 crisis has shown us that we have all had to change and adapt our usual ‘normal’ and make changes where perhaps we haven’t made them before. This shows it can be done, and making a healthy change to your lunchbox should therefore be relatively easy in comparison to the changes we have had to make in the last three months, and will not only make a nice change for your taste buds but give your body a healthy boost too.