Are You Tired of the Granola Bar Lunch?

November 13, 2018 in Health, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

Lunch is often a full third of the daily caloric intake of individuals. It can be an important contribution in nourishing our bodies; or a semi-dud; that depends, of course, on what we eat. It seems as though many people finally understand that what we eat and what we don’t eat are highly correlated with staying healthy. But grasping the need to eat nourishing meals and implementing it are two different steps.

What’s easier than grabbing a granola bar or two as you run out the door in the morning? Don’t they at least keep you away from the office doughnuts and make available a quick lunch loaded with healthy grains? If so, you need to be sure you’re reading the labels to discover if your granola bar is really a candy bar concealed in a few flakes of oats – that is what most of them really are, in essence; a huge sugar load. They don’t cut the mustard to count as a healthy lunch. Maybe a few ideas about how lunch and mid-day eating away from home can be managed will be of interest to you; if you have been deceived by advertisers of the health benefits of some disguised sugary or crispy-salty treat. Although granola bars often sport labels with lots of marketing information (something like “This bar contains protein, plus a jillion vitamins and minerals.”) that may lead you to believe that they’re a good choice. Maybe if you’re super hungry and don’t have access to anything else, that could be an option. But let me share a few ideas that can liberate you from relying on a granola bar or other hyper-processed food and its deceptive marketing.

I’ll start by saying that as related to ease, I concede that there is no contest to the effortlessness of grabbing a granola bar or candy bar. But with a few tricks up your sleeve, you cannot only have something to fill your stomach, but in addition, you can have something delicious that offers variety, real nutrition and can even be something you will actually look forward to eating.

One of the powerful outcomes of bringing your own lunch is that you don’t need to face the calories and sodium of eating out; which are so often detrimental to your health. Let’s face it; if you don’t have something good waiting for you, you’re likely to head out to a restaurant or fast food establishment with the first suggestion by a business buddy.

Having an exciting homemade lunch waiting for you is often a matter of a little planning. Of course, it’s not a new idea to make extra dinner and pack the leftovers; but it’s an idea that may have been an old habit that you somehow discontinued. So don’t forget to revisit the idea of purposefully making extra servings. Sometimes stumbling on old habits is an “Aha!” moment; when we realize, “That worked for me in the past; I just got out of the habit.”

Another idea is weekend prepping. You don’t need to pack all the lunches on the weekend; but making a couple foundational recipes ahead could afford a nice variety of lunches during the week. If you’re a five lunch per week person, you could make two recipes on the weekend, which would provide four of the days. Certainly you can mix and match any way you like. Of course, I’m counting on you using your own creativity. Even if you repeat recipes frequently, you still are only having it once or twice a week, depending upon the way you design your lunch packing.

If you want to be traditional, you can begin with the three lunchtime “S’s;” salads, sandwiches, and soups.

Salads with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, freekeh and wheat berries as the foundation are easy to pack, transport and eat. Wild rice works too, but it’s generally more expensive. Whole grains take up the dressing without getting soggy. Also, you can put your dressing into a Ziploc bag or little snap cap container and put right into your salad container, if you don’t want the dressing mixed into the salad prior to eating.

If you want to keep salads exciting and something to look forward to, stop thinking of them as only lettuce, tomatoes and maybe a little cucumber. On July 23, 2010, I published A How-To for Salads; it might help you begin your own list of foods you want to include in your salad. I noticed that my 2010 list has nuts, seeds and beans separated out of the protein group; but, of course, there’s also protein in the grains and vegetables groups. Just by varying the ingredients, you can make almost endless taste combinations. One that I like is grapefruit segments and Great Northern Beans, in a varied chopped salad.

Find a couple of quick and easy salad dressing recipes that you enjoy and whip them up in a blink of an eye. This lime vinaigrette, for example, is very easy to make; but don’t stop here; there are thousands of dressing recipes on the Internet.
Lime Vinaigrette
¼ Cup fresh limejuice
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Clove minced garlic
¼ Teaspoon salt
1/8 Teaspoon pepper
5 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Wisk all ingredients together.

Don’t overlook pasta salads; now there are many excellent whole grain pastas available and pasta salads don’t need to be gooped up with too much mayo. You may want to try some recipes that use vinaigrette-style dressings on your pasta salads, so you can skip the heavy mayonnaise dressings. Or consider using protein-packed Greek yogurt or a mixture of Greek yogurt and a little mayo, to replace all or some of the mayo. Fill your pasta salads with plenty of diced colorful peppers; red onions; herbs; capers; tomatoes; pickles; toasted nuts. Consider serving on a bed of dark green lettuce or spinach.

Neglecting bean salads, including chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black beans, great northern beans, navy beans, wouldn’t allow you to enjoy the variety or nutritional punch legumes/beans provide. And, oh my goodness, I love the texture of beans added to regular green salads.

There’s nothing wrong with a traditional sandwich from time to time. Do your taste buds ever nag you for a chicken, tuna or egg salad sandwich? You can shrink the calories a bit by adding extra chopped celery, diced cucumbers, grated carrots, a little parsley, basil, dill weed, scallions (green onions), red onion and/or pickles; not to mention driving up the phytonutrients. Or you may want to consider using avocado, mustard, vinegar, pickle juice, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil to make it tasty without too much mayonnaise. One last way to keep the calories down in a sandwich is to use the whole-wheat sandwich thins; they’re only 100 calories for both halves. Have you ever had tuna, eggs and avocado sandwiches? Lemon or limejuice keeps the avocado a nice bright green. I like those flavors together. Tuna, white beans and hard-boiled eggs are another combination that gives your taste buds a little lunchtime celebration. A few raisins, dried cranberries, other minced dried fruits and/or chopped nuts are especially nice flavors/textures to add to a chicken or turkey sandwiches.

Consider doing a little research on Google; look for curried chicken or chickpeas and some veggies stuffed in a whole wheat pita or just on bread. Yum! There’re many recipes for delicious curried sandwiches.

Some sandwiches are nice put together immediately before eating. Bring the filling in a little container and put onto your bread or into your pita or wrap when you’re ready to eat. You can fill a sandwich bag with hummus, egg salad, chicken salad or tuna salad, for example, and when you’re ready for lunch you can snip off the corner of the bag; squeeze the bag, piping it into your pita or bread.

If you really want to put your salad or sandwich over the top, you may want to give dukkah a try. You can buy it or make it yourself; store it in the fridge and it will last quite a long time. One way to make it is: Chop about a cup of roasted nuts (all the same or mixed); about 1/3 cup of toasted sesame seeds; 2 tablespoons of coriander seeds; 2 tablespoons of ground cumin; 1 teaspoon ground pepper and a teaspoon salt. You can use a mortar and pestle and crush the coriander seeds if you like or put in food processor. You can vary it by adding herbs like thyme, oregano or even a few chili flakes. Because dukkah has been around for a very long time in Egypt and the Middle East, there is an endless list of recipes. It is especially nice sprinkled on mild ingredients like white beans, eggs and tuna salads or sandwiches.

One easy up-dated sandwich idea is:
Whole-wheat pita pocket filled with what ever you’re in the mood for:
Shredded rotisserie chicken
Greek yogurt
Cilantro garlic salt
Cherry tomatoes halved
Lemon/lime juice

I suggest you allow yourself to think of flavors that sound good to you; then do a Google search for recipes for the salad or sandwich that has the ingredients you’re craving. The hundreds of recipes to make exciting sandwiches and salads will probably shock you.

You may want to create a salad/sandwich ingredient list to have in the kitchen; so when you’re extra tired you can whip out the list and there are tons of ideas to get you started. You may want to use the Nibbling List below to get you started.

Making a pot of homemade vegetable soup is a wonderful way to support a goal of increasing vegetable intake. Over the years, I’ve posted many of my soup ideas; but you should definitely not feel restricted by anyone’s list of soup recipes. Homemade soup (controlling the salt) is a healthy way to not only nourish; but also deliver a medley of flavors to warm you on a chilly day. Some days a comforting bowl of soup is all it takes to make it through the rest of the workday. Today I made butternut squash soup; the vegetables (butternut squash, Roma apples, onions, and carrots) all roasted in the oven, while the bouquet garni (sage, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic) simmered in the broth. After the veggies and apples were tender, I removed the herbs and blended it with an immersion blender; then served the soup with toasted sunflower seeds and homemade bread, toasted and cut into croutons. The flavors, color and taste were perfect for fall.

Nibbling Foods
Do you ever want a nibbling lunch? I remember my grandmother called it “piecing.” I just recognized today that that use of the word has essentially evaporated from our present language. But nibbling is still alive and well. What I mean is that you’re so busy that you’re not stopping to put your hands on a sandwich or take a trip to the microwave to warm your soup.

Items for a Nibbling List – (consider making your own personalized list):
Jicama sticks
Carrots baby or sticks
Broccoli florets
Cherry tomatoes
Celery sticks
Bell pepper strips
Lettuce for wraps (turna, egg, avocado, beans, chicken, fish, salsa, hummus, whatever….)
Orange sections or circles
Apple – slices dipped in lemon juice for dippers (hummus or peanut butter)
Cuties, mandarins, Clementines easy to peel
Nuts, including peanuts
Seeds pumpkin, pine nuts
Whole grain crackers
Wasa crackers
Whole-wheat pita wedges
Peanut butter
Part skim string cheese
Rotisserie chicken
Cooked shrimp

If you ever have a little time to wander around on the Internet, you will learn that there are so many websites with fabulous ideas for creative lunches. Here's one I stumbled upon at Food52. [].

I hope you won’t forget your goals for improving your nutritional status – think whole grains; liberal use of vegetables and fruit; nuts, seeds and legumes that offer great nutrition and add texture and taste variety. In my mind, almost anywhere is an improvement, if you’re starting from the baseline nutrition of a candy bar or a granola bar.