It was recently Healthy Workplaces Week and we are lucky to have received some fun and useful tips and recipes for healthy workplace meals from the writer of Feast with Sophie, a new and delicious vegetarian food blog. Check out her other recipes here and read on for some great ideas for healthy workplace snacks! Thanks so much for your suggestions, Sophie!
For a long time, packed lunches held a rather negative connotation for me. Of course there were the sweet, faint memories of school-yard Dunkaroo exchanges and pizza Fridays; but they were outnumbered by the more recent thoughts of one too many uninspiring cellophane-wrapped cheese sandwiches, hastily packed in the morning before I rushed off to work. Although I've always loved food, I had a sort of strange mental block when it came to transferring that love to my work lunches. They were just an afterthought - something that I should probably remember to bring, but that otherwise held little interest for me.
Then, slowly but surely, I started experimenting with what I brought: little tupperwares of spinach salad topped with precisely 12 almonds; rich pasta leftovers from the night before; two lunch boxes' worth of mini-meals to keep my metabolism revved up throughout the day; a sad peanut butter sandwich on a slice of white bread because I was trying to be frugal; and, of course, take-out from the Thai place down the street. All with varying effects on my mood and productivity throughout the rest of the day.
But now, after many, many failed experiments with packed lunches, I've figured out what works for me: making sure it's something I'll look forward to (I know - groundbreaking.) I may have the best of intentions when I pack up my un-dressed quinoa salad, but if it leaves me feeling unsatisfied, I'll be much more likely to spend money on packaged/pre-made food that I don't need and that may not be that delicious (or good for me). And then I'll be more likely to feel crabby and unproductive.
I'm not suggesting we all start listening to the unreasonable voices in our head screaming out for cake or poutine for lunch every day. But I do think that, as long as we cover the basics - a few servings of vegetables, enough energy (from whatever source works best for us) to get us through the day, and an emphasis on whole rather than processed foods - there's a lot of room to make lunch feel like a treat.
With that in mind, here are a few of my favourite healthy and delicious go-to work lunch ideas and some links to recipes from around the web for make-ahead meal inspiration.
1. Grain-based salads
I love these sorts of salads because they're easy to make in bigger batches, they're hearty and filling, and they keep a lot better than leafy salads do. Simply cook up a few servings of your favourite grain, toss it into your dressing, top with your favourite veggies, perhaps some sort of additional protein, and a bit of something textural or creamy or just plain delicious on top.
A few of my favourite combinations are:
- Barley + lemon & olive oil + spinach + basil + toasted almonds & sunflower seeds + avocado
- Couscous + oregano & olive oil + roasted bell pepper, zucchini & eggplant + cherry tomatoes + feta
- Quinoa + Asian-style peanut dressing + crunchy bell pepper, edamame & red cabbage + cashews + cilantro (This one is a winner!)
- Wild rice + maple dressing + winter squash (This seasonal beauty looks incredible!)
2. One-pot wonders (soups & stews)
As we head into full-blown fall, a thermos full of something warm, comforting & hearty can be the perfect work lunch. Whip up a big batch of whatever soup you like on a Sunday night, and you're good to go for 3 or 4 lunches. (You could also double your recipe and freeze half of it for a later date.) The beauty with this sort of lunch is that typically, the longer it sits, the better it gets.
Really any combination of veggies with any number of grains or pulses will work to make a great soup or stew, so you can get creative! Start by choosing a base - either broth, tomato, or even coconut, to name only a few - and then throw in a few types of vegetables and, as a finishing touch, some sort of hearty, filling starch: potato, rice, beans, pasta... the world is your oyster. Or try out one of these autumnal recipes:
- Curried sweet potato and coconut soup with lentils & rice
- Mushroom & lentil stew
- French onion pumpkin soup
- Middle Eastern-spiced squash & bean stew
3. Open-faced sandwiches
My boss at an old office of mine was Spanish, and no matter how busy she was, she always found time to have a proper lunch. This often meant open-faced sandwiches. She brought thick, crusty slices of bread to the office, toasted them, then covered them in all manner of delicious things. This while the rest of us nibbled away on our tragic pb&j while throwing longing glances her way. (Only a mild exaggeration.) And while assembling your sandwich at work does require marginally more effort than either of the above options once you're ready to eat, if you do have the 3-4 minutes to spare, it's a great option. It keeps your bread from getting soggy, particularly if you're a fan of tomato or sandwich spreads, and eating it open-faced style means you can enjoy your meal for twice as long as a regular sandwich, thus giving your body and mind the time to process your feeling of satisfaction. And of course, if you don't have a toaster at your office, sturdy un-toasted bread or Scandinavian-style large, hearty crackers are also good options.
Really anything goes, but here are a few suggestions:
- Goat cheese spread with lemon, mint & pomegranate seeds
- These Danish-inspired spreads and toppings
- Mashed avocado + salt & pepper (and if you want to spice things up a bit, The Kitchn has tons of suggestions for easy additions
Again, whatever you bring to work, make sure it's something you'll actually want to eat. For many of us, packed lunches happen five times a week and give us a moment of respite from otherwise hectic days - so we might as well enjoy them!
What are your healthy workplace snacks? We would love to hear about them in the comments below or email us!
Photo credit: Sophie Boisvert