Sprucing up lunch: Preparing creative meals can be quick and easy for school or work

2013-09-25T00:00:00Z 2013-09-26T18:51:04Z Sprucing up lunch: Preparing creative meals can be quick and easy for school or workCarrie Steinweg Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Tired of the same old, same old lunch getting packed up for work or school? Lunch is an important meal that helps get you through that mid-day hump and energizes you for the rest of the day ahead.

If you just can’t do another peanut butter and jelly or bologna on white bread, we have some ideas that will help transform that brown bag or lunch box into a healthy, colorful feast of flavors and textures that will have you smacking your lips in anticipation of the noon hour.

The first thing you can do is re-invent the main part of the meal. If a microwave is handy where you sit down to eat, there’s no reason to settle for a sandwich, when you could have a hot meal. Pasta dishes, chili and stew are hearty meals that can be easily transported if you have a means of heating them. There are also a variety of thermoses that will keep such dishes warm for hours.

Terri Sakelaris, Registered Dietician/Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator at Fitness Pointe in Munster recommends doing extra cooking on the weekend so that you have leftovers to pack a substantial meal for lunch during the week. “Whatever you are throwing on the grill, make extra and use it for lunch. – chicken or salmon are great cold,” she said.

To cut down on carbs, alternatives, such as those made by Flatout Flatbread allow you to enjoy a sandwich in healthier fashion. Flatout has flavors infused in the wraps, including Italian Herb, Garden Spinach and Sundried Tomato, which adds an extra layer of flavor. Large lettuce leaves or tortillas are also a great alternative to bread.

Sakelaris also suggests dicing up cooked chicken or other meats to make a salad that can be scooped onto crackers or pita chips. “Purchasing a whole chicken and cutting it up yourself is so much cheaper and there’s no salt added,” she said. “You can add spices, like curry, and add avocado with lime juice or apples.” She noted adding spices can also help curb your appetite. “When something is spicier, you can’t eat it as fast and you get filled up faster.”

If heating pasta at lunchtime isn’t a possibility, Sakelaris suggested cooking up pasta to make cold salads that can use meats and vegetables as add-ins. Meatloaf can also be served cold. Cold pizza is also a fantastic lunch meal when you’re in a sandwich rut. Pizza can be made ahead on anything from English muffins to flatbread to tortillas, loaded with cheese and vegetables and packed up to enjoy when you’re away from home.

Adding different textures to your meal can be another way to change things up. If you’re used to a soggy sandwich, try adding some crunch with pickles or even chips between the bread.

You can bring in some nuts or crackers to add some extra texture, too. Dip graham crackers in yogurt or add nuts or seeds to a salad. One tip from Sakeleris in adding crunch is buying the mini bell peppers, which can be eaten like an apple, leaving the middle core, which eliminates the need for lots of chopping and slicing.

While a bento box traditionally contains fish, rice and vegetables in the Japanese culture, the portioned containers are a great way to pack up a variety of healthy bites for a lunchtime meal. Kids especially enjoy the little divided areas for finger foods and it’s a good way to get them involved in planning out healthy meals by letting them help fill in the sections. Items with thin liquids have a tendency to leak, but any other bite-sized items or thicker side dishes that taste good at room temperature make great fillers.

The following are among good Bento Box fillers:

• Sugar snap peas

• Grapes

• Granola

• Blueberries

• Raisins

• Sesame sticks

• Grilled bell peppers

• Cheese cubes

• Goldfish crackers

• Light cole slaw

• Hummus

• Salsa

• Bean salad

• Jello cubes

• Nuts

• Dried fruits

• Sliced cucumber with dill

• Melon

• Boiled egg slices

• Pretzels

• Popcorn

• Grape tomatoes

• Kiwi

• Stuffing

• Potato wedges

If you're looking for some lunch ideas, try the following recipes.

Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Wraps

1 1/2 pounds peppered bacon, thick-sliced

6 10-inch flour tortillas

6 tablespoons mayonnaise, OR salad dressing

1 10-oounce bag iceberg lettuce, shredded

3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

DIRECTIONS: Place bacon slices side by side on griddle. Cook on medium heat until crisp and browned on both sides.* Drain on paper towels; keep warm. For each wrap, place flour tortilla on plate; spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise over top. Place 1 cup lettuce, about 1/2 of a tomato and 3 to 4 slices cooked bacon on top. Roll from one side to the other. Cut in half.

Serves 6.

*Baked Bacon Option: Place bacon slices side by side on a rack in a shallow baking pan with sides. Bake in a 400º F. oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until crispy. Drain well on paper towels.

For variety, add 2 peeled, seeded and chopped avocados or 1/2 cup chopped red and/or green bell pepper.

Ham Pizza Snacks

1 7 1/2-ounce package refrigerated biscuit dough

Nonstick cooking spray

1/4 cup pizza sauce

2/3 cup ham, diced

2/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

DIRECTIONS: Spray cookie sheet with nonstick spray. Separate biscuits and flatten on cookie sheet, leaving space between so edges do not touch. Spread 1 teaspoon pizza sauce on each biscuit. Top each biscuit with 1 tablespoon of diced ham and 1 tablespoon shredded cheese. Bake in a 400 degrees F. oven for 8-10 minutes or until biscuits are light brown and cheese is melted.

Serves 10.

Saucy Pizza Pockets

1/3 pound ground pork

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

3/4 cup pizza sauce

1 16.3-ounce package refrigerated biscuits

2/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded OR pizza blend cheese

16 slices pepperoni, OR Canadian-style bacon

DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Place ground pork and garlic salt in large skillet over medium-high heat; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until pork is no longer pink. Stir in pizza sauce and cook, stirring, until heated through.

Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Flatten each biscuit into a 4-inch circle. Spoon 1 tablespoon of meat sauce onto one side of the biscuit. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cheese and top with 2 slices of pepperoni or Canadian bacon. Fold dough over the filling, forming a half-moon shape. Pinch edges to seal well. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with additional cheese if desired. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 8 snack servings.

Recipes are from The National Pork Board

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