Cooking Basics: Lunch Recommendations

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How many of you are still eating Thanksgiving leftovers? For me, leftovers are best the day after Thanksgiving; after that, they start to grow a little old. But I do love turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Chances are, for most of us, it’s back to work or school this week. Assuming you’ve all been eating a healthful breakfast to jumpstart the day, the next meal that deserves a little scrutiny is lunch.

Lunch is a funny meal. I don’t mean funny “ha ha,” but funny in that people often don’t know what to do about this meal. Since we don’t have a cafeteria at work, some of my colleagues buy lunch every day at the nearby Panera, Chipotle,, or one of the handful of pizza and burger places. Others, like myself, tend to bring lunch more often than not — either leftovers (unfortunately, some of them bring fish, and you know what THAT smells like in the microwave!) or what I sometimes call a makeshift meal of fruit, crackers, and whatever else happens to be in their desk drawer. Yes, people have been known to make a lunch out of a packet of oatmeal. Then, there are the folks who tend to skip lunch. I have no idea how they can do this, but they do. Inevitably, though, this leads to pretty much nonstop eating once they get home from work. Is there one “right” lunch to eat? No, just as there’s no one right breakfast.


Lunch is kind of the underdog of meals. Dinner gets most of the attention, and breakfast, with a minimum of effort, is pretty easy to fit in. Whether you’re at work, at school, or at home, my belief is that lunch is just as important to eat as the other two meals. If you have diabetes, you may need to eat something midday, depending on the diabetes medicine that you take. But what do you eat for lunch? Eating out can be fun — for a while — then it starts to wear thin. How many burgers or burritos can one eat? And the cost can quickly add up, especially if you’re spending five dollars or more for a sandwich or salad and a drink. Frozen meals can definitely work, but they’re often not enough to satisfy, leaving you scrounging for your coworker’s hidden cookies or hitting the vending machine at 3 PM. That pretty much leaves bringing your lunch. Bringing your lunch is definitely worth the effort for the following reasons:

  • Unless someone is trying to surprise you, you always know what you have for lunch.
  • You’ll save money and time.
  • You’re in control of the ingredients and portions.
  • It’s easier to count and control carbohydrate, fat, and calories.

But does lunch have to consist of a boring tuna fish sandwich or a bowl of high-sodium soup from the can? Not necessarily, unless you’re not willing to put a little effort into it. To help make planning a lunch easier on you, consider the following:

  • Balance your nutrients. In other words, skip the notion of just eating carbohydrate for lunch or just a salad or even just a chicken leg. As with all meals, you’ll feel better and your blood glucose will be easier to manage if you aim for some carbohydrate, some protein, and some fat. Use the plate method (see my posting from two weeks ago) as your guide.
  • Fit in at least one vegetable or a piece of fruit. This goes back to balancing your plate, but it also helps you get in your daily servings of fruits and veggies (which includes fiber, vitamins, and minerals).
  • Be creative. Don’t feel locked into eating a sandwich just because it’s lunchtime. Take leftovers from last night’s dinner (if you don’t have leftovers, cook more next time).
  • Fix your lunch the night before. If you’re always running out the door in the morning, you likely won’t take time to pack a healthful lunch.
  • Invest in some sturdy microwavable containers (skip those flimsy containers from the deli) that can hold a decent sized portion of food.
  • As best you can, figure out the carbohydrate content of your meal (or exchanges) so that you’re not scratching your head several hours after lunch wondering why your blood glucose is so high.

Need ideas for what to bring for lunch? Check out these options:

  • Canned tuna mixed with light mayo or salad dressing with added chopped bell peppers. Stuff into a whole wheat pita pocket.
  • Last night’s chicken breast, sliced over Romaine lettuce or baby spinach, drizzled with your favorite dressing. Sprinkle on some fresh berries and a handful of walnuts. Add some melba toast or crispbread for carbohydrate.
  • Whole wheat tortilla filled with vegetarian refried beans, salsa, lettuce, and part-skim mozzarella. Add a piece of fruit or a cup of low-fat yogurt.
  • Reduced-sodium soup (or homemade soup) with breadsticks and a couple of wedges of light Laughing Cow cheese.
  • Toasted peanut butter and all-fruit spread on whole-grain bread (it’s not just for kids!).

What do you like to eat for lunch?

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