Packing a Healthy Lunch

Bringing a brown bag lunch to work or school every day is a great way to save money.  It is also a good strategy to ensure a healthy meal.  When buying your lunch out, it can be difficult to navigate your way through the hamburgers, French fries, and pizza as well as the excessive portions for only $0.25 more!  When you are already hungry and making these choices, chances are the enticing fried, salty or sugar items will win out.  You may be in heaven during your first few bites, but by the end of lunch you realize that you shot yourself in the foot. 

Being prepared can help you avoid this situation and prevent the scale from slowly creeping up as you have a ‘special’ meal every lunch.  Over the weekend, plan out your week.  The way I see it, there are plenty of different ways to pack a health lunch but there are a couple of things that I always keep in the back of my mind.

  1. Do you have all 5 food groups? – protein, fruit, vegetable, grain, dairy. 
  2. Will this satisfy you until you get home?
  3. Do you have a beverage?

If I have answered yes to these questions, I’m in pretty good shape.  Having all 5 food groups is an easy way to ensure diversity in texture, flavor, and nutrients.  It also prevents having much of one thing.  Ever open a lunch and realize that it is all carbohydrates? UN-satisfying, which brings me to criteria number 2. 

Even with hitting all the food groups, choosing too many low calorie options can be just as bad as the opposite.  If you are still hungry after your lunch, you may go make an impulse purchase of chips or a pastry which pretty much un does everything.  If you know that you will not be satisfied without something sweet, work it in.  There is nothing to say a piece of chocolate cannot fit, just cover your bases first. 

Finally, having a beverage completes the meal.  Its unlikely that you would sit down to dinner without one, why go without at lunch?  I usually just have a water bottle but I miss it if I forget.  Drinking with your meal can help to fill you up and slow down your eating.  It can also help with satiety.  Frequently, we can misinterpret thirst as hunger and then overeat.  Toss in whatever beverage you want (avoiding empty calories would be ideal) and you have a complete lunch!

Need help coming up with ideas? Look no further!

VegetablesVegetable Collage

  • Salad – For ideas check out Making a Worth While Salad
  • Plain veggies/veggies with dip – baby carrots, celery, and peppers are easy options
  • Leftovers – That batch of roasted broccoli or zucchini will taste just as good today as it did last night

FruitFruit Collage

  • Whole fruit – toss in a banana, orange, apple, plum, pear, whatever is in season
  • Dried fruit – apricots, raisins, and dried cranberries keep well so buy in bulk
  • Fruit cups – individual servings of fruit packed in their own juice will stay fresh
  • Frozen fruit – Put your favorite frozen fruit in a Tupperware and by lunch it will be thawed. Try cherries, mango, or pineapple

GrainsGrain Collage

  • Bread or a wrap on a sandwich – whole grains are best, the fiber will help fill you
  • Crackers – triscuits, wheat thins, multi-grain, or water crackers
  • Rice or pasta – there are some microwavable options or this is another opportunity to use up what’s in the fridge

ProteinProtein Collage

  • Lunch meat – turkey, chicken, roast beef, or ham
  • Beans or chicken tossed into a salad – bring the chicken in a separate container, heat it up in the microwave and then add it
  • Nut Butter – classic peanut butter or some of the trendier types including almond butter, sunflower butter and sesame butter
  • Tuna, chicken, or egg salad – can be a sandwich or a side.  make on batch and use it for a couple days

DairyDairy Collage

  • Slice of cheese on a sandwich –
  • Yogurt – regular, Greek, plain or fruited, there are so many options now, there is one out there for you
  • Cheese spread – now I’m not talking about Cheeze-Wiz, but something like Laughing Cow Wedges to have with veggies or crackers

 

 

 

 

What are your lunch staples?

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Making a Worth While Salad

Salads have the reputation of being the go to food for health and dieting.  But we frequently hear the warning, “Beware at restaurants!” because in all honesty, purchased salads lack the nutritional value that should be inherent in a bowl of vegetables.  More often than not, when perusing the salad section of the menu, I will see that the composition is greens, tomato, maybe carrots – and then the add-ons begin.  Chicken, bacon, cheese, dressing, candied nuts etc.

As someone who typically brings a salad for lunch, I am just annoyed that no one in food service (save for maybe a vegetarian or uber health conscious establishment) can create a tasty salad that is primarily vegetables.  Don’t get me wrong, I think adding some extras are fine, but the base needs to be improved.  So here are my guidelines for making an appropriate salad at home.

  1. Should include a minimum of 5 vegetables.  There is more in this world than tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots!
  2. Iceberg lettuce doesn’t count.  It has so little nutritional value, its primary contribution is hydration.  Just have a glass of water and call it a day.
  3. Try and have a minimum of 1/4 cup of each vegetable chosen, with closer to 1 cup for leafy greens.  This way you can get a substantial amount of nutrients from each ingredient.
  4. Keep it colorful! Different colors signify different vitamins so by diversifying your choices, you can maximize the health benefit.
  5. Once you have done the above, feel free to add chicken, bacon or cheese, but limit it to one serving.  Salads are mixed dishes so keep the ratio proportional.

In order to adhere to these rules, you may need to break out of some old habits.  Here are my top 10 vegetables to try.

Alfalfa  1. Alfalfa Sprouts

These actually contain protein in addition to fiber and vitamin K.  They also offer a nice stringy texture in comparison to the typical crunch.

babycorn  2. Baby Corn

Growing up, my mom used baby corn in stir fry and I loved the novelty and the flavor.  When I was home recently, I scoured the cabinets trying to get a 5th veggie for my salad and I stumbled upon a can of baby corn, tossed it in and it worked very well.

Beets  3. Beets

This has been a relatively new addition to my vegetable repertoire.  I tried a grapefruit/beet salad and realized that beets are much more mild that I had originally thought.  The vibrant color makes your meal so visually pleasing.  They are also a good source of folate and manganese.

Bell Peppers  4. Bell Peppers

Known for vitamin C, these peppers come in 4 colors so you can mix and match to give your plate some color.  Examine what you have and fill in the gaps to get the most nutritional value from your meal.

Broccoli and Cauliflower  5. Broccoli and Cauliflower

Take these from the veggie tray to your bowl.  You can try them raw or cooked (blanching is a good way to soften them a little while preserving their nutrients).  These are both excellent sources of vitamin C and protein, and good sources of vitamin K and fiber.

Celery  6. Celery

CRUNCH! My favorite thing about celery.  It has a reputation for being a diet food, but it doesn’t feel like it when its mixed in with everything else.

Mushrooms7. Mushrooms

These fungi provide protein and B vitamins.  White mushrooms tend to be more mild, start with those first if you don’t usually eat them.

Onions8. Onions

And I’m not talking about French’s onions.  Regular diced or sliced onions offer B6 and fiber.

Radishes9. Radishes

These pretty little veggies will add a pop of pink to your salad.

water chestnuts10. Water Chestnuts

A good source of B6 and copper.  Purchase a can and its easy to add them without much prep time needed.

 

Now doesn’t this all sound much more exciting?  To make it easier on yourself, you can get plenty of these items canned, frozen, or pre-cut.  All these items offer vitamins, minerals and fiber while remaining lower in calories.  By establishing a good base, you can keep your salad healthy, even if you do choose to top it with some more ‘fun’ items.  Personally, I add a tablespoon of bacon bits, sliced deli turkey and honey mustard dressing to pull it all together and have a complete meal.

Try out a few of these veggies in addition to some of the staples like lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers to see what you like.  You will never know until you try it!

What are your favorite salad vegetables?

Nike Training Club for Cross Training

During my training for my half marathon, in addition to running, I need to complete weight lifting, cross training in addition to running. That’s great! But how do you know what to do?

In college, our gym was fully equipped with every weight lifting machine you could need, so that was never a problem. Now, I don’t belong to a gym and just use the one in my apartment complex which is a great space, but pretty limited in its supplies. But even with all those machines, what exactly is cross training?

Fortunately, technology has come to my rescue. I use Nike Training Club.

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It’s a free app that has a TON of workouts. These range from full body cross training routines or they focus on a specific area of the body like your core or legs.

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I really like this app. It has a nice variety of exercises and puts them together in a way that gives enough challenge but doesn’t overwhelm you. To get the most appropriate routing, it has you select your difficulty level. It also repeats exercises so you get used to them but still throws in new ones and changes the combinations to keep it fresh.

During your workout of choice, you can play any music you want. The music will automatically quiet down when the app instructs you on an exercise, or when it offers encouraging phrases like “dig deep” or “your doing great”.

The next thing that I really like is that it keeps track of everything so you can monitor your progress. It shows the specific workouts with a date stamp. It also keeps track of your overall minutes. When you reach certain minute markers, you earn badges and sometimes unlock prizes like smoothie recipes or bonus workouts.

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If you are looking for a way to incorporate cross training that incorporates free weights and doesn’t require any large equipment, this may work well for you. It can also teach you different exercises you can do on your own if the app itself isn’t for you. Because its free, try it out for a few workouts and if you don’t like it, no harm done.

Something that I keep in mind is that if a particular exercise is just too difficult, it is okay to modify it. I would rather do a less challenging version that to just give up. For instance, if something is too difficult with weights, I will still go through the motions without them. I figure this will help me build up my strength and work towards being able to do the exercise full out.

I’m curious what other people do for cross training because I’m sure that there are a million different ways to go about it. So let me know what works for you!

How do you cross train?

Sit Down Breakfast – Pumpkin Pancakes

Time for the third installment of veggies at breakfast!  First we had Zucchini Bread and Loaded Carrot Muffins, both of which were more ‘on the go’ type breakfasts.  For those, you can make them over the weekend and consume them gradually over the week.  This installment is a little bit more of a sit down.  If your doing a big weekend breakfast with family or friends, throw this recipe into the mix for a little extra nutrition.  Some of the other interns got together, went all out and we thoroughly enjoyed it all. 


Pumpkin Pancakes

IngredientsPancake Collage
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instead of using allspice, cinnamon, and ground ginger, I had a pumpkin pie spice mixture.  This produces a pretty mild flavor, so if you want to really taste it, I would double the pumpkin and add maybe an extra tsp. of spice. 

DirectionsPancake Collage 2
  1. Mix flour, brown sugar, baking soda, spices and salt into one bowl.
  2. Mix milk, pumpkin, egg, oil, and vinegar in another bowl.
  3. Combine dry and wet ingredients, stirring out any lumps
  4. Take 1/4 cup of batter and put it on a medium/hot griddle.  Allow to cook until bubbles disappear then flip.  Remove when cooked through and serve right away!

Nutritional Facts: Makes 12 Pancakes. Calories: 134, Fat: 3g, Sodium: 304mg, Potassium: 134mg, Carbohydrate: 24.4g, Fiber: 1.2g, Sugar: 7.1g, Protein: 3.9, Vitamin A: 65%, Calcium: 9.9%, Folate: 11%, Manganese: 12.9%, Riboflavin: 10, Selenium: 11/3%, Thiamin: 12%

To get the most out of this recipe, I am going to pop the leftovers in the toaster to warm them up, add a bit of butter and that’s it! Because they already have the spices and pumpkin, they don’t need syrup by any means.  I am going to have PLENTY of breakfast options this week and next.

What is your go to dish for a big weekend breakfast/brunch?

Veggies on the Go – Loaded Carrot Muffins

Time for some rainy day baking.  We had a storm hit the Maryland area, so I took it as an opportunity to try out another way to bake with vegetables.  My last recipe was Zucchini Bread which was a total success so I am confident I can incorporate another veggie: carrots.

I found a great recipe for fully loaded muffins.  This is a great way to have some vegetables available on the go that will still be delicious in the morning.


Loaded Carrot Muffins

IngredientsCarrot Muffin Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 apple – peeled and shredded
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups of carrots worked out to be 4 medium sized carrots.  I grated them by hand which took about 20 minutes.  If you have a food processor, I would recommend using it.  You can also purchase pre-shredded carrots if time is an issue.  The apple was much easier to grate and only took a few moments.

Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease muffin tin or line with baking cups.
  2. Peel and grate carrots and apple into a bowl.  Add raisins, walnuts, and coconut.

Carrot Muffin Collage 2

  1. In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. Combine the two bowls, mixing thoroughly,
  3. In another bowl, beat together the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla.  Add to other mixture and stir evenly.

Carrot Muffin Collage 3

  1. Pour into tins and bake for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before removing.

Carrot Muffin Collage


Nutritional Facts: Makes 16 servings.  Calories: 314, Fat: 18g, Cholesterol: 30mg, Sodium: 289mg, Potassium: 150mg, Carbohydrate: 35.5g, Fiber: 1.8g, Sugar: 20.7g, Protein: 3.6g, Vitamin A: 34%, Vitamin E: 15.5%, Folate: 10%, Manganese: 17%, Thiamin: 10.4%

These are definitely not a low calorie muffin.  Because there are so many different add-ins, they have a lot of nutritional value (fiber, protein, vitamin A, E, and Folate) but that also means they have a solid amount of calories.  I would have this as a breakfast by itself or with a piece of fruit.  If your running late, this would work well to eat in the car.  They turned out really well.  Nice and moist with good flavor. They have a density to them that makes me think they wont get crumby and make a mess.  And because they contain fat, carbs and protein, they are pretty filling and satisfying.

What is your favorite muffin recipe?

Veggies at Breakfast Time – Zucchini Bread

In honor of National Nutrition Month, I chose a special topic – eating vegetables at breakfast.  Frequently, I feel that vegetables get overlooked in the morning and people tend to gravitate towards fruit.  For varieties’ sake, I sought out ways to add different veggies into your morning routine.  My first solution: Zucchini Bread.  Before this, I had actually never tried zucchini bread, so this was a big experiment.  Here is how I made it:


Zucchini Bread

IngredientsZucchini Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups of zucchini works out to be about one large zucchini.  Its relatively soft, so it was very easy to grate quickly.

Direction
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease two 8 x 4 pans.  You can also use 8 x 8 pans for a shallower bread that is sized more like a brownie. 
  2. Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar.
  4. Add the dry mixture, slowly mixing it in.  Beat well.
  5. Stir in zucchini and walnuts if desired (Alternative: sprinkle walnuts on top before baking)
  6. Pour into pans and bake for 40-60 minutes.  Allow to cool for 20 minutes for cutting.

Zucchini Bread CollageZucchini Bread Collage 2


This recipe turned out so well!  It was so moist and flavorful and the nuts gave it a great texture.  You definitely can not tell that there is zucchini in it so I would stay it is a ‘”stealth health” success.  I could see kids really liking this, so if you have a picky eater on your hands, you now have one more tool to get in all their servings of fruits and vegetables. 

Nutritional Facts: Servings 24, Calories: 255, Fat: 13.2, Sodium 180mg, Carbohydrate: 32.3g, Fiber: 1.1g, Protein: 3.3g, Vitamin E: 10.3%, Folate: 9.8%, Magnanese: 17.6%

Take a slice of this as breakfast on the go or have it as a side.  It is calorie dense, so it could be a full breakfast.  If you want to pump up the nutrition, sub in some whole wheat flour, reduce the sugar and add more zucchini.  Because this is baking, I wouldn’t make any drastic shifts but tweaks here and there can definitely improve the nutrition content.

More recipes to come this week. Enjoy!

How do you work vegetables into your day?

Nike Training Club for Cross Training

During my training for my half marathon, in addition to running, I need to complete weight lifting, cross training in addition to running.  That’s great! But how do you know what to do?

In college, our gym was fully equipped with every weight lifting machine you could need, so that was never a problem.  Now, I don’t belong to a gym and just use the one in my apartment complex which is a great space, but pretty limited in its supplies.  But even with all those machines, what exactly is cross training? 

Fortunately, technology has come to my rescue.  I use Nike Training Club.  IMG_0878[1]

It’s a free app that has a TON of workouts.  These range from full body cross training routines or they focus on a specific area of the body like your core or legs. 

IMG_0881[1]

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I really like this app.  It has a nice variety of exercises and puts them together in a way that gives enough challenge but doesn’t overwhelm you.  To get the most appropriate routing, it  has you select your difficulty level. It also repeats exercises so you get used to them but still throws in new ones and changes the combinations to keep it fresh. 

During your workout of choice, you can play any music you want.  The music will automatically quiet down when the app instructs you on an exercise, or when it offers encouraging phrases like “dig deep” or “your doing great”. 

The next thing that I really like is that it keeps track of everything so you can monitor your progress.  It shows the specific workouts with a date stamp.  It also keeps track of your overall minutes.  When you reach certain minute markers, you earn badges and sometimes unlock prizes like smoothie recipes or bonus workouts. 

IMG_0882[1]

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If you are looking for a way to incorporate cross training that incorporates free weights and doesn’t require any large equipment, this may work well for you.  It can also teach you different exercises you can do on your own if the app itself isn’t for you.  Because its free, try it out for a few workouts and if you don’t like it, no harm done. 

Something that I keep in mind is that if a particular exercise is just too difficult, it is okay to modify it.  I would rather do a less challenging version that to just give up.  For instance, if something is too difficult with weights, I will still go through the motions without them.  I figure this will help me build up my strength and work towards being able to do the exercise full out. 

I’m curious what other people do for cross training because I’m sure that there are a million different ways to go about it.  So let me know what works for you!

How do you cross train?