Frances Largeman-Roth, health expert and author of "Eating in Color," knows it can be hard to keep that New Year's resolution to stay healthy when you're in an office all day. It's all too easy to get greasy take-out food for lunch, but Largeman-Roth gave Metro readers some tips on brown-bagging simple lunches with style.
1. Pick one day to prepare food for the week: It's essential to put aside one day to do things like cut up produce or cook grains. "You can rinse grapes and cut them up into little bunches and put them in plastic containers," said Largeman-Roth. "And things that are more time intensive, like cutting up fresh mango or pineapple, might take 20 minutes, but you'll have great snacks for the whole week." This goes for veggies as well: Largeman-Roth suggested cucumbers, jicama and sugar snap peas. She pointed out that setting aside one day will save plenty of time in the mornings, and snacks like fresh cut veggies will last the rest of the week.
2. Pre-cook grains: Largeman-Roth suggested cooking whole grain pasta or quinoa on your prep day to use for plenty of different dishes — just add a bit of olive oil to the pasta so it doesn't stick together, and use shapes instead of spaghetti or linguine. "You can make salmon or buy it and serve it over your pasta with roasted vegetables," she said. "Plan your meals around things that are going to last." Largeman-Roth suggests mixing quinoa with chicken and vegetables for a satisfying and high-protein lunch, or eating it hot as a breakfast cereal with dried fruit and maple syrup.
3. Get plenty of containers: Containers will save time later. Use plastic containers of all different sizes for portions of sauces, snacks and mains. That way you can grab and go when you're in a rush in the morning.
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4. Jazz up prepackaged microwavable food: Largeman-Roth pointed out that brands like Amy's and Annie Chun's offer healthy, low-sodium microwavable meals like pizza or sticky rice. Get creative and add fresh ingredients to these lunches to make them healthier and more filling. Largeman-Roth suggested adding avocado to a microwaveable burrito or walnuts to a pizza. "I took Annie Chun's Sticky Rice and added some stir-fried vegetables and two teaspoons of gochujang sauce, and it made a really yummy rice bowl you can easily make at work," said Largeman-Roth. She also suggested adding hummus, cucumber and mini pitas to turn a boring veggie burger patty into a satisfying meal.
Largeman-Roth said it can actually be better to get a microwave lunch instead of take-out. "Restaurants don't have to list the nutrition — all you have to do is taste it and know it's high sodium, but you don't know how much is in there," she explained. "The one good thing about packaged food is you know the nutrition information."
5. Freeze meals ahead of time: You can also make your own frozen meals. "Pretty much any kind of soup freezes well, and chili is especially hearty and good to make during the winter time," said Largeman-Roth. "You can freeze them in airtight containers for up to three months." She also suggested freezing lasagna. "You can use ground turkey or ground bison which is low on fat, and you can do a really amazing vegetarian one using spinach and mushroom or butternut squash."
6. Throw in seasonal produce wherever possible: You don't need a special recipe to use seasonal vegetables or fruit. Dishes like frittatas, homemade pizzas and pastas are a great way to incorporate healthy vegetables into your diet. "Using a vehicle you are familiar with, like a quiche or frittata, is a great way to introduce a new, healthy ingredient," said Largeman-Roth. She suggested adding beets to pasta or kale and mustard greens to frittatas. Largeman-Roth also said microwave quesadillas are a great way to add in black beans or vegetables to your lunch. "You can use whole wheat or gluten-free tortillas for your dietary needs and bring a little container of salsa or Greek yogurt," she said.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark