A recent Health Canada report on sodium showed that most of the salt in our diet comes from bread, processed deli meat and cheese. What does that mean? Typical deli sandwiches are not the best lunch option because they are high in sodium, which is not good for heart health.
So, think beyond bologna and cheddar sandwiches when you’re packing lunches at home. As staples, bread, meat or cheese are fine for lunch, but not in combination as a sandwich, and not every day!
Instead, you want to make sure your lunch has lots of vegetables and fruit, a good source of protein (such as fish, poultry, beans, tofu, yogurt, eggs, etc.) and some healthy fats from nuts, seeds and oil. That’s the best combination for preventing heart disease and stroke.
Bringing lunch from home can help you save money, reduce food waste (if you take last night’s leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch) and allow you to be in control of what foods you will eat. If mornings are rushed, pack lunch the night before. It requires some planning, but gets easier once you make it part of your routine.
If you’re making your own mid-day meal to tote to work, these fresh ideas are fantastic:
- Lettuce wraps: Flour tortillas can be salty, so use leafy vegetables instead. Large leaves from cabbage, Swiss chard or kale make excellent alternatives to tortillas, and can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients, including tuna, hummus, goat cheese, beans and veggies.
- Jar salads: Add olive oil-based vinaigrette to the bottom of the jar, then layer hearty ingredients that do well in a marinade, such as chickpeas, beans, carrot, peppers and cubed chicken. Add lettuce last so it stays fresh. When ready to eat, invert the jar onto a plate so lettuce lands first and the rest of the ingredients – and dressing – follow.
- Sushi to go: No time to artfully wrap seaweed-covered sushi rolls? Here’s a hack: To a bowl of brown rice, add torn seaweed (nori – available at any grocery store), carrot, cucumber, avocado, canned salmon or edamame, and a dash of sodium-reduced soy sauce and rice vinegar.
- Mini frittatas: What freezes well and makes a great lunch? Small omelets or egg frittatas baked in muffin tins. Make them with kale, sweet peppers and shredded carrots for extra vitamins. And pair them with whole grain bread and fresh fruit.
- The snack lunch: If you tend to graze rather than eat a whole meal at one time, fill compartments of a container with trail mix (nuts, seeds and dried fruit), cubed cheese or chicken, whole grain crackers, cut vegetables and fresh fruit, and eat as needed.
- Grain bowls: Made famous by Instagram, these delicacies start with a grain like quinoa, pot barley or bulgur as the base, and are decorated with your favourite vegetables, and a protein source such as cubed turkey, lentils or tofu. They are drizzled with sauce such as tahini-lemon or Thai peanut. You can keep them in the fridge for about four days. Set aside some time Sunday night to prep enough lunches for the week!
- Yesterday’s salmon: Making fish for dinner? Grill up some extra to pack at lunch. You can use it atop salad greens, pack it in a small pita, or flake it into a grain-based salad.
- The fruit ‘n’ nut wrap: Love your sandwiches but want an alternative to ham & Swiss? Try nut butter and banana wrapped in a whole grain pita or tortilla. Pair it with plain Greek yogurt or grab a latte for extra protein.
- Breakfast for lunch: No time for a sit-down meal in the morning? Enjoy breakfast foods at lunch. Try hard boiled eggs and sliced tomatoes on whole grain bread; a thermos of oatmeal with a sprinkling of nuts and fruit or scrambled eggs with chopped veggies and some whole grain pita; or a yogurt, fruit and nut parfait.
- Dip it! Use a container with small compartments to arrange some vegetables and whole grain pita or crackers. Add hummus to one container, and a yogurt-based tzatziki (yogurt cucumber dip) to the second container. Dip and enjoy.
Keep track of your favourite lunch ideas and have preferred ingredients on-hand so you can make lunches quickly.