“Grown Up” Healthy Brown Bag Lunch

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Thinking of saving calories and cash, taking a healthy lunch to work is one of the simplest ways to trim your budget, and keep your diet in check! Even the best lunch deals add up over time.

Aside from saving a little money, generally meals packed at home are healthier than foods at restaurants. When we eating out, we’re faced with larger portions and fattening extras — like the French fries that come with sandwiches.

When you pack lunch at home, you can control your portions and choose healthier ingredients.
Still, unless you’re willing to eat the same peanut butter sandwich day in and day out, it’s easy to run out of ideas and fall back into the restaurant rut. Here are some healthy, creative lunch ideas that are not only cheap, but also easy to prepare.

Lemon Orzo Chicken and Veggie Salad
(This is one of my very favorites)
1/4 cup uncooked orzo
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon honey
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
1/2 cup diced English cucumber
1/2 cup prechopped red bell pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain and place in a large bowl.

While orzo cooks, combine lemon rind and next 6 ingredients (through black pepper), stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle juice mixture over orzo; toss to coat. Add chicken and next 4 ingredients (through dill); toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.

Black Bean and Quinoa Salad
(Quinoa contains more protein than any other grain. Edamame makes a tasty substitute for lima beans in this recipe.)
1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
3 cups organic vegetable broth
1 (14-ounce) package reduced-fat firm tofu, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (10-ounce) package frozen baby lima beans
4 cups chopped tomato (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Spinach leaves, optional

Combine quinoa and vegetable broth in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until broth is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Remove from heat.

Place tofu on several layers of paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tofu; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sauté tofu 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat; cool completely.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, basil, and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk until blended. Stir in quinoa.

Cook lima beans according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Cool completely. Add the lima beans, tofu, chopped tomato, green onions, chopped carrot, and black beans to quinoa mixture; stir gently to combine. Store, covered, in refrigerator until ready to serve. Add to the nutritional value and serve on a bed of fresh spinach. Serves 10.
Shrimp and Edamame Stir-Fry
1 cup frozen shrimp, shelled and thawed
1/2 cup Edamame, shelled and steamed
1/3 cup broccoli florets, chopped
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown rice, cooked

In a pan over low-medium heat, sauté shrimp until cooked. Add edamame and broccoli. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. Drizzle the sauce over the stir-fry. Serve with a side of brown rice.
Tomato and Seashells Stacked Soup
1/2 cup lower-sodium marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup cooked whole-grain small shell pasta (about 1 oz. uncooked) (or other favorite)
1/2 cup zucchini noodles, zucchini ribbons, or chopped zucchini
1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese

Combine marinara, pepper, and salt in the bottom of a 1-pint wide-mouth jar. Layer in pasta, zucchini, spinach, and cheese; seal. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Add very hot water to jar to within 1 inch of rim. Cover and let stand 2 minutes before eating. Serves 1. Of course you could easily make several servings of this great dish at once.
Avocado Pork Wrap
1/2 cup mashed peeled avocado
1 1/2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
4 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
1 ½ cups (1/4 inch think) pre-sliced roasted pork
1 cup shredded iceberg lettuce
1/4 cup bottled salsa

Combine the first 7 ingredients, stirring well.

Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spread about 2 tablespoons avocado mixture over each tortilla, leaving a 1-inch border. Arrange Simply Roasted Pork slices down center of tortillas. Top each tortilla with 1/4 cup shredded lettuce and 1 tablespoon salsa, and roll up. Serves 4.
Tuna Pita Sandwich
1 whole-wheat pita pocket
1 can of white tuna in water
3 tablespoons fat-free salad dressing
1 tablespoons horseradish mustard
1/4 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 tomato, sliced
Cut pita pocket in half and toast. In a small bowl, combine tuna with dressing and mustard until mixed well. Stuff pita pocket with the mixture, and add lettuce and sliced tomato. Serves 1.
Chicken Salad with Butternut and Baby Kale
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon molasses
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups baby kale
1/2 cup diced peeled butternut squash, roasted
2 tablespoons red bell pepper strips
2 tablespoons chopped pecans
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ounce skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 1/4 cup)

Combine oil, vinegar, molasses, and mustard in a small bowl. Arrange kale on a plate or in a container; top with remaining ingredients. Top with molasses mixture.

Written By

Photo of Tammy Kelly, Ed. DTammy Kelly, Ed. DCounty Extension Director (252) 527-2191 tammy_kelly@ncsu.eduLenoir County, North Carolina
Posted on Mar 10, 2017
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