Do you bring your own lunch to work most of the time, or is picking up something on your lunch hour part of your routine? Preparing and packing lunch can often seem like a chore. After working all day, commuting home, fixing dinner, cleaning up, and doing other household tasks, the last thing you may want to think about is getting lunch together for the next day. “I’ll do it tomorrow morning,” you say, sinking into a chair and settling in to watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix. But the next morning is more hectic than the evening before, and suddenly you find yourself leaving home without a lunch, resigned to eating fast food or ordering takeout again.
Obviously, part of this pattern is simply due to the increasingly busy lifestyles we’ve come to accept as normal in the 21st century. In addition, there’s often a misconception about the value of fast food. “I’ll just get a burger without the bun and a side salad off the dollar menu with an iced tea. That’s a great low carb meal for the money,” you reason when lunchtime comes around. After eating, you head back to your office, feeling good about your choices. But was that lunch truly a bargain? More importantly, did you consume a health-promoting meal, or was the low carbohydrate content its only redeeming feature?
Fast food establishments began offering “value menus” in the late 1980s, and, not unsurprisingly, they were an instant hit. Who doesn’t want to get a good deal on food? At around a dollar a piece, these items are among the most popular fast food options. The meal described above might cost as little as $4.00, which is fairly inexpensive for eating out but still higher than a similar meal prepared at home. In addition, the quality of meat is inferior and loaded with preservatives (remember the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser?), and the side salad is typically a dish of iceberg lettuce, universally agreed as being the least nutritious type. Many fast food and quick-serve facilities also fry or grill with polyunsaturated vegetable oils, which are unstable at high temperatures. Although these offerings may not do much harm if consumed occasionally, why not choose to prepare most of your lunches at home in order to save money and provide your body with nourishing, satisfying foods that support a healthy low carb lifestyle?
Realistically, it should only take around 10 minutes to get your lunch together the night before, and even less time if you’re packing leftovers from that night’s dinner. It doesn’t need to be a formal recipe with lots of ingredients. Just make sure to do it that night rather than wait until the next morning. Remember that old adage: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s also true!
Below I’ve listed a week’s worth of examples of healthy, low carb salads you can take to work and eat in your office, lunchroom, or preferably outside, weather permitting. These are meals that I regularly pack and take to work myself on the days I’m not eating leftovers. They are all easy to prepare, filling, and provide high-quality protein, healthy fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Each contains less than 12 grams of usable carbohydrate.
Layer plain Greek yogurt, 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper, ⅓ cup guacamole, and 2 tablespoons chopped black olives in airtight container.
Dice feta cheese. Thinly slice cucumber, ¼ purple onion, and ½ green bell pepper. Slice ½ cup cherry tomatoes in half. Add 2 tablespoons chopped black olives. Place cheese and vegetables in container and top with olive oil and fresh or dried basil.
Dice salami, cucumber, and ½ cup roasted red peppers. Place in container. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese, green olives, olive oil, and red wine vinegar.
Wurst und Kaese Salat (Swiss sausage and cheese salad)
Shred 2 cups green cabbage and place in container. Dice bratwurst or knockwurst and Swiss cheese and place on top of cabbage. Mix together 2 teaspoon heavy cream, 2 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar. Add dressing to salad and toss to incorporate.
Chicken Salad with Guacamole
Mix cold, shredded cooked chicken with ⅓ cup guacamole and place in airtight canister.
Tips for making the lunches
Shop once a week and purchase the freshest produce, meat, and dairy you can find.
Pick up prepared guacamole to save time. It’s less work and often less expensive than buying your own avocados, and depending where you live, the fruit may be rather tasteless at certain times of the year.
Purchase cold, precooked sausage (bratwurst, knackwurst, Polish sausage) in packages.
If you’d rather not measure the vegetables to make sure you’re getting the exact amount, that’s okay. Eyeballing it usually works well, and you’ll probably only be off by a couple of carbs at most.
Substitute other foods (ie, leftover steak or chicken instead of salami) for variety.
Leftovers are fantastic for brown bagging, even if you don’t have a microwave to heat them up. Try cold curried chicken, Asian stir-fry, or low carb lasagna. Delicious!
Bring ¼ cup nuts (pecans, macadamias, and hazelnuts are lowest in carbs) and/or a small square of very dark chocolate (at least 80% cocoa) to finish off your meal.
Hopefully I’ve convinced you of the ways you’ll benefit by spending a few minutes to prepare low carb lunches at home, rather than relying on fast food or takeout for midday fuel: increased satiety, great taste, lower cost, and most importantly, fresh food with high nutritional value. Ready to make your grocery list?