You proudly pat yourself on the back after the first week of January. You stuck to your resolution and took your lunch to work every day instead of ordering takeout. However, your joy in your newfound resolve falters before the groundhog sees his shadow, and you start to resent your once-favorite wrap or sandwich.
Workday lunches don’t have to be boring — or cost you a small fortune in takeout fees and tips. You can jazz up your typical fare with a little creativity, making it worthy of a 4-star restaurant right at your desk. What can you do to beat noontime boredom? These five tips with spice up your healthy work lunches.
1. Invest In A Bento Box
When you compare the typical school lunch fare between Japan and the U.S., you’ll notice some impressive differences. You won’t find a white crust with a token swipe of tomato sauce and a sprinkle of cheese in the land of the rising sun. Instead, their lunches resemble full, healthy meals, replete with steamed, simmered and sauteed veggies in nearly every dish instead of a single side.
How can you emulate their healthier practices and spice up your lunch without access to a full school kitchen? The answer is a heated bento box. These devices provide various cooking compartments that help you assemble a hot lunch right at your work desk. You can experiment with multiple bowl recipes consisting of the following components:
You won’t feel deprived when you sit down to a piping-hot Japanese-style steak bento bowl with rice, broccoli and toasted peanuts. Best of all, you can skip the sodium-rich soy sauce many takeout restaurants use, substituting a lower-sodium tamari to keep your blood pressure in check.
2. Remember, Salsa Means Sauce
Americans tend to think of salsa as only a dip for chips, but folks south of the border know the word translates to “sauce” in Spanish. This tangy stuff is good for far more than dipping crispy tortillas. It’s a low-calorie, highly-nutritious way to spice up your healthy work lunch.
How can you use salsa outside of chips? Here are some fun ideas:
- Spice up your breakfast burrito: Make-ahead breakfast burritos are great when you have to get you, and the kids nourished and out the door, but they can be flavorless. Not when you dip them in spicy salsa.
- Dress your salad: Skip the calorie-laden ranch. On average, salsa contains only ten calories per serving and can transform any salad into a southwest vacation.
- Top a baked potato: If you must have cheese, make it go further by starting with a layer of salsa and going light on the cheddar. You can also use this condiment alone as a substitute for butter.
- Slather your sandwich: Why opt for sugary ketchup when salsa won’t spike your glucose levels and adds more flavor?
3. A Touch Of Lemon
Your typical home cook might think of lemon as little more than an addition to tea, but professional chefs know better. A splash of acidity brings out the flavor of nearly any dish, which is why so many restaurants include a lemon wedge on the side of various dishes. It cuts grease and heavy tastes to make your meal taste fresher.
The joy doesn’t stop at lemon juice. Are you tired of boring grilled chicken and veggies? It’s not tough to make some lemon compound butter. The zingy flavor reduces the size of the pat you need to melt to make your food pop. What if you don’t want to add more liquid? A bit of lemon zest will add zip without leaving your meal soggy.
4. Sprinkle On A Salt Substitute
You should take it easy on the salt shaker. While it has no calories, it draws water into your blood vessels, increasing the pressure and strain on your heart. How else can you get the flavor without the side effects? Try the following:
- Herbs: You can find herb blends that contain little to no sodium and tons of flavor. You don’t have to reserve them for marinades — sprinkle them on the finished product. Many, like oregano, have various health benefits.
- Potassium blends: Potassium is another vital electrolyte that helps flush excess sodium from your system. You can find salt substitutes replacing sodium with this mineral or half-and-half combinations. Use sparingly.
- Light tamari sauce: While all soy-based sauces have some sodium, tamari has roughly 25% less than soy on average. You can find light formulations that reduce the levels even further — try it instead of salt when making homemade soups to freeze and take to the office.
5. Go Subtly Sweet
What’s for dessert? Your options extend beyond the break room vending machine and its collection of candy bars.
Fruit makes an excellent lunchtime dessert. Try dipping your apple slices in yogurt to make it even tastier while keeping it healthy. Honey is relatively high in calories but contains tons of polyphenols that benefit your health. A few honey-caramelized pears make a sweet way to spice up your healthy work lunch.
Spice Up Your Healthy Work Lunches
Did you resolve to take lunch to work this year to save money and improve your health? If so, how can you keep boredom from derailing your resolution?
Try the above tips to spice up your healthy work lunches. You’ll keep more green in your wallet while enjoying a better meal than you could get from takeout.