Megan O. Steintrager
Are you trying to increase energy to get through your workday (or workout), lose weight, or generally improve your diet? Eating lunch-one that's healthy and delicious-is as important as having a wholesome breakfast. "No skipping lunch!" emphasizes Tina Ruggiero, M.S., R.D., author of The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook: Mega-Nutritious Meals That Are Inspired, Delicious and Fad-Free. It's one of your three main opportunities during the day to not only satisfy your appetite but also get crucial nutrients into your body for overall well-being.
In fact, rather than grabbing a hasty take-out lunch or mindlessly munching away on snacks because "there's no time to eat," the best way to eat better at lunchtime-or at any other meal, for that matter-is to make your own food. Doing so empowers you to make healthier choices, since you control the ingredients and portion sizes. And Ruggiero points out that even if you end up having to eat at your desk, as she does four days a week, "having packed a healthy lunch gives you peace of mind" that you're taking care of yourself, no matter how tight your schedule.
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Think you don't have time to make a healthy homemade lunch? Think again. The recipes and tips gathered here can help make a healthier lunch easier and quicker to prepare. Take Ruggiero's advice and then challenge yourself to create a healthy lunch every day-including weekends-for the next month. Soon, "you'll be in the groove of planning ahead and asking yourself what you can pack the night before," she notes. And chances are, the habit will stick. That is, as long as you're following another of Ruggiero's principles: Make lunches that are not just nutritious but delicious-and even exciting. "A healthy lunch is one you want to eat," she affirms.
"If you don't have junk, you can't eat it," proclaims Ruggiero. It's a simple concept that requires some self-discipline. Next time you stock up at the supermarket, instead of reflexively filling the cart with the same old standbys, she suggests shopping for lunch foods in much the same way as you would scour the racks for a great deal on clothes: Scout around and be selective. Take time to explore the inner aisles of the grocery store, where you'll find healthy pantry items such as tahini paste, ancient grains, pastas, dried beans and lentils, and new types of bread and bread stand-ins to try, such as pumpernickel, grainy rolls, naan, flatbreads, and whole-wheat tortillas.
Above all, be adventurous, and "try things you wouldn't ordinarily go for," Ruggiero advises. For example, canned tuna-"the unsung hero of the pantry"- is often on shopping lists since "it's cheap, it lasts a long time, and it's extraordinarily healthy, especially for the brain and vision." But don't stop there: Check out the other canned and cured fish, such as sardines, kippers, mackerel, salmon, and trout. Two of her sandwich recipes, Kippers and Bits (canned kippers or sardines) and Scandalous Scandinavian (smoked salmon and hard-boiled eggs), take advantage of these highly nutritious-and inexpensive-sources of protein. And when you do head to the outer aisles, stock up on hardier flavor-boosters such as chiles and lemons in addition to other fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
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Remember that a truly healthy lunch should also help you hit some of your recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables. "Phytonutrients [plant compounds that include flavonoids and carotenoids], such as those found in fruit and vegetables, have powerful health-promoting abilities that we're just beginning to discover, so including fruits and vegetables at lunch-at every meal, really-can only be beneficial," says Ruggiero. So go ahead and add extra greens or sliced vegetables to your sandwich, mix an extra portion of cooked veggies into your pasta, or finish your meal with a piece of fruit.
See the rest of these small, easy changes for healthier lunches exclusively at Epicurious.com
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Delicious Lunch Box Recipes for Kids
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