In the (Lunch) Bag

One of the most important (and difficult!) aspects of healthy eating is maintaining your diet of choice even when you are busy and away from home. This takes planning. This takes preparation. This takes huge insulated lunch bags:) But it can be done!

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Most people who pack a daily healthy meal fall into one of two categories: they prepare dinner the night before and pack leftovers for the following day or they prepare lunch for several days or a week at a time. I fall into the second category. I choose to eat simply in the evenings and do all of my meal preparation for the week on Sundays.

The contents of my lunch bad are influenced by the seasons and the sales. I bookmark recipes that interest me although I also fall back on old favorites. I make sure that my choices are balanced for nutrition and flavor (my fiance often jokes that I must use the rainbow as inspiration as he sees my piles of red, orange, purple and green veggies filling the counters). If I have a more rigorous week ahead, I plan for more filling foods. If I have been indulging recently, I may cut back.

Every weekend, I tame mounds of raw ingredients and I transform them into neatly stacked Tupperware that fills the lower half of the fridge.

Every weekend, I will share the contents of my lunch bag, the recipes or their locations and the reasoning behind my choices.

I hope that you can find some inspiration and motivation to fill your own lunch bag and please feel free to share any of your favorite lunch bag recipes as well!

*All of my recipes will be gluten free and vegetarian to fill my needs. Most can be modified to add meat or gluten. Please share your tips and tweaks!

** I am no food photographer. Again, busy:) This is real life, folks!

The Single Best Casual Dinner Party Dish Ever. Period.

Little did I know when I first made this meal for my now-fiance on our fourth date, that it was going to become a staple in our lives. Within hours, he was bragging to his friends about the kick a$$ (vegetarian!) Mexican lasagne that he (a meat eater!) had for dinner. We hosted a party not long after we became an established couple and, of course, I made the lasagne. It’s now been three years and any time we have friends over for dinner, they always ask for this dish. The recipe has made its rounds through my work and through my social groups. I’m making today to take on a girl’s beach weekend, where I’m sure it will be shared some more. It’s been tweaked and adapted, but always enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a taste through the screen, but I can enumerate the reasons that this has become the go-to recipe in my life:

1) As written, it is vegetarian, gluten free, soy free and nut free, pleasing many dinner guests with food limitations.

2) It can be made vegan by replacing the cream cheese with this vegan version made from cashews (note: not nut free), replacing the skim milk with a non dairy version and eliminating the cheese in the layers or replacing it with a vegan shredded cheddar cheese substitute (note: this may not be soy free).

3) Although it is vegetarian, I have never had a meat-eater complain about the lack of animal protein. It’s a one-dish-pleases-all meal!

4) It’s super easy to make – basically throw stuff in a pan (after chopping:) ) and stir for a bit, layer the ingredients and bake.

5) It’s great for parties or local travel because you can make the filling ahead of time and then assemble and bake when you’re ready.

6) It’s very adaptable. Depending upon the intended eaters, sometimes I kick up the spiciness by adding some chili powder and/or more jalapenos. I also throw in other vegetables at times – mainly carrots and/or summer squashes. Don’t like an ingredient? Simple, leave it out.

7) It’s inexpensive, especially when zucchini and peppers are in season.

8) And, last but certainly not least, it is healthy, packed full of vegetables and beans.

Convinced yet? Mouth watering?

Here’s the recipe! (adapted from The Gluten Free Vegetarian Kitchen)

Mexican Lasagna

1 tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1-2 cups chopped bell peppers

2 zucchini, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 can pinto beans

1 can black beans

1 can kidney beans

2 cups salsa

1 tbs chili powder

1⁄2 tbs cumin

2 tbs lime juice

8 corn tortillas

8 oz shredded cheddar and/or Monterey jack cheeses

8 oz reduced fat cream cheese

1⁄4 skim milk

1 tbs Chipotle Tabasco sauce
Sauté the veggies in oil until tender. Add beans, salsa, spices, and lime juice and stir for 3 minutes at medium high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes. Arrange 4 of the tortillas in a greased 13” x 9” pan. Top with half the bean mixture and half the shredded cheese. Repeat. Cover with foil (spray the inside of the foil with cooking spray first so that it does stick to the cheese) and bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine cream cheese, milk and Tabasco in a small sauce pot. Stir over low heat until smooth. Cover the baked lasagna with the cream cheese mixture.

Some awesome serving ideas:

  • Top with sliced avocado
  • Top with nonfat plain Greek yogurt (tastes just like sour cream!)
  • Serve with baked corn chips to turn it into a dip
  • Top with sliced green onions
  • Serve with sliced tomatoes
  • Or just eat as-is!

Here are some pics of the preparations from today.

Unchopped and ready to begin.

Unchopped and ready to begin.

I like to add the onion, garlic, jalapeno and zucchini first so that they brown just a little and the excess water is cooked off from the zucchini.

I like to add the onion, garlic, jalapeno and zucchini first so that they brown just a little and the excess water is cooked off from the zucchini.

Is there anything prettier than chopped bell peppers? Wait, don't answer that:)

Is there anything prettier than chopped bell peppers? Wait, don’t answer that:)

This is when the house starts to smell amazing!

This is when the house starts to smell amazing!

The finished filling. Ready to be packed in a container to take to the beach:)

The finished filling. Ready to be packed in a container to take to the beach:)

Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of the finished product. I’m waiting until I get to beach to assemble and bake it. Besides, once it’s done, it usually doesn’t sit around long enough for pictures!

 

 

 

 

A Chickpea Triad

Some might see an entire menu centered around the lowly chickpea as overkill.  Not me.  I see it as inspired, creative, and adventurous.  Okay, I made that up.  Kroger had a great sale on chickpeas and I figured that if I was going to get out the food processor, I would make sure that I got enough use out it.

The Main Dish: Baked Falafel

This is another one from Appetite for Reduction.  (I promise I do own more cookbooks, but every time I open this one to make the recipe for one week, I spy one I want for the next.  Yes, it is THAT packed with good recipes.)  This is a really easy recipe that requires very little chopping (which is where the majority of my kitchen time usually goes).  You just throw everything in the food processor, form the result into patties, and bake.  I eat it with spinach, red onion, cucumbers, and tomatoes with a squeeze of lemon.  And, the best part for my crazy 15 minute lunch period, I don’t even have to reheat it!

The Side: Red Bell Pepper and Broccoli Hummus

The only problem with the above dish is that it does not contain enough veggies for me.  So, to make up for that, I made some broccoli hummus (gearing up the food processor again) and sliced some red peppers.

The Dessert: Cookie Dough Dip

I know what you’re thinking.  I said chickpeas THREE ways, and you’ve only counted two: falafel and hummus.  Your math isn’t off.  I stumbled across this recipe and I just had to try it.  Now, a more sane person would hold off until the menu was not already packed with the chickpea, but I never claimed to be sane.  It is a good thing this cookie dough dip is healthy, because it sure is addictive!

So, there you have it:  a main dish, a side, and a dessert all made from chickpeas!