Co-authors of recipe book Packed, dietician Michelle Lake and food writer Becky Alexander, share their advice for upgrading your packed lunch
With 77% of office workers eating the same thing for lunch every day (the most common being a cheese sandwich!) and only 1 in 5 kids’ lunchboxes containing any vegetables or salad, it seems we all need to up our packed lunch game. Enter dietician Michelle Lake and food writer Becky Alexander, co-authors of Packed – a recipe book filled with balanced, colourful recipes.
What are your top three hacks to add more goodness and beat packed lunch boredom?
Add colour and flavour to your lunch without it costing the earth with tins of fish and mixed beans (great for bulking out salads). Packs of feta, jars of olives and roast peppers all last for ages and add plenty of punch too. Use natural yogurt instead of mayonnaise or salad cream on the side of your lunch or in your sandwich. It will give you a good shot of friendly bacteria to boost your tummy health and it tastes great with chicken, turkey and fish. Sprinkle seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower or sesame on to your lunch – as well as extra crunch, you’ll get some healthy fats and more protein to keep you going for longer. Keep a jar of mixed seeds at work if that’s easier.
How do I create a balanced lunch?
A balanced lunch will recharge your energy and maintain your focus levels until dinnertime. If you find you get an energy slump in the afternoon or always need a sugar or caffeine boost, you’re probably not getting the balance right. The ideal balance for most people is:
50% vegetables and salads
Ideally, half of those should come from green leafy vegetables like rocket, kale, broccoli, watercress or spinach.
Eating a rainbow of different coloured veg ensures you get all the nutrients you need to support your immune system and adrenal glands, so you can fight off those office bugs and manage stress. Veg takes time to chew and digest and is packed with fibre, so it helps you feel satisfied for longer.
25% complex carbohydrates
These include root vegetables (such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash or parsnip), brown rice, quinoa and wholegrain bread to give you some slow-release energy.
Fish, poultry, eggs or dairy should be your main sources of animal protein. Try to limit red meat and processed meats like ham or salami to once or twice a week as research has shown links to heart disease. Pulses such as lentils, beans, peas, chickpeas, nuts and seeds are great veggie protein sources.
How do I make a lunch that fills me up?
Most of us tend to go for carb-heavy lunches – think shop-bought sushi, pasta salads or noodle soups. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread, rice or pasta cause your blood sugar levels to spike. The pancreas releases energy to bring it down again and this might make you feel tired or less focused – ready to grab a sugary snack to boost your energy again.
Instead, choose slow-releasing carbs such as wholegrain breads, oats, brown rice, beans, lentils and sweet potatoes. Combine these with some healthy fats and protein and loads of veggies to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
What are healthy fats and should I include them in my lunch?
Fat gets a bad press, but it’s essential for our body to function, as well as being a fantastic source of energy and helping us to absorb nutrients. A salad dressing made with extra virgin olive oil or a few slices of avocado will help you get the most from your lunchtime salad.
Omega 3 fats can help the brain to function (especially important if you have a busy schedule!) and you can find them in oily fish like sardines, salmon and mackerel as well as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts. Try to avoid trans-fats found in many processed foods and commercial baked goods. These are chemically altered fats, which the body struggles to break down and can lead to health problems.
Feeling hungry? These recipes will see you through the week…
Michelle says: “This salad takes just 10 minutes to pull together and you’ll have a satisfying meal with salty chorizo flavour to tuck into at lunch.”
Michelle says: “Peppery watercress and radish combine with omega 3-rich mackerel in this easy salad. Beetroot adds a bit of sweetness. Serve with a slice of rye bread, if you like.”
Michelle says: “If you’re feeling sniffly or it’s a chilly day, pack yourself a large serving of this fiery, orange soup – delicious with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds on top.”
Michelle says: “Spiralizers are now fairly cheap to buy and they can turn a single courgette into a bowlful of noodle-length ribbons. Just add avocado when you’re ready to eat.”
Michelle says: “If your stamina is flagging, you might need to up the protein and iron in your diet, and these koftas are the perfect way to do so.”
Want to make lunchtime even healthier? Read our guide to getting fit quick on your lunch break.