Last week, a blog reader, Mary, asked me if I could put together a post on healthy lunches that could be made ahead of time. I thought it was a great challenge for back to school, so I got to work planning!
I spent a few days coming up with different lunches that could be prepped on Sunday.
Complete with food stained paper!
I had several goals for the lunch recipes:
1) Most, if not all, of the prep work could be done on Sunday.
2) It would be made mostly from scratch for maximum savings (for example, using dried legumes instead of canned)
3) It would be vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free with easy nut-free options
4) In each lunch, I would have each of the following: protein, healthy fats, fibre, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to make a well-rounded meal.
5) Chocolate, as necessary.
This challenge certainly lit a fire under my apron!
For the recipes, I decided on the following grains and legumes (1/2 cup dry, each):
- Millet or Quinoa
- Wild brown rice
- Black beans
Of course, you can use pretty much any grains and legumes that you desire. I purchased these from Bulk Barn and it was much cheaper than buying the canned or non-bulk variety. More money in my pocket means more money for chocolate covered cacao nibs! Wheee.
Next, I had to figure out all of the various prep and cook times for each. I consulted the wonderful Clean Food Cookbook for some tips!
Legumes and Grains Cooking Cheat Sheet
Use 1/2 cup dry, per.
Chickpea Cooking Instructions (needs soaking):
- 1/2 cup dry chickpeas yields about 1 & 1/4 cup cooked.
- Tip from Clean Food: Add a thumb-sized piece of kombu when cooking beans as it will aid in digestion.
- Soak 1/2 cup dry chickpeas overnight in a bowl with about 3 inches of water covering the chickpeas. OR use the ‘quick soak’ method, which is what I did because I forgot to soak overnight! In a pot of water, bring the chickpeas to a boil for about 1-2 mins., then turn off heat, cover with lid, and let it soak for about 1 hour. This method is great in a pinch.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas
- Place in pot covering with about 2-3 inches with water
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 30 mins or until tender
- Drain and rinse
Black Bean Cooking Instructions (needs soaking):
- 1/2 cup dry black beans yields 1 & 1/4 cups cooked.
- Add in a thumb-sized piece of kombu when cooking beans as it will aid in digestion.
- Follow same soaking and cooking instructions as chickpeas above using 1/2 cup dry black beans
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, covered, for about 15 mins until tender
Brown Rice Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry brown rice yields 1 cup cooked.
- Rinse rice in a strainer (this removes some of the starchy material that makes rice stick together)
- Use 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice and 1 cup + 2 tbsp water (and more water if needed)
- Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, add pinch of salt, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes until tender
- Watch closely during the last 10 mins of cooking and add more water if it begins to stick to pot.
- Fluff with fork
Lentils Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry lentils yields 1 & 1/4 cup cooked
- Check for pebbles and discard
- In a strainer, rinse well
- Use 1/2 cup dry and 3/4 cup (or a bit more as needed) water
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, simmer, and cook for 15-30 minutes, until tender
- I used tiny black lentils and it only took 15 mins cook time, but larger green lentils will probably take longer
Millet Cooking Instructions (no soaking required):
- 1/2 cup dry millet yields 2 cups cooked
- Rinse and drain (I was lazy and skipped this)
- In a pot or skillet, ‘toast’ the dry millet over medium heat for 4 mins or so, until it has a nutty aroma (this helps bring out the flavour as millet can be bland)
- Now add about 3/4 cup water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, simmer, and cook for 20-25 mins, adding more water if necessary
- Fluff with fork and season well.
Note: This was the ultimate multi-tasking challenge! I had about 4 things going on the stove-top at once (and multiple timers). If you are time-crunched, you can always use canned beans and chickpeas.
It went from this…
All of that food only cost me about $3.50. Talk about savings!
While the legumes and grains were cooking, I did some other prep.
This trail mix, below, was one of my favourite recipes of the day. In fact, I’m munching on it right now. :)
Go Go Glow Mix
Energizing, delicious, and packed with antioxidants. This is the perfect mix to throw into a packed lunch. Sub the almonds with sunflower seeds if you want it nut-free. All ingredients were purchased at the bulk food store, Bulk Barn.
Yield: 2.5 cups
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup goji berries
- 1/2 cup almonds (or sunflower seeds)
- 1/2 cup mulberries
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate covered cacao nibs (or dark chocolate chips)
- (I also added natural dried apple rings, but I was not a fan of their spongy texture)
1. Mix together and enjoy for a quick pick me up!
Eric and I are seriously obsessed with this mix. The chocolate covered cacao nibs are phenomenal and something I’m going to have to re-create at home!
I also chopped up 1 cucumber, 1 large red pepper, and 4 carrots. I put them into a big container filled with water as this will keep them fresh and crisp all week long. Quick and easy snacks paired with hummus or other dips.
Note: I would not advise putting the peppers and cukes in water as I just discovered that they don’t crisp up, but get soft! The carrots were fine all week though.
When I had a burner free up, I made the Carrot Apple Ginger Soup using some beautiful garden carrots. Yes, my carrots are finally ready to harvest after planting tiny seeds way back on May 24. Happy!
Dare I say it turned out even better using my garden carrots? ;)
Once the prep work was done, I started assembling lunches.
First up, Monday’s lunch!
Monday’s Lunch featuring Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad
Adapted from Avocado-Lime Black Bean Salad
- 1 & 1/4 cup cooked black beans (from 1/2 cup dry)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (or herb of choice)
- 1 avocado (cut this up and mix in just before serving)
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/2-3/4 tsp ground cumin
- S & P, to taste
- Dash of maple syrup (or other sweetener), to taste
- Other snacks: 1/2 whole wheat pita OR use Gluten-free bread if required, Banana and nut butter (or sunflower seed butter for nut-free)
- Lemon water
1. Mix together the cooked black beans, chopped cilantro, and onion. In a small jar or bowl, shake or whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, cumin, S & P, and maple syrup, to taste.
2. Pour on the dressing and mix well. Season well to taste (I love adding Herbamare). Just before serving, chop avocado and mix into salad. Serve with 1/2 a whole wheat pita and a banana and nut or seed butter.
I had this lunch yesterday and it was delicious! (I forgot to include the avocado in the picture, but it really makes the salad.)
Up next, Tuesday’s lunch:
Tuesday’s Lunch featuring Carrot Apple Ginger Soup
- Carrot Apple Ginger Soup (click for recipe) in a mason jar for portability
- 1 cup cooked millet (or quinoa), with Earth Balance, salt & pepper
- 1/3 cup Go Go Glow Mix (above)
- 1 plum
- Lemon Water
Be sure to heat up the millet with a bit of Earth Balance and seasoning. It’s also good mixing it into the carrot soup.
All the prep work I did yesterday took me the entire morning (about 4 hours), but I’m glad that I did it now because I have a ton of food prepped for the week.
Here is a grocery list, if you want to follow along. Keep in mind that it’s just a guide and you can make any modifications that you desire! I just used mostly what I had on hand…I’m not suggesting you go out and buy the entire list, but get creative and see what you can use in your own pantry and fridge. :)
What I used (for mains + all snacks)
Grains + Legumes + seeds + nuts
- 1/2 cup dry brown rice
- 1/2 cup dry black beans (or 1 can)
- 1/2 cup dry chickpeas (or 1 can)
- 1/2 cup dry millet or quinoa
- 1/2 cup dry lentils
- Mary’s GF Crackers or other crackers
- Whole wheat pita or GF bread
- Nut or seed butter
- 1-2 tbsp hemp seeds (or seed of choice)
- hummus or other spread
- nuts (I used a couple tbsp walnuts)
Fruit + vegetables
- 1 pear
- 1-2 plums
- 1 peach
- 1 apple
- 1 banana
- 1 lime
- 2 lemons
- 1 orange
- 1 red pepper
- 1 cucumber
- 2 lbs carrots
- jar of Roasted red peppers or homemade
- fresh herbs (I used parsley and cilantro)
- 1 avocado
- 4 inch piece fresh ginger
- 2-3 cups Leafy greens (romaine, kale etc)
- Red onion
- Sweet onion
- Green onion (or just use onion of choice)
- Vegetable broth (4 cups)
- cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes (if you like adding a kick of spice)
- garlic powder or if you prefer, mince fresh cloves
- extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- Dijon mustard
- maple syrup (or other sweetener)
- apple cider vinegar (or balsamic for dressing)
- Scant ground nutmeg
- Go Go Glow Mix: 1/2 cup each: Goji berries (I got 3/4 cup to use extra for salad), chocolate covered cacao nibs (or choc chips), mulberries, almonds, dried cranberries
- Chocolate :)
I sincerely hope I didn’t forget anything on this list!
In Part 2, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday’s lunches are coming on up! Click here for the post.
Like many of you, I was touched deeply by the tragedies of 9/11. I’m watching along today and sending my thoughts to those innocent lives that were lost and families and friends who were impacted. Bless you all…