If you’re looking to expand your brown-bag lunch horizons, “taking inspiration from other cultures can introduce you to new ingredients and cooking techniques,” says Julie Harrington, RD, culinary nutrition consultant and author of the forthcoming book, “The Healing Soup Cookbook.” Eating a variety of foods ensures you get a range of nutrients in your meals.
“Start with a region of cuisine you love and then expand from there,” suggests Harrington. “Many recipes and meal ideas will feature similar ingredients with their own cultural twist, which will introduce you to new culinary ideas,” she says.
Here, five healthy options to try:
Changing the bread is an easy way to liven up your regular sandwich. Fill a gyro or pita pocket with your favorite combination of lean protein, homemade sauce and veggies. Harrington recommends the classic combo of sliced chicken, tomato chunks and lettuce wrapped in a pita. Serve with tzatziki — a garlic-y yogurt and cucumber-based sauce — drizzled on top or in a side bowl to dunk.
A bento box is basically a lunch box with various compartments to keep food separate. Some specialty shops sell them or you can find them on Amazon. In fact, right now they’re pretty popular for kids to take to school. “Traditional bento boxes stick to Japanese cuisine like sushi, seaweed salad, tempura or raw veggies, rice and meat,” says Harrington. You can stick with the classics — all of these foods can be found prepared from high-quality grocery stores or purchased as a lunch special from many sushi restaurants — but you can also improvise with your own foods. For example: leftover shredded chicken, baby carrots, whole-grain crackers, hummus and watermelon balls. “I like to call these ‘snacking lunches,’ as you can enjoy a little bit of many items,” she says.
“These are savory pastries that are stuffed with meats, cheeses, veggies and packed with spices,” says Harrington. Specialty empanada restaurants are becoming easier to find, and you can also buy these in the prepared food section at many grocery stores. But making your own is a snap, too. One hack: Use prepared pizza dough rather than DIY’ing the pastry. You can make a bunch at once and freeze leftovers for quick lunches in the future, says Harrington. They’re easy to heat up at the office in the microwave or toaster oven.
Canned tuna in olive oil is not only a great source of lean protein and healthy fats, but it’s also budget-friendly. In the classic French salad, it’s paired with hard-boiled eggs, olives, green beans, tomatoes and anchovies. It’s easy to make ahead of time (just pack it in tupperware or a Mason jar) and makes a great high-protein meal-worthy dish.
Quick, easy and highly customizable, stir-frying is a staple cooking technique. Just pick a hearty grain like brown rice (quinoa and pasta work, too) and add a protein and veggies. “You can easily make a large stir-fry for dinner and pack leftovers for lunch,” says Harrington. Then mix-and-match with different sauces. Try this chicken and broccoli stir-fry or this delicious vegetarian recipe.