After summer’s fresh and delicious adventures and flavors, it’s understandable the standard old sandwich in a paper bag that signifies the return of fall’s routines might seem boring — the bright colors and vibrant flavors of the season’s past get lost between two pieces of bread. But lunch on the go doesn’t need to be kept in a box (much less in a sandwich).
The Japanese have a strong culinary tradition of including at least five colors in each meal. This not only makes their food more visually appealing, but it also boosts the nutritional value of the meal. A bento box lunch, for example, would include white rice with black sesame seeds, a red umeboshi plum and a slice of yellow omelet (and probably some green beans and carrots cut into beautiful flower shapes as well). You can follow this practice to keep your own lunches healthy, fresh and beautiful — the envy of coworkers and classmates alike! Including lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables is one sure-fire way to add more color to your midday meals, but here are some tips to keep your color palette delicious:
FILL YOUR CART WITH COLOR
Eating colorful lunches starts at the grocery store. As you work your way around the aisles, talk yourself through the rainbow. Do you have something of each color? Maybe even a couple of things? Red peppers and tomatoes are great sliced up and eaten raw, orange slices and carrots, too. Natural yellow corn chips (or even blue!) are a nice accompaniment to bright green guacamole with black beans and purple grapes (or grape jam) eaten with whole-grain crackers and cheese is a sophisticated alternative to a sandwich. Voila! The rainbow!
CHANGE UP YOUR GRAINS
A surefire way to find a boring sandwich in your lunchbox is to buy the same old bread. Instead, challenge yourself to buy different grains with different colors and shapes. There are a wide variety of colorful grains out there that are healthy alternatives to bread; try white sushi rice, red rice or even forbidden black rice. Quinoa is full of color and packed with protein, too! Make a pot of grains Sunday night and store them in the fridge to add to leftovers for a non-sandwich option.
READ MORE > LUNCH-O-MATIC: REINVENTING LEFTOVERS FOR LUNCH
PICK A PALETTE IN YOUR PANTRY
Eating for color is a great reason to make extra leftovers, or to try new flavor combinations you might not think of off the bat. Pick through your fridge and pantry, again hunting for all the colors of the rainbow. Pick out five, or more and watch the creative concoctions come to life. Tossing together leftover steak or chicken with rice, fresh yellow peaches, green avocados and black beans is a whole new twist on your favorite Mexican-inspired meal!
If you want to think beyond the sandwich, you’ll have to rethink the “box.” These different shapes and formats of food are anything but square. Don’t forget you’ll need a box or bowl to pack them in!
- Make a mean spring roll: Fill rice paper with fresh vegetables or slices of leftover meat.
- Simplify with salads: The easiest way to make sure you’re eating more color is to start with greens. Add your favorite meats, cheeses, proteins, crunchy nuts and a simple lemon and olive oil dressing.
- Bowl over: Make your lunchbox a lunch bowl by packing a colorful grain salad topped with your favorite proteins and fresh veggies. No recipe required here, just add your favorites (and check for five colors, of course).
- Finger foods are fun: We aren’t talking about chicken tenders! Pack yourself a sophisticated spread of cheeses, crackers, olives, charcuterie or cold cuts, fresh vegetables (or quick pickles!) and sweet raw fruits. Enjoy mixing and matching flavors!
IT’S STILL HIP TO BE SQUARE
Even with a million colorful and flavorful ideas, a simple sandwich is sometimes the quickest route to a healthy lunch. If you find yourself in this position, don’t fret: You can still add color, texture and flavor to your square meal! Choose colorful jams for peanut butter sammies, and make sure to add lots of greens, tomatoes or bright seasonal veggies to that cold cut sandwich. Guacamole or hummus spreads are a nice way to add texture and flavor intrigue between slices of bread. Before you take your first bite, check it out — can you see all the colors? If not, stack that sando a little higher next time!