For most of us, lunches can be the downfall of otherwise healthy diets.
You're not at home, you're in a hurry, and that often leads to fast food or other bad choices. But a little planning is all it takes to safely navigate the lunchtime land mines.
Start by keeping your pantry stocked with healthy choices, especially if you tend to shop just once or twice a week. Buy whole-grain breads and tortillas, low-fat (and low-sodium) luncheon meats, as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Prepare lunches the night before, or at least have a game plan for how and when you will do it in the morning so good nutrition doesn't get sacrificed as you rush to get out the door.
Make small changes in what you bring. For example, for sandwiches use a little less cheese, substitute low-fat mayonnaise and bulk them up with leafy green and thinly sliced vegetables.
Jarred roasted red peppers, flavorful eggplant spreads and hummus are other easy ways to slip in some healthy foods.
Skip the dessert, salty treats and sweet drinks. For adults and kids, otherwise healthy lunches often fall apart with a bag of chips, a soda or a massive cookie. Save these for occasional treats, not daily indulgences.
Instead, try to include some vegetables, and perhaps a piece of fruit for dessert. Precut vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks may cost a bit more, but they are worth it if it means you are more likely to include them the lunch.
When eating out is inevitable, make smart choices. At delis, ask for low-fat meats, less cheese, more vegetables, and go easy on the mayonnaise or avoid it altogether. Try to avoid salads that have lots of mayonnaise or gobs of oily dressing.
At salad bars, stick to the leafy greens, cut vegetables and fruits. Instead of piling on the cheese, sprinkle a few nuts on top of your salad. They're flavorful and add protein and good fats to your meal.
If you do end up at a fast food restaurant, ask to see the nutritional data on their meals to make it easier to choose. Order the grilled rather than fried options, or even consider a kids' meal, which has a more reasonable amount of calories.
Of course, making a healthy dinner that gives you leftovers for lunch the next day is one of the best ways to go. This zesty Mediterranean tuna salad is loaded with crisp, fresh vegetables. Served with crusty bread, it makes a superb light supper. Pack what you don't eat in plastic containers and you have an instant lunch for the next day.If you prefer, the salad can easily be made with cooked and shredded (or even canned) chicken instead of tuna.
MEDITERRANEAN TUNA SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
For the dressing:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the salad:
1 cup long grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 ounces fresh green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup diced red bell pepper (1 small)
1 cup diced red onion (1 small)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients, then set aside.
Cook the rice with salt according to package directions. Once the rice has cooked, spread it on a large baking sheet to cool.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Add the celery, bell pepper, onion and basil to the green beans. Add the cooled rice and dressing, then toss to combine thoroughly. Add the tuna and toss together gently. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Nutrition information per serving: 368 calories; 13 g fat (2 g saturated); 23 mg cholesterol; 43 g carbohydrate; 20 g protein; 3 g fiber; 677 mg sodium.