How I make lunch packing quick, cheap, and exciting

About a few months ago I had the idea to start up a lunch making service. I thought I could create a “menu” of a few different options, charge enough to cover the cost of my ingredients (and enough to make some profit), and show people that eating vegetables, whole grains and “out-of-the-box” protein sources is fun and delicious.
 
I know a lot of people HATE making their lunch for work/school, so why not put my love of organization and veggie chopping to good use?
 

Unfortunately, my current schedule doesn’t exactly permit me to take on such an undertaking (working 40 hours/week plus being in school 10+ hours a week isn’t exactly ideal for a lunch making service…).

So… even though my business venture isn’t exactly attainable right now, I still love packing myself healthy and fun lunches, and I still have the desire to show people how delicious vegetables are and how easy it can be to incorporate them into daily life.

I mean, food is an important part of life. We eat at least 3x a day. Why not make meals as exciting (and nutrient-packed) as possible (even when they are in Tupperware containers)?

lunch and dinner packed for today

Since I feel like the issue with lunch packing is less about what to do, and is more about how to do it, I thought I could share a few tricks and habits I have developed over the last couple years that allow me to pack healthy, quick and delicious lunches for myself on a daily basis.

I truly believe it is possible to be busy and make time for your health and well being as well.

One thing I try to do on Sundays is prep lunch/dinner ingredients to use through out the week. It literally saves so much time and makes meal packing so much easier.  Yesterday, for example, I had about 30 minutes of time to spare, so I prepped a lot of things for the week to make meal packing a little easier:

1. I made some grains for fast lunch/dinner making

quinoa and whole grain pasta

 This is something I try to do every Sunday, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to save some time during the week. It is such an easy way to create a variety of quick and healthy meals without waiting for anything to cook (or relying on packaged bread or wraps).

There are so different many grains to try out. They also store pretty well and are easy to prep. Some of my favorites (with cook times):

  1. Quinoa (20 minute approx.)
  2. Brown Rice (ranges depending on the type… I personally like the quick cooking kind which takes 10-15 minutes)
  3. Barley (30-45 min)
  4. Whole grain pasta (15 minutes)… I love to make make-shift “pasta salads” 

2. I prepped my protein sources (beans, tofu)

One thing I try to keep in mind when meal planning is incorporating good protein sources into my meals. I know opening and rinsing a can of beans doesn’t seem that difficult, but for some reason, I hate having to do it when packing my lunch. By rinsing a few cans at once, I have now have 2 different protein sources waiting for me to use. When it comes to quick meal packing, the more convenient, the better.

I also pressed a block of tofu with my tofu press while I opened the beans. I LOVE my tofu press. It makes tofu-making so  convenient. I used to avoid making it because of the the whole paper towel/dish towel/book stacking process (which isn’t so bad, it just takes a bit more effort)… this makes it SO easy.

Other easy protein sources I like to use:

  1. Any type of canned bean (kidney, black, white, chickpea)
  2. Edamame (perfect for “Asian” inspired meals… I buy prepackaged, individually-sized bags at the grocery store that are located in the freezer section).
  3. Canned tuna and canned salmon
  4. Tempeh/Tofu
  5. Veggie burgers

1. I premade trail mixes

dried fruit, mini chocolate chips

almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios

 This is the first time I ever took the time to pre-make some mixes, and it literally took 5 minutes. I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. Packing snacks is something I rarely think to do ahead of time, which usually leads to me eating a lot of granola bars and almonds as a snack, or spending a few minutes every day putting some “fun” mixes together.
 

While I don’t mind packing snacks everyday, doing it all at once was pretty simple, and it was actually pretty fun to mix and match my different “ingredients.” I even rediscovered  some things I forgot I owned (pistachios and dried mango!). I love that I have a variety of mixes waiting for me to grab. This is such an easy (and cost effective!) way to ensure you have a fun, healthy, filling snack available when hunger stikes.  

So, I guess the first step of healthy/fun lunch making is all about the prep work. It might not be the most “fun” thing to do, but I promise it is worth it when you have something delicious to eat everyday (that took almost no time to prepare). I also have some tips on making food “pretty” (you eat with your eyes first!), but I think I am going to save that for another day….  
 
I hope you have a great Monday!
 
Do you pack your lunch for school/work? How important is it for you to pack healthy/delicious meals? Any barriers to doing this?

A new lunch packing adventure

I have mentioned before that I love packing my lunch for work and creating healthy meals for myself. While this is true, it doesn’t mean that I like to spend hours in the kitchen everyday doing so. While I think it is important to make health a priority in your life and eat as much real, unprocessed, “clean” foods as possible, I don’t think it must be a time consuming  process either. Other things in life are important as well!

This week, my schedule is about to change a little. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from now until May, I will start attending night classes at my local community college. I am starting a long (well, about a year) journey to gain prerequisites for grad school (I have mentioned that I am confused about my future a few times on here).

I enjoy packing my lunch now, but I am going to need to take it to a whole new level. Instead of packing just one meal a day, I now will be responsible for two (3x a week). On these days, I most likely will be going straight from work to school, so I will need to be prepared with meals in advance.

In order not to drive myself crazy, and still keep meals healthy and fun, I thought I’d draft some ideas of how to make my Tupperware/tinfoil  lunches and dinners exciting (and possibly start documenting them on here to help me keep track of notable meals).

I feel like I already have a few secrets as to how to keep packed lunches exciting, so I plan to continue with my current methods and possibly switch things up as I develop new ideas. As long as my meals are,

1. well-balanced (include a mix of grains, proteins, veggies, healthy fats)

2. easily transportable

3. healthy and exciting (eating more than just hummus and veggie sandwiches every day)

I will be a happy camper.

So to start off this lunch packing adventure, I thought I could share a tip as to how to I make packed meals exciting (and then I thought I could add to the list as time goes on and as I develop new ideas). I always love reading blogs that discuss topics like this, so I am hoping others feel the same.

So for Tip #1:

The secret is in the sauce…. Condiments!

I won’t lie, I tend to eat pretty much the same thing for lunch everyday. The thing is, is never get boring! Although I tend to follow a lunch packing formula:

grain (1) + protein (2) + veggie (3)

(1) grain = whole grain bread, whole grain wraps, brown rice, quinoa (technically a protein), barley, bulgur (there are sooo many options here)

(2) protein: beans (kidney, black, chickpeas, great northern, pinto… many options here as well), edamame, soy proteins (tofu, tempeh), veggie burgers, canned tuna, canned salmon, cheeses (usually an additional, not main source for me), nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans)

(3) veggies: whatever I have on hand…. carrots, cucumbers, celery, spinach, arugula, romaine, tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms….

I keep things exciting on the condiment front.

My usual supply:

sorry for the blurry pic (I am working on it), but this is a mix of dressings, vinegars, mustards, salsas, bbq sauces, hummus...

I swear there is a condiment for every taste/mood. Plus, condiments tend to last  a pretty long time as well. If you buy one “fun” condiment every week for a couple of months, you, honestly, will have an endless supply of delicious/inspired meals at your disposal. For anyone on a tight budget, this is always a good thing.

(I love Trader Joe’s and the ethnic isle in larger grocery stores to find interesting condiments)

Some lunch/dinner packing ideas using the above formula (1,2,3…) + condiment:

Indian: Indian-inspired wrap: whole wheat wrap (1) + lentils or chickpeas (2) + spinach, cucumber, shredded carrots (3) + curry sauce/masala sauce

Mexican: “Taco Salad: ” brown rice (1) + black beans and Greek yogurt (2) + romaine (as a base), avocado, carrots/any other veggie you have on hand + salsa (can also add a little guacamole)

Greek: Greek salad: quinoa (1) + chickpeas and feta (2) + spinach/romaine (as base), cucumber, tomatoes…. (3) + greek dressing (can add olives)

American: a BBQ-inspired wrap/sandwich with a veggie burger +cheese +tomato/spinach + BBQ sauce

Asian: brown rice (1) + tofu/edamame (2) + onion, carrots, peppers (3) … + teriyaki sauce

and, of course, the old standby:

you can never have too much hummus...

Veggie and hummus sandwich: whole wheat bread(1) + veggies (3) + hummus (2/condiment as well….)

The options are really endless. Plus, none of this is an exact science. You never need a specific ingredient to make any of these lunches/dinners. Mixing and matching of grains, proteins and veggies is  encouraged and also keeps this exciting. There are always new flavor combinations to discover!

One way I definitely plan to keep my meals exciting/healthy/not too time consuming is to continue to incorporate this idea into my daily meal packing. Plan to see some documentation of this in the future (I’m hoping this will keep me more accountable and help me avoid any food ruts in the next few months).

Anyone else have to pack their lunch everyday? do you have any tips on streamlining/simplifying the process while still keeping things healthy/exciting?

How to order beer at a bar without feeling clueless

Hi everyone! I hope your having a lovely (3 day!) weekend so far.

So today I thought I’d discuss beer (an appropriate weekend discussion, I think).

The thing is, I LOVE beer now, but this wasn’t always the case. For a pretty long time, I thought only of this when the topic of beer came up:

which has its time and place of course....

But this past summer, I learned that a whole world of beer exists outside the big names of Miller, Coors and Bud…. craft beer.

I used to be really intimidated by these “fancy” beers. How do you know what you like? What do you order from a draft list of 10-20 beers that you have never heard of? What is the difference between an IPA, a pale ale and a  stout?

In order to gain some knowledge about this, I took matters into my own hands and did what any clueless, information-seeking person would do. I read Beer for Dummies.

So while I am still no expert and still have much to learn when it comes to beer (which is part of the fun!), I believe I have figured out enough in order to know how to order a beer at a bar without feeling completely clueless. Since I don’t think I am the only one that has ever felt that way, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned, and lend some advice as to how I decipher beer/draft menus. (Note: I am not an expert. I am just a beer loving 23-year old trying to help out any future beer lovers. This is just a compilation of tips that I find to be helpful in a bar setting.)

How to decipher a draft list and look somewhat knowledgeable about beer

1. Be aware of the different types of beer

There are usually a few types of beer you will find when you look at a draft list. The most popular ones you will see include:

IPA

Pale Ale

Brown Ale

Wheat Ale/Hefeweizen

Seasonal Ales (right now you probably will see Winter/Christmas Ales)

Stout

Beers can have crazy names, but they will usually include their type at the end (for example, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Troegs DreamWeaver Wheat Ale). Sometimes they won’t (Victory Storm King), but if you’re first staring out in the beer world, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.

2. Be aware of certain flavors/tastes

Beer is made of 4 ingredients: water, yeast, hops and grains. All beer contains these 4 ingredients, the difference in taste results from how the ingredients are combined, or in the balance of how the ingredients are used (There is much more to it than this and it is a much more complicated process, but that is the basic jist of the process).

There are lots of ways to describe a beer, but the main “technical” terms I tend to keep in mind are: hoppy and malty

hoppy = a bitter taste that can sometimes taste a little fruity, sometimes a little spicy

malty =a caramel-y taste,  can be sweet or dry

Other terms/ways to describe a beer include: fruity, crisp, yeasty….

I have found that beers tend to follow this pattern:

hoppy: IPA, pale ales

malty:  brown ales, a lot of winter/Christmas seasonal ales, darker ales (like stouts – they taste like coffee!)

other: wheat beers I find, taste lighter, and “yeasty,” which  is more of a fruity, lighter taste

There are a lot of different breweries out there and a lot of different variations of beer types, so not all IPAs or pale ales, for example, will taste the same. I like to put the difference types into these categories to make it a little easier to remember, but keep in mind that variations do exist. I like to think thats part of the fun though……. there is always something new and exciting to try!

3. Don’t be afraid to  ask questions and try new things!

If you aren’t really sure if you will like a certain kind of beer, ask! Bartenders tend to be very knowledgeable about beer (who would of thought?) and are very helpful. I know I like IPAs and hoppy beers, so I often will ask a bartender what they recommend I try. Sometimes you can even get lucky and they will give you a sample.

Once you kind of get the taste basics down (hoppy, malty, a balance of hop/malt, fruity… really there is no wrong way of categorizing a beer), you can use it to your advantage. If you know you like IPAs with that are more fruity/citrusy you can ask for a recommendation. If you like lighter, more crisp beers, a bartender can offer advice as well.

So there you go. I hope this was somewhat helpful. If you happen to be reading and happen to be feeling adventerous at the bar this weekend, I challenge you to not order the Miller Lite and try something new!… and then promise come back here and tell me what it was (I love trying out new beers!).

Questions: Any other beer lovers out there with more tips for navigating a beer menu?

What is your favorite kind of beer? It depends on my mood/the season but I am currently loving Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA and Troegs Mad Elf (SO GOOD)