The diet industry astounds me. Every week there seems to be a new way to get fit fast, until another comes along and blows the last one out of the water…each and every one promising the journey will be that much less painful (lose weight and eat what you want!), and that much more effective (bikini body in 30 days!). I know this stuff sells because A) there are magazines upon magazines at the grocery store, always with the same headlines, and there have been for decades, and B) because we all want to believe in happily-ever-after – we want amazing things to happen to us.
But the truth is that while some amazing things do happen to us, weight loss isn’t one of them. Getting fit and feeling well means actively changing our lives every day, establishing new priorities and letting go of old, destructive patterns. There is so much joy to be found in this process, but it isn’t overnight – it’s long and slow, and sometimes really frustrating. When the going gets tough, we must remember what we love…
And I love lunch. Lovelovelovelovelove. When a day’s going well and I’m flying from one task to another, it’s a welcome opportunity to slow down and breathe. Conversely, when a day is absolute shite and I don’t think I can handle another minute of it, sitting down and eating can be as medicinal as going back to bed to start fresh. But lunch is tricky, because most of us aren’t home at midday. I think that’s a damn shame, because this really should be the time to sit down to a nice, big meal and a siesta, but that’s just not how the world works.
Still, it should be a ceremonious occasion wherever possible, which means a healthful, filling meal that will leave us feeling satisfied and ready to get back at it. For most of the French teachers I worked with, this involved a few important ingredients: some kind of salad-y thing (usually grated beetroot or carrots with a vinaigrette, or tuna with corn and tomatoes); some kind of main; some kind of fruit; and – bien sûr – a small pot of yogurt. Yogurt at the end of the midday meal is very common in France, and I’m a big fan – I have plain soy yogurt more or less after every lunch, usually with either sugar and coconut or a bit of jam to sweeten it up.
Lunch is a meal I recommend making in bulk and freezing down in mason jars (or just keep big jars for this – we have a formidable collection occupying an entire huge drawer in the kitchen) for later consumption. If every weekend you made 10 jars of something, each jar representing one meal, within four weeks you’d have enough leftovers to last four more weeks, and you’d have the advantage of something different nearly every day of the week. It does mean allocating a couple of hours on Sunday to making a huge portion of something healthy and filling. Some suggestions, bearing in mind we’re nearing winter, and sandwiches are nice but just not enough – at least not all the time:
- Soups. The only thing to be mindful of here is that you get your protein. So of course bean or meat-based soups or stews are awesome, but I’m also a huge fan of potato & leek, so I would just make sure to have some cold fried tofu to hand to throw in when I’m re-heating it. Green, brown, or coral lentil soup is also excellent, and the latter is maybe my favorite.
Dahl-Inspired Coral Lentil Soup: (10 servings) In a big pot, sauté 2 whole onions, 4 cloves garlic, 3 celery sticks, 2 tsps coriander seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 bay leaf, and 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger. When the onions go transluscent, add 5 cups lentils and gently fold into the mixture for a couple of minutes. Add 3 chopped tomatoes, 1-2 red bell peppers (optional) and salt/pepper to taste (you can add more near the end) and continue gently stirring for a few more minutes. Add 8 cups boiling water and allow to simmer for about 12 minutes. Test the lentils – when they are just getting soft, add a full can of coconut milk and allow to simmer another 5-10 minutes, until the lentils are very soft. Remove bay leaf and blend contents in batches, then return to the pot to ensure consistency. Add more salt/pepper as necessary. Squeeze the juice of a lemon wedge in just before serving, and top with fresh cilantro.
- Chili. This is C’s specialty, and nothing is more satisfying on a blustery autumn day. Serve with brown rice for your carb & Bob’s your uncle. There are enough chili recipes on the interweb to entertain you for several months, and you probably already have a favorite way to prepare chili anyway…so I won’t bother here.
- Ratatouille. You might already know I think ratatouille is awesome, and you can just add 3-4 tbsp kidney beans to a portion for your protein. Boil up some pasta right before you leave to mix in, and top with grated cheese or nutritional yeast if you fancy.
- Salads. But green salads will not do. As far as I’m concerned, green salads are a side, not a main. I usually throw in grated carrot and/or beetroot and/or zucchini, some brown rice or quinoa, a few olives, chopped red onion, and 3-4 tbsp chickpeas or kidney beans (though any bean will do – as will chicken breast or tuna or grilled tofu) and some raw seeds – pumpkin, sunflower, flax, poppy, and sesame is our current mix. Nuts are also nice, particularly walnuts or pecans. Also, don’t be afraid of fruit – chopped apples and raisins are two of my favorite additions to salad. Keep your sauce on the side so it doesn’t “cook the salad,” as the French say – you can pour it over right before you eat it. Vinaigrette is awesome and delicious:
Awesome & Delicious Vinaigrette: (Makes a whole bunch. Use roughly 1 tbsp per serving of salad) In a soup bowl, mix 3 heaping tbsp dijon mustard, a healthy pinch of salt & pepper, and 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar. Whisk together until mixture is a nice, thick brown sauce. Add about the same amount of olive oil as what’s already in the bowl – that is, double the quantity, then whisk again until it’s all one color and consistency is constant. This keeps in the fridge for at least a couple weeks.
- Baked potato/sweet potato. Obviously the latter is the healthier of the two, but I’m a huge fan of the former. And by “baked,” I really mean “nuked,” as we’re talking about lunchtime at work here. If you’ve made chili, a small potato is an awesome go-with in lieu of rice. Also, consider swapping olive oil for butter/margarine and yogurt for sour cream – I swear it’s just as delicious and a whole lot better for you. Other toppings could be grated cheese, chicken, brown lentils & cilantro, tuna salad, or one of my favorite British go-to’s: baked beans (with grated cheese if you’re being authentic). Whatever you choose, do not skimp on black pepper if at all possible.
How about you? What are your lunchtime favorites? Do you have any helpful hints? Don’t hold back now…