Diet

Nine tips to make your healthiest and quickest lunches yet

The Do Diet: Tired of shelling out for expensive salads or not feeling full after a trip to a greasy fast-food joint? Save calories (and money!) with these fast and flavourful pack-and-go solutions

1. Choose smart drinks
Make water your go-to, and use these tricks to dress it up: Top up your glass with all-natural, no-sugar-added fruit juice, or add a slice of cucumber or lemon to your water bottle. Make it a habit to pour a big glass of water with every meal, and keep a glass at your desk for steady sipping.

2. Plan ahead
Batch cooking makes planning lunches a snap. Cook a big pot of vegetarian chili (or try a white chili with ground chicken and white navy beans), then divvy it up into single-serving containers and freeze. Tip: Bake a double batch of bran or oatmeal muffins at the same time; they freeze well, sealed individually in sandwich bags.

3. Toss up a salad
Instead of lettuce, start with kale (it’s packed with vitamin C and cancer-fighting phytochemicals). Keep it creative by adding peas, corn, shredded cooked beets, avocado or broccoli sprouts. Finish with protein to fill you up, like grilled chicken, a sliced hard-boiled egg, chopped nuts, or try this salmon salad with grapefruit and snow peas recipe (seen in the photo). But be fat smart: Dress salads with canola-oil vinaigrette — it contains less saturated fat and more omega-3s than olive oil.

4. Go for grains
Barley, whole-grain rice and quinoa (which is actually a seed) make healthy bases for easy one-dish lunches that can be eaten hot or cold. Just add any combination of grilled or steamed vegetables and cooked meat. Here’s one we love: Layer grilled asparagus and zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes over quinoa, then top with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

5. Make a litter-free lunch
For thrifty, BPA-free lunch containers, wash and reuse glass Mason jars from tomato sauces, soups and jams. The larger sizes are great for pasta, rice and chili, while the smaller jars can tote spreads and salad dressings.

6. Plan smart snacks
“When you pack your lunch, don’t forget about the times other than the noon hour. We all crave a snack by 3 p.m., so make sure it’s nutritious,” says dietitian Karie Quinn. Try an apple with a slice of low-fat cheese, rice cakes with almond butter or Quinn’s own low-cal trail mix: Combine high-fibre cereal, rice puffs, dried cranberries and dark-chocolate-covered raisins. Pre-portion snacks like nuts, cheese and carrots, so you can grab and go. Opt for fruit that travels well, like oranges, apples and bananas. And buy single-serving yogurts.

7. Keep a record
Scratching your head on Sunday night with no idea what to pack? Keep a log of lunchtime favourites that you can refer to in a pinch — it’s guaranteed to keep you out of the food court come noon on Monday!

8. Give sandwiches a second chance
They don’t have to be boring! Pack these delicious combos into a pita or flatbread — or between endive or lettuce leaves.

Savoury chickpeas: Mash chickpeas, then add salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, red peppers, chives and fresh basil or mint. Top with fixings like lettuce and tomato.

Salmon sliders: Mix canned salmon, an egg, 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and fresh dill. Form small burgers and pan-fry for a few minutes on each side. Delicious warm or chilled.

Strawberries and cream cheese: Spread low-fat cream cheese on a whole-grain bagel or English muffin and top with sliced fresh strawberries. Sweeten with a drizzle of honey.

9. Stash staples in your desk
To supplement a skimpy lunch, it helps to have these on hand:

Natural peanut butter:
just add a bagel!

Whole-grain crackers:
to sprinkle over soup

Mini pre-seasoned cans of tuna:
to jazz up a simple green salad