(Don’t worry, I’ve added two easy recipes down the bottom of this post to help fix your winter lunchbox blues!)
So, yesterday, Katie on Twitter asked me for ideas on food to eat at work. Katie’s a twenty-something hardworking media girl who spends absolutely insane hours at work, and those hours span over both breakfast and lunch times. Having taken it upon myself years ago to mother her from afar and care way too much about her health to the point where I send her tweets busting her arse for forgetting to eat, I thought to myself that I should base a blog entry on her question.
I too have been through that ambitious stage in life where your eyes are on several prizes just in the one hour, your days are ruled by work and meetings and Other Peoples’ Problems, and your own nutrition takes a back seat. You go from one task to the next and you only eat out of an exasperated realisation that it’s been 7 hours and your stomach is actually hurting from hunger and you’re light-headed too. “Better rush down to the closest place and get one of their weird foccacia things with too much cheese on it so I can stop feeling weird and just get back to work.”
Katie’s one of many in this crazy society who spends increasing hours each week on the go. She’s not at all unusual, either. There are millions like her in Sydney alone. If they’re all spending the majority of their time out of the home and away from their kitchen, what are they all eating during those hours? Do they even USE their fridges? Are they eating less then they should? More than they should? Enough for short-term sustenance but of poor nutritional value? Where’s the fun in that? And how on earth do we figure that eating a peanut butter sandwich and a plethora of boring, over processed, packaged, salty, sugary snacks 5-6 days a week is going to be sustainable in the longterm?
If we’re to look at our good old food pyramid and the amount of fruit and vegetables we’re supposed to get each day alone, spending those full-time hours thinking of food and nutrition as a boring afterthought is just not going to cut it if we want to live past retirement age and get the chance to enjoy the superannuation we’ve been so obsessively stashing. Ironically.
But if you flip that whole mentality around, you get rather excited and say to yourself, “Wow. I’m actually supposed to be eating this huge variety of beautiful fresh food, and there’s so much more to ‘grain’ than boring white disturbingly-soft squares of what the supermarkets insist on calling ‘bread’. There’s rice. There’s pasta. There’s flatbreads. Quinoa. Couscous. Noodles.”
I mean, geez. Look at this thing. Yum.
Why on earth are we restricting ourselves to a lunchbox that contains a jam “sandwich”, a packet of something unsatisfying and odd-looking from Woolworths and the exact same piece of fruit every day? Convenience?
You’ll eat crap food for most of your waking hours and most of your life on earth until you are 65 years old, because it’s in a packet and you didn’t have to think about it? And how’s that constipation and diabetes going for you there, buddy? The low blood sugar making you snap at your co-workers and the lag in energy making you get emergency drive-thru McChickens?
Does eating a variety of fresh, healthy and fun food have to be painstaking to assemble each day? And does it have to be expensive?
(Hint: no, and no.)
I asked Twitter what they take to work for lunch, and the answers were as diverse as they were surprising. And apparently nobody on Twitter says “sandwich” anymore.
“Leftovers. I personally hate packed lunches.”
“I’m boring like that. Peanut butter sammiches and Tiny Teddies. Must start going out more for food midweek.”
“It’s dinner for me at work, so I usually make a hot meal at lunch, like risotto, and take leftovers. Or two-minute noodles or a peanut butter sammich. And fruit, if I have any at home. My partner takes a sammich, apple and a nut bar.”
“Food that I can heat up, that is tasty and different every day.”
“I keep grape tomatoes, feta and cucumber in the work fridge. Then I add a tin of tuna, corn kernels and four-bean mix. I snack on a banana, apple or mandarin, plus rice cracker snacks.”
(Yes, my friend Treacy is as fit and healthy as she sounds.)
Surely we can make this fun. For the amount of time we invest in chasing money to spend on making ourselves look like we don’t spend all our time chasing money, we could sure be doing a lot for ourselves (and our families) by setting our alarms 10 minutes earlier and taking a little care over what we’re going to eat that day. For one, it’s more fun, and it’s something to actually look forward to eating. Secondly, we will feel better for longer, and we will not end up resorting to the afternoon chocolate muffin.
Well, we’re less likely to. 😉
People on social media are showing off their creative ways of making the old packed lunch funky. Just check out @anidledad from Instagram, and his lunches in jars.
Pinterest of course has its fair share of offerings:
And it only takes a flick through your mum’s favourite old recipes to see that they were her favourites for a reason. Easy to reheat, economical and still absolutely delicious the next day. All you need to do is plan ahead. Half the trick to ensuring that your meals happen in a stress-free, enjoyable way is to think ahead for the week while you’re still relaxed. Make a list. Don’t buy inferior produce. Buy fruit and vegetables from actual fruit and vegetable shops, and find out what’s in season. Here’s the thing: seasonal produce tastes better and it’s cheaper. (If you eat an apple out of season, it’s not very nice. You just paid $6 a kilo for a fluffy tasteless apple.)
Get excited about whole foods. Get excited about freshness. Try new vegetables. Try fresh herbs. Try new breads and cheeses. And buy containers that make eating at work a lot easier and more enjoyable. You can get containers of every shape, colour and size nowadays. There are even water bottles that filter your water as you drink it. It really does not have to be boring at all.
Be inspired by the food you see at the markets. What are your favourite fruits? Might you get some seasonal pears and figs, and couple those with a tub of ricotta, honey and some nuts? Be creative. Is there some lovely crusty bread at the bakery? Take a hunk of that with some pumpkin soup in a fun container, like the one I have from Aladdin. You’d be surprised how many fun obento boxes are out there in asian grocers and Japanese shops, as well. Forget limp lettuce and sweaty cling wrap. Let’s have fun with this. Let’s make our breaks something to get excited about. Does your lunch even have to be “Australian”? How about sushi? How about a Vietnamese style chicken salad? An old-fashioned ploughman’s lunch? A terrine that you’ve pre-made and sliced up into portions?
I’ll start you with two really basic bellywarming recipes that are relaxing to swan about the kitchen with on a Sunday afternoon. Lay out a few clean, dry freezer-friendly containers, and seeing as it’s well into autumn, let’s make some warm comforting pumpkin soup and some lamb stew. You can freeze it, and when you reheat it, it’s even MORE delicious than when you first made it.
Piggy Pumpkin Soup
Half to a whole butternut pumpkin (no big deal how much pumpkin there is, really)
1 medium sweet potato
3 rashers of fatty bacon
a stick of celery or two
chicken or vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Chop all pumpkin and potato into roughly equal sized 4-5cm chunks, and chop celery into 2cm chunks. Set aside.
Remove the rind from the bacon, and use a wooden spoon to fry off the rind whole in some olive oil, salt and pepper in the bottom of a large saucepan on moderate heat until it’s translucent. Don’t let it stick to the bottom. Add the pumpkin, sweet potato and celery and mix it all around a bit before covering the whole lot with chicken stock. Make sure it’s all immersed with a couple of extra centimetres on top to allow for evaporation. Simmer about half an hour gently, or until a fork will slide easily into the chunks of pumpkin.
Use a pair of tongs to take your bacon rind out. Take most of the stock back out, but save it aside in a jug.
Using either a food processor or a bamix, wizz up the vegetables until smooth. Depending on how thick and creamy you like your soup, pour the stock back in gradually as you blend the soup. Be sure to get all your chunks out. It’s definitely a lot easier with a food processor to get a really smooth consistency.
Before serving it into containers, be sure to TASTE and SEASON. You may want to add a fair bit of salt and pepper. Also, if you fry up that remaining bacon (or some nice proscuitto), it makes a DELICIOUS crispy addition to your soup as a garnish to either dip into the soup or crumble on top.
Persian Lamb Braise with Dates and Pumpkin
(source: a special edition of Vogue Entertaining that I had years ago but then I think my sister took it and then I tried to find their recipe online but it doesn't exist in order for me to credit them. so here it is as it stands in my memory 15 years later...)
500-700g of diced lamb
(Lamb forequarter chops will also work.)
1 onion, sliced
3-4 threads of saffron
half a butternut pumpkin
1 cup chopped dates
Put the saffron threads in about 1/3 cup of boiling water and set aside.
Heat a large saucepan and put a good slosh of olive oil in the bottom. Drain off the meat, making sure it doesn’t have lots of blood/liquid in it. Fry it with the onion in the saucepan and make sure it’s all browned off before adding the pumpkin and dates. Stir it all together and then cover the whole lot with water or stock. Tip the saffron water into the pot, and squeeze the lime into it also. Stir through. Simmer on low for a couple of hours, being sure to check on it regularly. When it’s ready, it will be all stewed together and caramelised. If I’m serving it for dinner, I sit it in the oven for a while to let all the flavours settle together. This is a great recipe that gives you maximum “yum” factor for very little effort!
Great with a layer of mash underneath, or some nice fluffy basmati rice, or just served on its own with some crusty bread. 🙂
Thanks to my Twitter mates who helped me with their thoughts.
Follow them! They’re all lovely. 🙂
@anidledad, @surrealbutok, @TorSamundsett, @trevwashere,
@_Scarlett_1992, @drnaomi, @StDeano1, @annaspargoryan,
@traceyb65 and last but not least @katie18O