lunchtime

The healthiest meals you can make are ones that you prepare from scratch using unprocessed foods. If you don’t have time to home-cook all of your meals, try to make healthy choices about the processed and prepared foods you do consume. Choosing baked or grilled foods over fried, drinking water instead of soda and sharing a dessert are just a few ways you can eat healthy while still eating well.

Choose ingredients located in the perimeter aisles of your grocery store, where the produce, fresh meats and unprocessed foods are typically located. Make healthy meals by forgoing prepared meals that come in boxes or frozen meals in bags, which all contain high amounts of preservatives and unhealthy salt that can contribute to high blood pressure. Refined grains lack the outer husk of the grain, which contains the health benefits of fiber that cleanses the intestines and creates a full feeling sensation during a meal. Choose brown rice instead of white and cook with whole oats, not instant.

Bake, braise, broil or grill meats, fish and poultry. These are healthier cooking methods because fats drain away from the foods while they are cooking. Low fat dairy products help decrease your risk of high cholesterol and weight gain because you will consume less animal fat.

Consume less food when eating out by splitting your entrée with a friend or taking a portion of the dinner home and look for foods that haven’t been fried. Choose lower fat options when available. Lunchtime is probably one of the least healthiest meals, if you buy your lunch. Fast food is an expensive but convenient option that often comes with a side of guilt. One in every four Americans eats fast food at least once a day. Unfortunately, many fast food meals contain a whole day’s worth of calories and fat all in one meal. When you consider the benefits that come from taking your lunch to work or preparing lunch at home with fresh ingredients, the prospect of making your own lunch quickly becomes more appetizing. Here are some ideas for appealing and healthy lunches that can be made ahead and warmed at work or at home in the microwave. Add your favorite seasonal fruit, a bottle of water and you are all set.

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Focaccia Pizza Sandwiches

This sandwich can also be layered with sliced fresh tomatoes and pesto instead of marinara sauce and pepperoni.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup prepared or homemade marinara sauce
  • 2 (4-inch) squares focaccia, halved horizontally
  • 2 tablespoons sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 ounce sliced uncured (such as Applegate Farms) pepperoni, ham or prosciutto
  • 4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 6 small leaves basil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place focaccia bottoms on a baking pan. Spread marinara sauce on one side of each of the 2 bottom pieces of focaccia. Top the sauce with olives, pepperoni or other meats and the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the focaccia tops next to the bottoms on the baking sheet.

Bake until cheese is just melted, pepperoni is warmed through and focaccia is crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to plates, top bottom halves with basil, add focaccia tops and serve.

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Meatball Pitas

Serves 4

Savory beef meatballs makes this a satisfying sandwich for lunch or a light dinner. Adding bread soaked in milk to the meat mixture keeps meatballs moist and tender. This recipe uses some of the pita tops for just that purpose.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 4 whole grain pita breads
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or your favorite ground meat
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup finely sliced romaine lettuce

Yogurt Sauce

  • 3/4 (6-ounce) cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray olive oil on a medium baking sheet.

Cut the top third off the pitas. Tear 2 of the tops into pieces with your fingers and place the pieces in a small bowl; save the remaining 2 pita tops for another use. Add milk to the bowl and let the bread soak until very soft, about 15 minutes.

Combine beef, onion, oregano, cayenne, pepper and the 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. With your hands, gently squeeze excess milk from pita tops; add the bread to the bowl with the meat; discard milk. Mix with your hands or a rubber spatula until well combined. Form the mixture into 16 balls, each about the size of a ping-pong ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake, shaking the pan once or twice, until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt, cucumber and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill each pita with tomato, lettuce and 4 meatballs. Spoon yogurt sauce on top.

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Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup

Serves 4

This soup is simply made from pantry staples including vegetable or chicken broth, diced tomatoes, canned beans and dried pasta. Look in the freezer section of your store for some frozen spinach or other favorite vegetables to add.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dried pasta (any shape), cooked according to package instructions
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced Italian tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces frozen or 4 cups fresh spinach
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and saute garlic for a minute.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add beans, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and lower to a simmer. Add spinach and cook until softened and bright green.

Place pasta (about 1 cup per serving) into soup bowls, ladle soup over the top and garnish with Parmesan cheese..

lunchtime4

Leftover Frittata

A frittata is the savvy cook’s solution for leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups chopped cooked vegetables and/or meat (asparagus, onion, ham, potatoes, spinach, sausage, chopped bell pepper etc.)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese – any kind you like
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil or chives
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, beat eggs and stir in vegetables and/or meat, herbs and salt and pepper, if needed. Reserve the cheese.

Heat a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add oil and carefully swirl around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the skillet.

Add egg mixture, spread out evenly and cook, without stirring, until the edges and bottom are set and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (Carefully loosen an edge to peek.)

Sprinkle the cheese on top and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the eggs are completely set and the frittata is deep golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes more.

Remove the skillet from the oven. (The handle will be hot!)

Loosenthe  edges and bottom of the frittata with a table knife and spatula; carefully slide onto a large plate. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold, cut into wedges.

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Italian Tuna Salad

Servings: 2

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 can (5 oz) Tonno (tuna) in 0live oil, drained and oil reserved for use in the vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons canned white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup cooked cut fresh green beans
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 2 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves

White Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of choice)
  • 3 tablespoons oil (combine tuna oil and olive oil to make 3 tablespoons)
  • Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Prepare Balsamic Vinaigrette:

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside. (Stir vinaigrette mixture later before pouring on the salad.)

Prepare the Salad:

In a medium bowl, combine garbanzo beans, white beans, green beans, tomatoes, salt, pepper and half of the vinaigrette, stir gently.

In a separate bowl, toss salad greens with the remainder of the vinaigrette.  Divide the tossed salad greens between two salad plates and top each plate with an equal portion of the bean mixture. Divide the tuna in half and add to the top of the bean mixture. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with your favorite bread.

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