Lunch can be hit or miss. Some of my clients have lunch down pat. They make it a habit to throw together a quick salad or pack leftovers from dinner. Even if it’s just a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread and fruit, for them, a healthy lunch is a done deal. Others struggle. They eat fast food or a pack of sandwich crackers at their desk…or they just skip the meal entirely.
The key to eating a healthy lunch is packing a healthy lunch. Seems obvious, but so many people skip this crucial daily task. Without planning and packing a healthy meal, it’s easy to lose control over your food decisions.
For me, lunch is always the same – leftovers. Most recipes serve four, so it works perfectly for our two-person household to save the leftovers for the next day. It also helps with portion control. You’ll be much less tempted to go back for seconds when you know you’re dipping into tomorrows lunch.
The one downfall to my method is that it requires cooking almost every night. Usually, I don’t mind. In fact, I quite enjoy unwinding in the kitchen with a glass of wine and an episode of 30 Rock. But lately I have been busier than normal. Outside of my regular job, I’ve been doing a little private practice on the side. We also joined a kickball league with friends that plays every Wednesday night. And of course there’s this whole blog thing. As much as I love cooking, I just haven’t had the time to do it every night.
To help minimize my cooking time, I’ve started preparing an easy to pack lunch on Sundays. I’ve found grain based salads keep well through the week. Soups have been nice, especially being stuck in this never-ending winter. Sandwiches are easy, plus my husband is always craving them for some reason, but I find the typical pb&j or turkey a little too boring for my taste.
It’s tricker than you might think to pack an interesting, healthy sandwich that won’t get soggy. This chicken salad was perfect. The fennel adds interest while the yogurt keeps it light and adds a nice tang. I served it on walnut-rye bread, but you could serve it on a bed of butter lettuce or toss it with whole grain penne for a creamy pasta salad.
Fennel – A popular vegetable in French and Italian cuisine. If you’ve never tried fennel before, when eaten raw, it’s texture is similar to celery, with a fresh licorice flavor. The compound that lends it’s flavor is called anethole, an anti-inflammatory and cancer protective phytochemical.
Shallots – A cousin of onion, garlic and leek. Shallots look like a small onion with pinkish purple flesh. Although they look similar, I wouldn’t substitute onions for shallots, especially in recipes that call for them raw. Shallots have a milder and sweeter flavor that won’t overpower the dish. Like their cousins, shallots are packed with flavinoid anti-oxidants like quercetin. They’re also packed with an sulfurous anti-oxidant compound called allicin (pronounced Allison). After chopping a shallot (or garlic, another allicin rich food), allow it to sit for a few minutes. The enzymes that are released will convert compounds stored in the cells into allicin, which can help reduce blood pressure inhibits blood clot formation. Need more evidence for allicin’s health benefits? My 95 year old great uncle has been eating a few cloves of garlic every day at least as long as I’ve been alive. He is as sprightly as one in their nineties can possibly be, and despite the garlic breath, married to a much younger woman.
Mayonaise – Okay, so not exactly a health food, but also not as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Homemade mayo is simply oil emulsified with egg yolk and a few flavoring ingredients. If it is made with a healthy oil, then it’s healthy. Skip light or lowfat mayonaise, which besides tasting pretty aweful, is heavily processed. Instead, look for real mayonaise, made with a healthy oil like olive or organic canola. If you want to cut the calories, mix it with nonfat plain Greek yogurt.
- 3 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 1 small fennel bulb
- 2 tbsp almonds
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- ⅓ cup olive oil mayonnaise
- ½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- zest from 2 lemons
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard (we used my favorite fig mustard, but I doubt you have it on hand)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Toast the almonds in a dry skillet, or in the toaster oven until fragrant. Allow to cool, then roughly chop.
- Meanwhile, cut off the stems from the fennel and the bottom of the bulb. Chop the bulb and place in a large bowl. Chop about ¼ cup of the feathery fronds of the fennel, and place in the same bowl. Add the almonds, chicken, and shallot. Toss.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, zest, and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add to the fennel-chicken mixture and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes then serve as desired.