Most of the school districts in the country have just finished with their first week of school. As a first year teacher I am relearning what it means to need to bring your lunch to school everyday. I know that teaching isn’t the only profession with an almost non-existant lunch break. So, what do we grownups do about lunch? We need to revert back to a childhood strategy: the brown bag.
Being active in the field of public health has exposed me to many health conundrums that individuals must work to overcome despite the fact that the real answers to these problems can only be solved by city planning and public policy. One such problem: food deserts. The food scenes in these deserts are dominated by fast food restaurants and mini-marts. You can drive for miles without seeing a healthy food option. These food deserts impact the health of lower-income, both urban and rural, communities across the country. For a Celiac, the prevalence of food deserts are exponentially greater because options that are typically considered “healthy” are often unavailable to us. A gluten-free-food-desert is an area with very limited GF options. Maybe it is near where you live. Maybe it is where near you work. Either way these GF deserts make planning a necessity for any successful Celiac.
My current job happens to be in a food desert. When my school had a faculty meeting we had to pass up six proximal pizza places because none of them had a salad option. We ended up picking Lido’s pizza which was much further away than the other six pizza options near my school.
The lunch break for a teacher can more accurately be called a lunch moment. We have about twenty minutes to take care of anything personal (eating, restroom, making phone calls, organizing, grabbing something we left in the car, etc.), then it is back into the trenches.
This is where the brown paper bag comes into play. I don’t have time to run out to a local fast food place to grab lunch. To boot, none of the places near me have viable GF options. My school is surrounded by a buffalo wings place, Chick-fil-A, a couple of pizza places and a supermarket whose buffet is made up of chicken strips, mac n’ cheese and fresh baked bread. The only viable solution to daily hunger-induced grumpiness (grumpy teachers aren’t good for the children) I could come up with is packing my lunch.
my lunch bag
So what should we put into these brown bags? I like to pack a combination of nutritious and filling foods. For example, blueberries are great for you but if you are hungry they really aren’t going to do the trick. That being said, opting for filling or calorie laden foods at the expense of nutrition will eventually wear your health down, breaking down your immune defenses and daily stamina. If your job requires interacting with lots of people then you really need to make sure your immune defenses are at their best.
Here are some of the things I will have in my lunch this week. Keep in mind that packing a lunch often requires either planning and prepping the night before or getting up a little bit earlier than you would like.
Using my favorite tupperware from Target, I pack the tupperware full of dark leafy greens, leftover meat (did you make chicken or steak this weekend? Save leftovers!) and grilled eggplant. I do not like dressing. It is messy, it makes the salad limp and the ingredients always make me nervous. Instead of dressing, I use other components like meat or grilled veggies to compliment the salad. I think of it like a breadless sandwich.
Grilled Eggplant Recipe:
1. Slice eggplant vertically
2. Heat up a grill-pan or sauté pan
3. Cover both sides of the sliced eggplant with a light coating of olive oil
4. Season with salt and pepper. Feel free to spice up your seasoning by using onion powder, chili powder, paprika etc.
5. Let the eggplant cook on each side for about a minute and a half. When the sides look dark (they will turn from off-white to an olive green) they are ready!
Once your salad is ready pack an apple, a bag of baby carrots and a yogurt. Don’t forget utensils! If you don’t finish everything that is ok! You can nibble what is left on your commute home. Your goal should be bringing the perfect amount of food but if you have to miscalc on that you would way rather have too much than too little.
Wednesday I am packing a good old fashioned sandwich. The best GF sandwich bread is Udi’s whole grain loaf (the one with the green label!). It stays together really well, it isn’t too dry/crumbly and it has a nostalgia-inducing classic sandwich bread taste.
When you buy sandwich meat at the grocery store make sure it is GF! Giant market (this is an east coast thing) has GF meat at their deli (it is labeled and everything!). I have been using honey-roasted turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, dijon mustard, cracked pepper and (of course) I sub out iceberg lettuce and opt for dark leafy greens. Don’t forget to pack up snacks likes carrots, berries, yogurt, rice chips or a banana.
Let’s say it is the end of the week and your groceries are running low. What do you do? One of my favorite lunches is leftover chipotle burrito bowls. Chipotle (or Qdoba) has all GF ingredients for their burrito bowls. Chipotle is notorious for overstuffing their bowls. I can never finish them! So, to facilitate the leftover lunch making process, I divide the bowl in half before I start eating. By dividing it in half early on, I guarantee that I will have enough leftovers to make my lunch the next day.
Don’t have any leftovers like this? You can make a salad with dark leafy greens but instead of using leftover meat or eggplant, make your own dressing. My personal favorite is an orange vinaigrette. You should make this the night before because there is no way you are going to be down to supreme oranges early in the morning!
Here is how it works:
1 tablespoon minced shallot (sweated with a splash of rice wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
chopped herbs of your choice (dill, tarragon, basil etc)
salt and pper to taste
splash of olive oil
Remove the peels from the oranges using a sharp knife, cutting all the way through the pith. Section the oranges into supremes by cutting between each membrane. Click here for a “how to” on cutting out supremes. Squeeze each membrane of its juices into a bowl (save this for dressing!). Corasely chop the orange sections and place in the bowl with the juices. Then add the sweated shallots, vinegar and herbs to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the splay of olive oil.
You can make this fancier and more complicated by adding diced cucumber to the dressing OR you can make this recipe simpler and quicker to assemble by taking out the shallots and/or herbs.
Unlike dressing you buy at the store, this dressing is made of 100% fresh ingredients, no preservatives AND it is nutritious. Fresh oranges and herbs are great for you! Instead of adding empty calories to your salad you end up adding vitamin C, antioxidants and phytonutrients.
As for kids, a lot of my ideas are for a grown-up palate, although I do find that Celiac kids have pretty sophisticated taste for their ages! When it comes to packing a kids lunch try and do things that will look like what all the other kids have. Again, I recommend Udi’s bread because it really does look and feel like classic glutinous bread. Udi’s also has cookies that look and taste great. I would try and stay away from GF products that…look like gluten free products. Being GF can be very isolating which is difficult for children to cope with. Making sure to buy products that are similar to what the other kids are having is a great tool for any Celiac of GF parent. Kinnikinnick has delicious products for kids like their graham crackers. These don’t look exactly like what the other kids will have but they really are delicious. They even have an animal cracker that will work well with school lunches! In addition, for kids, you can always stick with the basics. A PBJ with some baby carrots and string cheese.
Enjoy your lunches! If I get bored with these, as I am sure I will over the next few months, I will post my new creations! This way we can keep our palates and our bodies happy and healthy throughout the year.