The other night, I had a craving for Tangy Buffalo Chicken. I was marinating the chicken and invited my in-laws to join us. I knew this was risky, since my father-in-law has a major aversion to chicken breast ("because I don't like shoe leather"). Yet I'm determined, as always, to show him the joys of a properly cooked chicken breast (I'm very stubborn). Usually I stick to varieties of lean beef or seafood when they're coming over, but tonight was chicken, already in progress. He'd been warned, but he came anyway! Now lest you think we're prone to bickering, this is all just lighthearted teasing, comments always made with a twinkle in the eye. But I was floored by his next comment. "This is really good, I'm surprised (wink). It's juicy and moist (that word makes me cringe, so he says it as often as possible). But don't tell anyone I said that...I have a reputation to uphold. (grin)" Oops...well I just told you. But I'm sure he won't mind. Anyway, just when I thought I'd come out victorious, he says, "but you really should learn to fry -- it would make you more well-rounded in the kitchen." My retort? "But, see, I don't want to be rounded!" Point made, end of discussion.
What does this have to do with "eating on-the-go," you might ask? Well, not much, except that I made some extra chicken for us to have for lunch the next day. And also that I like a challenge, whether it be getting my father-in-law to eat chicken breast or coming up with interesting lunches that don't require microwave access! My husband was talking to a friend the other day who has an exceptionally long daily commute, so she's relegated to drive-thru (not very svelte) or whatever will fit in her bag. So I thought this might make a good topic for discussion. Below are my ideas, but I would love to hear yours!
The first thing we must do is skip the brown bag and invest in an insulated lunch bag. These are cheap, handy, cute and come in a variety of sizes. They even come in male-friendly versions (I tried to pack Keith's lunches in this adorable one in the picture, but he wasn't having it!). Anyway, get one of these and a cold pack that lives in your freezer until you need it, and you can keep almost anything cold enough for several hours.
No microwave? No problem! Get a Thermos -- I find that the wider, "squattier" models are better for eating out of with utensils. Heat up your food to piping hot before you leave the house, put it in the Thermos and it will stay hot for hours. Soups, chili and stews are obvious choices for the Thermos, but they're also great for leftover stir-fry, rice or pasta dishes. If you're not worried about aesthetics, stuff some The Svelte Gourmet Skinny Lasagna in there....YUM!
Now I don't know about you, but I absolutely cannot stand reheated chicken. But cold, it's amazing. Different than last evening's main event, and perfect for a variety of on-the-go lunch options. Whole wheat sandwich pitas, bread or wraps are great. Use some leftover chicken, vegetables and some interesting spreads (light mayo will be fine if you have a cold pack, but why not liven it up with some mashed avocado, sundried tomato, olive tapenade or honey mustard instead? Yummy!). Try a chicken taco -- they're great cold or at room temperature. Leftover steak with some low-fat horseradish sauce and arugula would make an amazing sandwich. If you're watching your carbs, use the same ingredients wrapped in lettuce leaves. They're crisp and refreshing with no carbs and negligible calories. For low-calorie toppings that add a ton of flavor, try pickles, banana peppers or olives. Yum! I love sandwiches, so I could go on and on...
Why not take that leftover chicken and turn it into a chicken salad. Make it with yogurt instead of mayonnaise, and it's instantly transformed into health food! You could eat it over a salad, but I prefer to toss it with some veggies (snow peas are great, or celery and onion) and cooked whole grain pasta for a filling but light lunch.
For breakfast on-the-go, try some of my Raisin Honey Bran Muffins from an early blog entry. These are easy to eat, packed with fiber, and very low in calories. The perfect way to start your morning. Try one with some lowfat yogurt or an apple and some light cottage cheese. This beats a boring bowl of cereal any day! Want more protein? Have a hard-boiled egg -- just peel it before you leave the house, because it's not the easiest thing to do while you're driving. Safety first!
Snacking is the easiest and the toughest at the same time. Easy because we are learning the healthier things to eat. Harder, because if we don't portion ourselves, we'll eat way more than we should. So before you leave, package one portion of nuts (1/4 cup has 180 calories, so watch those nuts!) or grab a part-skim mozzarella cheese stick for protein. I love fruit with lowfat peanut butter or light cream cheese. Again, watch the portions. Here's a trick -- mix the peanut butter with the cream cheese. It tastes amazing and is equally great on apples or celery! YUM. I also keep homemade whole wheat baked tortillas on hand, and they're great with salsa or a quick guacamole (avocado, onion, tomato, jalapeno, lime juice and salt -- throw in cilantro if you like it. I don't!). Avocados are full of heart-healthy fat, but watch your portions. Try mixing in some plain yogurt to increase the volume without adding a ton more calories. Yogurt-based dip is also great with a variety of raw veggies. I also love homemade beef jerky -- Keith makes the BEST. We use lean beef like London broil and we can watch the salt since we're making it at home. It's a great snack!
Sure, you could make salads, but here's something a bit more interesting. A plate of raw vegetables with yogurt dip, a hardboiled egg, some lowfat cheese, some turkey pepperoni (only 4 calories per slice!), and some pickles and olives make a VERY flavorful light lunch.
My favorite lunch on-the-go is cold The Svelte Gourmet pizza, but there isn't ever any left. Oh well!
Please share your ideas with us! We all need some inspiration for packing healthy and simple lunches for ourselves, our spouses and the kids. And if you try some of these suggestions, let me know what you think!
Oh, and I almost forgot...keep some extra plastic forks, spoons and napkins in the car. It's no fun eating yogurt with your fingers!
The Svelte Gourmet: A Month of Main Courses is available at www.thesveltegourmet.com/products.html.