Mindful awareness

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thinking Outside the (Lunch) Box

A passage I read in a novel last month has stayed with me. The woman protagonist was about to prepare herself lunch when she was distracted by someone knocking on the door. As the scene proceeded and she answered the door I wondered to myself, “But I want to know what she prepared for her lunch.” Well, she returned to the kitchen table and I was disappointed to learn that she had made herself a sandwich.

Couldn’t the author think of something more creative – and nutritious – than a sandwich? I was disappointed on so many levels. Many people are perplexed about why they try to lose weight and they cannot. Some of them have gotten the message that they need to have a nutritious breakfast. People that skip breakfast weigh more than people that do not. Moving along to lunch, these very people who cannot understand why they aren’t losing weight need to look closely at their lunch habits. Taking lunch to the office from home will always save calories (and money). And avoiding sandwiches, whether one eats out or packs lunch, will also help shed unwanted pounds. Sandwiches are traditionally packed with empty calories and added preservatives, salt and sugar. We can construct one right now. Whole wheat bread purchased in packages from the grocery store will contain healthy fiber. But a single slice will have at least 100 calories. That is a lot of calories when it hasn’t been filled yet. Nutritionally the sodium content is relatively high (at least 7% RDA per slice) and the nutrient level relatively low (highest content is calcium and iron, about 4% RDA for each mineral). White bread has more saturated fat and simple sugars than whole wheat bread.

Condiments will add salt and sugar.  Mayonnaise will add the most fat and calories (90 calories for one tablespoon including 10 grams of fat and 90 milligrams of sodium).  Yellow mustard would be the wiser choice with only 3 calories, 57 milligrams of sodium, and 0.2 grams of fat in a teaspoon-size serving (Dijon has 5 calories and 120 milligrams of sodium).

People put all different things into their sandwiches, but processed lunchmeat is a popular filler. Two thinly sliced pieces are considered a serving. Ham adds about 92 calories and 730 mg of sodium. Lean ham cuts calories to 60 calories and about 596 mg of sodium. Turkey breast adds about 45 calories and 436 mg of sodium but smoked ham adds an additional 30 mg sodium to that. Roast beef will add about 70 calories and 410 mg sodium. But those are figures for the things people control as they prepare lunch at home. Most deli sandwiches will have portions at least three times this amount.

A single slice of processed American cheese adds 60 calories, 250 mg sodium, and 13% saturated fat recommended for the day. A slice of cheddar cheese adds 113 calories, 174 mg sodium, and 30% saturated fat for the day. Swiss adds 110 calories, 115 mg sodium, and 25% fat for the day.

Overall, a single sandwich (2 slices of bread, 2 slices of processed meat, 1 slice of cheese, condiments) means at least 500 calories and a lot of salt and saturated fat. At the very least, one sandwich represents about 25% of daily calorie intake recommended for most people.

There are many healthier and more creative lunch options. A smaller portion of dinner from the night before is easy to pack in small containers for lunch. Add a piece of fruit and the lunch is complete, nutritious, and easier to prepare than a sandwich. Two tablespoons of prepared hummus has 50 calories and eaten with carrots, cucumbers, green peppers, and celery is a filling and nutritious option. A can of beans (white, kidney, black, garbanzo, …) in a food processer with favorite herbs (thyme, cumin, cayenne, sage, …) ends up providing many spread alternatives. Heating up a serving of prepared soup from a cardboard container adds another 80 calories or so and rounds off the meal well but adds 400 mg sodium (about 640 mg of sodium if the soup is in a can).

A potato, baked in its skin (microwave for about 8 minutes) has only 160 calories, virtually no saturated fat, and 17 mg of sodium. Sour cream would add about 400 calories, half the recommended saturated fat for the day, and 180 mg sodium, though. Cheese sauce clearly is not the best choice (475 calories, 53% recommended saturated fat for the day, and 382 mg sodium). Adding salsa is the wisest option (10 calories, no fat, and 230 mg sodium in a 2 tablespoon portion). Top it with steamed broccoli and scallions to add more flavor and nutrition.

Salads that are primarily made of vegetables are perfect options but be careful to avoid the fat-, sodium-, and calorie-packed prepared salads, dressings and cheeses. Pre-washed greens with some carrots and green peppers and a handful of black beans or walnuts and raisins is a good choice when tossed with a little olive oil and lemon juice. This idea has as many combinations as there are people with their preferences for salad ingredients. Exchanging olive oil and walnuts for sesame oil and sunflower seeds changes the flavor to offer variety through the week.

Healthy lunch options can be varied, colorful, and exciting. There is so much more to lunch than a sandwich. As for that novel, I’m pleased that the plot and character development were much more enticing than the lunch the protagonist made that day!

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