Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The food!

This is my second post in the lunch series. The topic of the day is: the food! :)

Traditional bento lunches are 1/2 rice, 1/3 veggies, and 1/6 fish or meat. I do not follow such a strict pattern, but I do aim to get all three in most lunches. I also aim for a variety of foods. I don't want to eat the same things day after day, and I don't want a huge amount of one thing in any given day. I should also mention that I have access to a microwave at lunch, which expands my options a little. My first food strategy is variety.

My second lunch strategy in relation to food is to use some preprepared foods, some easy to prepare foods, and some foods from my freezer stash. I don't buy a lot of frozen foods, but there are a few I like. The tamales from Trader Joe's are delicious. I also look for frozen appetizers, like dumplings or spanokopita, which go well as part of a lunch. Most of the food in my freezer I put there myself. Currently I have: chicken and noodles, meat sauce (for pasta), tom kha gai, and one last piece of quiche. I also freeze packets of rice and side items when appropriate. I could easily fill a post with freezing info, and I probably will in the future. But for now here are a few tips:
- Foods which are moist freeze better than foods that are dry. Chicken and noodles in broth, yes. Grilled chicken, not so much.
- When you're cooking something that's a good freezer candidate, cook a few extra servings. It's easy to build up a freezer stock that way.
- Try out freezing by freezing one or two portions of something, before going for big batches. I found out that some things did not freeze so well after freezing 5-6 meals worth, and that was a lot of wasted food.
- Finally, cook and freeze foods you really like! If you didn't like something the first time, there's not much incentive to go back to it later.

The third option for foods is things that are easily prepared. Fresh fruits and veggies come into this category for me. Often in the morning I'll cut up a piece of fruit, steam some veggies, or make a small salad. Yogurt cups, cheese and crackers, and leftovers are also easy to pull together. Speaking of leftovers, lunch is a great place to eat leftovers.

My third food strategy is to plan what I'm going to pack for week when I go grocery shopping. I divide a piece of paper into 5 segments, Mon-Fri, and write down what I think I'll eat each day. Okayokay, I'm a geek, I actually made a table in Word, which I print out 3 to a page and cut up. And I annotated the table with notes about what days I eat lunch at noon, and what days I have to eat earlier or later, as that effects what I pack. (If I have to eat early or late I often split my lunch into 2 parts.) I don't stick 100% to the plan, but at least I know I'll have something for each day. We usually grocery stop every weekend, so I do one week at a time. If I knew I was going to go two weeks between grocery trips, I'd plan two weeks of lunches.

The fourth strategy, pick things I really want to eat! If I pack something that's just "okay", I'll drool over the cookies and ice cream at work. While I am a bit of a dessert junkie, the moral of the story for me is that if I bring healthy foods which I really like to eat, then I'm happy with my lunch. If I try to convince myself to eat something not so tasty for one reason or another, lunch will not be satisfying.

One thing I've found after bringing my own lunches for a while is that I have a mental list of meals that I like to eat. As I plan my meals for the week, I typically pull a couple from that list, and try some new combinations. I will feature some of my favorite lunches in future posts. For now I hope this has been food for thought ;)


Dennis G. Jerz said...

For me, variety = different flavors of Powerbars.

Anastasia said...

Dennis, at least you have no fear that any of us are going to ask you to share your lunch ;)