Weight Loss Wednesdays: Conquering the Brown Bag Lunch

I am a born-again brown bagger. Let me explain: as a child of blue collar parents, brown bagging it was a financial necessity, not just for me, but for all of us. Initially, I didn’t mind this fact, and happily munched my little kid lunches out of my cute little lunchbox day after day, until middle school hit. In middle school, there was suddenly pressure to be a part of the “cool crowd”- and all of the cool kids bought their lunches and never brought them from home. As such, I went on kind of a brown bag rebellion of sorts, where I eschewed bringing my lunch (whenever possible) in favor of loftily telling my friends that I had to go stand in the lunch line with the rest of the “in” crowd.

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Bringing my own lunch seemed such a “lame” thing to do in my adolescent mind, and even though my family could have technically been lumped into that group, as a teenager that was already somewhat nerdy and awkward at best (I know, surprise, surprise, right?) that was the last thing I wanted anyone thinking about me. I preferred to foster the perception that I could afford to buy my lunch whenever I wanted, and it was only my health nut mother that prevented me from doing so on the daily, and not for any other reason (disclaimer: I was only like 13 at the time, so this was pretty typical).

My aversion to the sack lunch became total in the late spring of my senior year of high school, when a can of tuna that I had brought as part of a higher protein lunch leaked into my book bag and all over my textbooks, leaving the entire classroom doused in a miasma of warm fish and me practically dissolving into a puddle of shame at my desk. Thus, I declared a total strike against the brown bag that lasted well until after college. It wasn’t really until I got into strength training on a consistent basis and I learned about the benefits of small frequent meals that I again began to consider the brown bag as an option. I think a lot of us consider the brown bag lunch in an unflattering light. Ask your average person on the street what they associate with the brown bag lunch and you’ll likely get answers such as, “mushy sandwich with the crusts cut off”, “juice boxes” or “what I pack my kids for school”. In short, for a lot of us, the act of bringing your lunch has become synonymous with something that is boring and definitely more suited to children than adults. I am here today to challenge that notion, and show you how you, too, can become a “born again” brown bagger and a “bringer of lunch”.

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Why should you be in favor of the bag? For one, its cheaper than getting daily takeout, and will let you save up money for that sweet Borat style thong swimsuit you’ve been yearning after. For two, it allows you to personalize and customize your intake to fit ANY of your dietary needs because YOU are in control. Need extra protein? Done. Going Paleo? No problem! Want a skinny, half-caff, no-foam, just a whiff of cinnamon latté? Go to Starbucks. I’m kidding, but you get the idea. Taking your lunch insures that you will be on point with your nutrition and will be therefore better able to follow you're weight loss/ weight maintenance goals. Additionally, if you do it right, and meal prep in batches, you only have to worry about lunch (and dinner if you’re really getting into it) twice a week, max.  Doesn’t that sound nice? I don’t know about you, but my days are kind of crazy and I am usually only reminded that its time to eat again when my stomach starts to grumble. I find it really convenient to know that when that happens, food is less than five minutes from going straight into my face. I mean, who doesn’t like instant gratification, am I right?

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Hopefully by now I have convinced you to come over to the dark side of lunch bringing, but just in case I haven’t, I will sweeten the deal with an idea to get the ball rolling. I used this recipe for both dinner at home twice and two snazzy take-out style lunches that were a whole lot healthier and cheaper than buying something and were much more satisfying than eating a protein bar washed down with water as a quick fix. Try it out!

 

Vietnamese Larb: Turkey and Lettuce Rolls

(adapted from Bon Appétit)

Ingredients

4 SERVINGS

Dressing

·       1/3 cup fresh lime juice

·       2 tablespoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)

·       2 tablespoons (packed) coconut palm sugar or honey

·       1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce

 This is basically as hard as it gets....

This is basically as hard as it gets....

Chicken

·       1 1/2 pounds ground turkey

·       1/2 cup coarsely chopped shallots

·       2 tablespoons thinly sliced lemongrass

·       1 lime, juiced and finely zested

·       1 small Serrano chile, thinly sliced

·       3 garlic cloves, minced

·       3 teaspoons fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)

·       1 teaspoon kosher salt

·       ½ teaspoon white pepper

·       2 tablespoons coconut oil

 Voilà! Vietnamese food in a jiffy! Good food begins at home!

Voilà! Vietnamese food in a jiffy! Good food begins at home!

To Serve

·       8 small iceberg lettuce or hearts of romaine leaves

·       Cilantro tender leaves and stems

·       1 scallion, thinly sliced

·       Cashews or peanuts, roasted and chopped

·       Sriracha to taste

Preparation

Dressing

Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set dressing aside.

Chicken

Combine first 9 ingredients in a food processor and mix until fully combined (if doing this by hand, finely chop the chilies instead of slicing them).  Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add chicken mixture and sauté, breaking up into small pieces with the back of a spoon, until chicken is starting to turn golden brown and is cooked through, about 6 minutes.

 

To Serve

 Take leftovers to go!!!

Take leftovers to go!!!

Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate. Top leaves with chicken mixture, dividing evenly. Spoon reserved dressing over. Garnish with cilantro, scallions and chopped cashews.

This recipe is flavor-packed and far from boring! Plus, it makes a cool little take-out style lunch that is far from boring to open at work. I used little plastic dunk cups leftover from some takeout to make sure my stuff stayed separate and crispy. Amazon sells little reusable ones that are also great for this. Once you've got the hang of this recipe, feel free to take it in new directions. Sliced radishes and matchstick carrots are also good ways to turn up the nutrition, as are fermented things like kimchi. Happy eating, lions!