Friday, 28 January 2011


“Let not the sands of time get in your lunch.” - Tony Hendra

Despite the holiday midweek, this was a difficult and busy week with much happening and long hours at work, as if to make up for the “lost” working day. In any case the weekend is nearly here and I look forward to some rest and relaxation. I’ll try to do the least work possible and enjoy the break. Sunday promises to be a scorcher with a forecast maximum of 40˚C so the best place to be is somewhere cool and shady!

I have been trying to have a bit more of a healthful diet, as well as increase the amount of exercise I regularly do. As the years advance, it’s so easy to put on weight especially if one likes good food and drink. Nevertheless, there are so many tasty, healthful, fresh and slimming food options out there now that it’s a shame not to take advantage of them. And one feels so good once the kilos begin to be shed.

I wrote about the benefits of a good breakfast last week so today I’ll write something about a good lunch. In Australia, where we work right through the day (unlike, say, in Mediterranean countries where a post-lunch siesta is the norm, followed by more work), lunch is often a rushed affair, with fast, unhealthy food more than likely the norm. Many people that pack a lunch from home end up eating sandwiches, which depending on the filling can be quite nasty. Others eat out and are tempted by pizza, fried food, chips and all sorts of other take-away horrors that are consumed quickly and on the run, or at our desk. Very few people will have the good option of a protein-rich staple supplemented by complex carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, with lots of fluid, preferably in the form of cool water or green unsweetened tea. Preferably, these will be consumed somewhere away from the workplace, giving us the opportunity for some exercise before and after lunch.

One of the first things to try and reduce in the lunch menu are butter, margarine, oils and all sorts of other fats. One can use substitutes. For example, why not try spreading your multigrain bread with some nice, ripe, mashed avocado? Cholesterol-free olive oil, used sparingly is another good substitute. Avoid mayonnaise, bought salad dressings, ready-made sauces and spreads of all kinds. Cheese can be packed full of fats and calories, although it may taste heavenly – eat sparingly! Cottage cheese is another matter, but its taste (or lack of) is another matter too…

Here are some interesting and healthful lunch suggestions for a whole week:

On Sunday night, put some chopped zucchini, capsicum, mushrooms and strips of chicken breast into a roasting tin. Lightly spray them with olive oil, season with paprika and ground pepper. Put in the oven on low heat until the chicken is well cooked and the vegetables are tender. Put in the refrigerator overnight. On Monday morning, pack the chicken and vegetables into a container and take to work with a wholemeal bread (or tortilla) wrap and a handful of ready-washed salad leaves. Assemble your wrap at lunchtime, just before you eat it so that it’s not soggy and tastes fresh – delicious!

Spinach, beetroot greens and rocket salad with red peppers, red onion, tinned tuna and a balsamic dressing. The salad ingredients are packed in a container and taken to work sot hat they can be quickly assembled at lunchtime. The salad dressing is made at home and put in a bottle to keep in the fridge at work. It is made with extra-virgin olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, a little salt. You can also add lime juice, some Dijon mustard or herbs such as oregano or thyme. You can drink some iced green tea with this.

Wednesday: Roast beef sandwich on rye bread with rocket leaves and horseradish. You can buy pre-sliced roast beef at your delicatessen or if so inclined make it at home (last night’s dinner leftovers, perhaps?). The horseradish sauce is shop-bought (unless you are really into this cooking thing and make your own too!), while rocket is now widely available, in an organic version too. You can supplement this lunch with a piece of fresh fruit, or prepared fruit chunks or some fruit juice.

Couscous mixed with chopped vegetables and fresh herbs. If you have never had couscous, you are missing out on an interesting and healthful food. It is full of the goodness of grain, especially if you buy the wholemeal version, and it takes only a few minutes to cook. You can really please yourself with what you mix in it, but try a variety of raw or cooked vegetables, chopped avocado, walnuts or beans and stir in plenty of fresh herbs. Low-fat yogurt can accompany this meal – either in its savoury form on the side of the meal or the sweet form, to be had as a “dessert”.

Friday: Lentil tomato stew with onions and bay leaves. This is a dish that you have to make the day before, but it keeps well in the refrigerator and you can have two or three meals out of it. Use 2 cups of lentils (rinsed and picked over), 1.5 cups of crushed tomatoes (you can use canned ones), 4 tablespoons olive oil, 6 cloves garlic – sliced, 1 teaspoon salt, 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin; 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage, pepper, 2 bay leaves, 2 onions, halved and thinly sliced. To prepare: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook or until softened. Stir in the lentils, tomatoes, salt, cumin, sage, pepper, and add 4 cups of water, bringing to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the bay leaves, cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

Homemade vegetable soup with crusty multigrain bread. Fresh fruit salad with low-fat Greek yogurt. All sorts of vegetables can be made into soup and you can follow your whimsy and taste. For example, for spicy parsnip soup, fry chopped onions, spring onions and garlic in a little oil until brown. Add chopped parsnips, potatoes and a spoonful of mixed spices. Add a pint of vegetable stock and cook until vegetables are soft. Blend until smooth and stir in a tablespoon of tahini paste before serving.

Sunday - Option1: Jacket potato with cottage cheese and chives with a large green salad. A cereal bar, if desired. Pierce a washed potato all over and put in the microwave on high heat for ten to twelve minutes, depending on its size. Skewer through to ensure it’s cooked all the way through. Score into quarters and serve with creamed cottage cheese (or low fat sour cream), fresh chopped chives and salad on the side.

Sunday Option2:
Poached or scrambled egg on wholemeal toast with grilled field mushrooms and tomato. A fruit smoothie to round off lunch - try blending up a banana, berries and some pineapple with a little orange juice.

You get my drift with these menus. As you can see the recipes have a low content of fat, a fair amount of protein, lots of fibre and fresh vegetables/fruit, small quantities of cheese, milk, eggs, with very low simple carbohydrate and processed food content. Such a diet, combined with some exercise will do wonders for your health and reduce your weight.

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