For the first time here on Veggie Quest, we have a guest post—and it’s written by none other than my fantastic hubby, Jeff! Part sous chef, part taste-tester, and 100% awesome, Jeff is a steak-chowing Texan turned plant-powered rock star. (OK, actually, he’s an engineering manager, but he’s totally a rock star to me.) So without further ado, here
Greetings, Veggie Questers! I’m Jeff, the behind-the-scenes, cameo-making, eternally taste-testing husband. You’ve probably seen my work in the lighting for pictures or read about my antics with fire extinguishers. (Note: When using a fire extinguisher, I have a correction to the standard PASS guidelines: (1) Pull pin, (2) Aim, (3) SHUT MOUTH, (4) Squeeze.) But now I have the honor of stretching my blogging legs a bit and talking with you directly.
First, I have to confess, being a born-and-bred Texan who’s made the switch to a whole-food, plant-based diet, I get more than a few questions (and raised eyebrows) from friends and coworkers. The occasional roast aside, though, most questions are variations on two themes:
1) Do you really eat like that? (Um, yes.)
Easy—with a little planning and know-how. Being an engineer and project manager, I say that “failing to plan is planning to fail,” especially since the real world isn’t exactly veg-friendly. And no place is this more apparent than at work, where—unless you want to lay out piles of cash every day for questionably healthy restaurant food—you have to bring your own lunch. That’s easier said than done, though, with a busy workweek schedule! Luckily, I’ve got packing a whole-food, plant-based lunch in a hurry down to a science. Here’s how, engineer-style:
5-Minute Plant-Based Brown Bag Lunch
Every project has to start with requirements, so here are my requirements for a real workday lunch. It must:
- Satisfy my hunger and taste buds
- Keep well with little or no refrigeration
- Be easy to pack
- Be easy to eat
Luckily you can meet these requirements in four easy steps.
1. Get Equipped
A tasty, healthy lunch starts with the right bag. Since putting together a satisfying plant-based meal means packing loads of fruits and veggies, a wimpy little paper bag just won’t cut it. Instead, I use an insulated bag designed to keep twelve cans of beer cold for a tailgate (specifically, the 13½” x 10″ x 10″ bag by Transworld). It’s just the right size, and if I throw in a cold pack, I can keep food chilled until lunchtime, which is key at my office, because refrigerator space isn’t always guaranteed.
Next up is a big salad container. I’ve found that the cheap, reusable, generic 8-cup containers from Giant fit the bill perfectly. I also discovered by accident that identical generic containers are branded by Target (and probably other stores too), so they’re easy to replace if damaged or lost.
Finally, in my book, no salad is complete without dressing, which Lee and I usually make at home. How to get a single serving of salad dressing to work without spills? Enter the repurposed glass baby food jar. Just the right size, cheap, BPA-free, and easy to clean. Better still, when you buy them for the first time, they come conveniently filled with baby food. (Or adult food, if you have the chutzpah.) Put the jar in a zip-top baggie (which you can reuse all week) for the ultimate in drip protection.
2. Devise a Formula
I don’t have a lot of brain cells to burn on figuring out what to eat every day, so I have a lunchtime formula that I follow. I know it seems a bit silly, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to have things clearly laid out, especially at 6:30 in the morning. (As a side note, I’ve even been known to turn the occasional recipe into a flow chart—but that’s a whole other post!) Anyhow, here’s my formula:
Salad + Veggie + Fruit + Entree + Nuts + Dried Fruit = Satisfied Jeff
There’s enough wiggle room in this formula to allow variety without having to give it too much thought.
3. Prep Your Veggies
Lunch has to be quick and easy to pack in the mornings, or I’ll be hitting Chipotle come lunchtime. On busy weeks, that can mean buying pre-washed and chopped veggies for my salad and side, but most of the time I like to keep costs down by doing my own prep work. So, over the weekend or on a slow weeknight, I’ll grate some carrots or jicama in the food processor, dice a sweet onion, slice some radishes, or cut up some zucchini sticks. And while I’m at it, I’ll make my own dressing. None of this takes long, but I’m not about to do it in the morning before work—I’d rather sleep!
4. Pack it up
With veggie prep done, I can throw lunch together in five minutes flat. I simply put a few handfuls of prewashed baby lettuce into my 8-cup container and top it off with whatever veggies I’ve got sliced or diced in the fridge. Then I pack up some snap peas or zucchini sticks, wash a piece of fruit, and grab some leftovers from the night before (like some Cuban black bean cakes) or a frozen bean and rice burrito (Amy’s and Whole Foods brands are both delicious). Finally, for those snack cravings, I throw in some dried fruit and nuts. Boom, happy Jeff.
So take a look at my meal for today:
- Spring mix salad with radishes, cucumber, onion, and a jar of dijon-date dressing
- Sugar snap peas
A delicious, nutritious meal to power me through my workday—ready in under 5 minutes.
So, what’s your formula for a tasty plant-based lunch? Do you have any tricks for putting together a brown-bag meal fast? Share in the comments below!