February 02, 2004

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The Low Carb Brown Bag Lunch

With low carb chain restaurant menus proliferating like the spam in my inbox, the need to take your own low carb lunch to work is less pressing than it once was. It's still a fine idea, however - it's cheaper than eating out, of course, and brown bagging it also saves time for things that might be dearer to your heart, like a quick walk, a little shopping, a chapter of whatever you're currently reading, or maybe even an earlier quitting time. Furthermore, as the weather warms up (Please, God!!), a sack lunch will be your ticket to sitting in a local park in the sunshine for a few precious minutes, instead of waiting for a counter person or waiter to bring your food.

So here are some ideas for what to put in that brown paper bag:

* Hard boiled eggs or stuffed eggs. Stuffed eggs travel pretty well in a small snap-top container.

* Leftovers. If your office has a microwave for your use, lunches are the best way to use up leftovers before the family rebels.

* A slice of quiche. Make a quiche over the weekend, and take a slice for lunch every day. Traditionally, quiche is eaten at room temperature, so you don't even have to warm it up! If this idea appeals to you, it's good to know that Tupperware sells triangular "slice carriers" that will fit a slice of quiche perfectly.

* Tuna, egg, or chicken salad and fiber crackers. Or tuna salad, chicken, or egg salad without fiber crackers, for that matter. Even without refrigeration, these salads shouldn't go bad by lunchtime, unless your workspace is hellishly hot. But if you like, there are containers available with little cooler-packs in the lid - freeze the lid over night, fill the container with salad, screw the cold lid on, and presto: Refrigerated food.

* Bagged salad with tuna, cheese, diced ham, canned shrimp, boiled eggs, or other protein added. Stash a bottle of dressing in the break-room fridge, or buy the smallest size snap-top container, and fill it with dressing to bring along. Just don't toss your salad with its dressing hours before lunch - your salad will end up unappealingly soggy.

* Canned protein shakes. Atkins, Carb Solutions, and other low carb protein shakes in single serving cans are now available in many mainstream grocery stores, and even in mass-marketers like Kmart and WalMart. These make a quick and easy lunch, and are not only low carb, but generally low calorie as well. I weary quickly of drinking my meals; I like solid food. Furthermore, I have a bias in favor of stuff that's not this processed. But if you like these things, they're certainly an option.

* Nut and seed mix. This is more of a snack or nibble that is nutritious and filling enough that you may not need a full meal. Check out a good health food store for a variety of nut and seed mixes, but be sure to avoid those with carb-laden additions like raisins, date pieces, dried banana slices, yogurt coated nuts, and the like. It's also good to keep in mind that the wider the variety of nuts and seeds in the mix, the more nutritious it will be - and that pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are actually more nutritious than most nuts.

* Cut up vegetables with a high protein dip. This is a fast and easy lunch, and sort of fun to eat.

* Homemade low carb, high protein baked goods. The zucchini bread in the last issue, for instance, would make a fine lunch, especially if you spread it with a little cream cheese. For that matter, the Sunflower Parmesan Crackers from 500 Low-Carb Recipes with a dip or spread would make a nice lunch. There are more and more recipes for low carb baked goods out there - in 500 Low-Carb Recipes, and in others. There are also some low carb, high protein commercial baked goods hitting the market - they're certainly becoming more available where I live. However, these commercial products vary a lot in carb and protein count - many of them are so high carb I wouldn't consider them. Read the labels carefully - and pay close attention to the serving size!

* Stuffed celery. One of the nicest things to stuff it with is a half-and-half mixture of cream cheese and blue cheese, but use what you like - keeping in mind that there's a pretty strict limit to how much peanut butter you should eat (and that you should always buy natural peanut butter, not the processed kind with sugar and hydrogenated oils added!) Travel tip: Put equal-length pieces of stuffed celery stalk face-to-face before putting them in a bag or snap-top container, to avoid mess.

* Individually wrapped cheese chunks. There are bunches of these around - string cheese, Laughing Cow Cheese Bits, Baby Bels, all sorts of stuff. Easy to carry, easy to eat. Of course, there's no reason you can't just cut some hunks of cheese, and put them in a baggie. Cheaper, too.

* Along with your cheese, you could bring sliced deli meats - ham, turkey, roast beef, or what-have-you. Be wary, however, of things that are ground up and pressed back together - bologna, chicken loaf, that sort of thing. Too often, these have sugar or corn syrup and other carbs added. Read the labels! Be careful, too, about things like "honey ham." If you're buying your cold cuts at the deli counter, go at a fairly slow time if you can, so you don't feel pressured, and can ask the nice deli people to check labels for you.

* Frozen hot wings. If you have access to a freezer and a microwave at work, your possibilities increase tremendously! Frozen hot wings take only a few minutes to heat up, and they're very tasty.

* Frozen grilled fish fillets. Again, these take only a few minutes to heat up, and they come in a number of flavors - lemon pepper, garlic butter, Cajun blackened, etc. Look in the frozen fish case - and stay away from the breaded stuff!

* Cold shrimp with homemade low carb cocktail sauce or mustard and mayo combined. Cold cooked shrimp are neat and easy to eat. Buy 'em that way, or cook up a batch on Sunday, and stash them in the fridge for lunches during the week.

* Cottage cheese - plain, or with seasoning added. It's the old dieter's standby for a reason: It's low carb, low calorie, filling, inexpensive, and loaded with protein and calcium. Add some berries to your cottage cheese, if you like, or if you'd prefer something savory, you could add chives or sliced scallions, chopped radishes, grated carrot, minced green pepper, whatever you like - and maybe some seasoning salt. You can also buy cottage cheese in single-serving containers with peel-off tops, though I'd be more likely to just spoon some into a snap-top container.

* Plain yogurt, with artificial sweetener and your favorite flavoring extract added. While packaged flavored yogurt is too high carb for us, plain yogurt fits into a low carb diet just fine. As the authors of The GO-Diet pointed out, the 12 gram per serving carb count on plain yogurt is inaccurate. That's how much carbohydrate - lactose - was in the milk the yogurt was made from, but the yogurt bacteria turn most of that lactose into lactic acid, giving yogurt its characteristically tangy flavor. Count 4 grams per cup of plain yogurt, and you should be fine. Don't like it plain? Stir in a teaspoon of any flavoring extract you like - vanilla and lemon are our favorites around here - plus sweetener to taste. Again, yogurt travels well in a snap-top container.

Posted by HoldTheToast at February 2, 2004 07:45 PM