Let’s take a walk through the grocery store. We’ll not be going up and down aisles, as many people do when shopping. Instead, we’ll walk around the periphery of the market.
Why? Because fresh food items like produce, meat, and dairy are almost always situated in the periphery of any grocery store. In learning how to prepare lunches that are nutritious as well as delicious, it’s important to be acquainted with the freshest foods your market has to offer.
I live near an Albertson’s, and today I chose it for our peripheral trip. So I passed through the front entrance, took a sharp left towards the produce section, and….Wow, look at the colors! And that’s just the berry section!
Produce can be intimidating to people who are not sure how to cook or prepare fruits and vegetables. Also, produce goes bad relatively quickly without proper storage, and this discourages consumers who feel they don’t have money to waste on such tricky stuff. But fresh produce tastes so good. And fruit and vegetables inevitably lose some nutrients when they are canned or frozen.
Fortunately, fresh produce is often packaged in 2-4 serving allotments. For example, the berries that you see above are in two to three serving-sized containers. By the way, berries that you don’t use can be placed in Tupperware containers and frozen for future use.
Many markets have salad counters with product in individual containers. Although it costs a little more, single-serving salad is convenient for those of us who don’t have time to chop up lettuce.
One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower. I love it raw with dip, or steamed with cheese sauce. It used to be that cauliflower was only sold by the head. Now you can purchase bags of cut-up florets for consumption. So convenient!
Here is a recipe which incorporates cauliflower and other vegetables into premade canned lentil soup. It is easy to make and delicious. It also freezes well. (And for my vegan friends….it’s vegan!)
EASY CURRIED LENTIL SOUP (3 to 4 servings)
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup chopped sweet yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower
2 teaspoons curry powder
One medium vine-ripened tomato, chopped
Two cans Progresso lentil soup (look in soup section)
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil until smoking. Turn down the burner to low.
Add the onion, bell pepper, and cauliflower. Saute and stir for 3 minutes.
Add the curry power. Saute and stir for another minute.
Add the tomato. Saute and stir for yet another minute.
Add the lentil soup and mix all ingredients well. Heat until the mixture is almost at a boil.
Turn down the burner and cover saucepan. Simmer for 20 minutes.
This dish is great with naan or pita bread.
Next blog: Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 2
Those who are following this blog may remember that last week, we took a look at the produce section at my local supermarket. Today, we’re visiting the meat counter.
It’s certainly more convenient to obtain precooked luncheon or canned meats from other sections of the grocery store instead of cooking meat yourself. However, for health reasons some of us should not consume the added salt, MSG, and other ingredients that are used in the production of prepared meats.
It is advantageous to use product from the meat counter. You can opt to season your meat any way that you wish. And if you are concerned about fat and cholesterol, you can choose among several low fat options. For example:
Red meats. Stew meat is an economical cut of beef that can be prepared on the weekend, then re-heated for lunches during the work week. Below, we see a photograph of extra lean stew meat.
Years ago, I learned how to cook beef stew in a wonderful way. I used to work at a local auto repair shop as a data entry clerk. The family who owned the business was Persian, and they always served their workers a delicious home-made stew at lunchtime. The owner’s wife gave me the following recipe:
Persian Crock Pot Stew
1/2 cup green onions, minced
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 cup fresh spinach, minced
3 tablespoons canola oil
3-4 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 2″ cubes
1 cup beef broth (you can use dried bouillon dissolved in 1 cup water)
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons dried celery flakes
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 can of kidney beans, drained (make sure you use kidney beans without sugar or additional sweetener)
Juice of one lemon
1.Thoroughly rinse the first four ingredients. The easiest way to mince is with a food processor. Otherwise, pull out a knife or cleaver and start chopping.
2.Saute the minced greens in 2 tablespoons of oil for 10 minutes in a saucepan. Then place in the crockpot. Wash out the saucepan.
3.Brown the meat in 1 tablespoon oil in the saucepan and then add to the crockpot.
4.Add the next five ingredients to the crockpot. Cover, turn to Low, and cook for 8-9 hours, or until the meat is tender.
5.Drain the kidney beans and add to the crockpot.
6.Add the lemon juice to the crockpot. Stir.
7.Cover the pot and allow to cook on Low for another 1/2 hour. Season to taste.
8.This stew is delicious over rice or as is with pita bread. It re-heats well and stays warm for hours in a Thermos because of its soupiness. You can also microwave to warm or use the miniature CrockPot lunch warmer referred to in a previous article.
Poultry. I see the butcher is offering skinless chicken breast. Perfect! Without its skin, chicken has much less fat and cholesterol. I can put some breasts into a foil-lined baking dish, add a little salt and pepper, turn the oven on to bake at 350 degrees, and cook for 40 minutes. (It’s done when there’s no sign of pinkishness in the breast when sliced in half).
I will let the meat cool, wrap tightly in Saran wrap, and store in the frig. It’s a great, low-fat addition to salads, sandwiches, or pre-made soup. Suggestion: Cook your fowl on the weekend to eliminate prep time during the work week.
Seafood. Many people shy away from seafood simply because they’re not sure how to cook it. However, I’ve discovered that you can cook some fish, such as salmon and trout, in the microwave. It’s easy and makes for a much more efficient cleanup.
Looks like we have some sockeye salmon today. It’s pricier than Atlantic salmon, but in my opinion has much better flavor. So I will ask the butcher to slice off a piece for me.
Steamed Microwave Salmon Fillet
Place your fillet in a microwave-safe dish. I prefer using a pasta bowl.
Marinade with your favorite sauce for 1/2 hour. (I’ve used teriyaki marinade, chicken marinade, and plain salad vinaigrette). Today, I’ll be using a balsamic vinaigrette.
Cover the fish with another smaller plate to make a tight seal.
Cook in microwave for 4 minutes.
Remove from microwave and carefully lift the top plate off. (Suggestion: push the top plate away from you to allow steam to escape from opposite side. You don’t want to burn yourself!)
Eat hot with your favorite side dish. Or let cool, wrap tightly, refrigerate and use later as an addition to your favorite salad. Salmon is delicious hot or cold. Here are some lunchtime suggestions:
Teriyaki marinaded salmon is good re-heated with rice. Green salad makes a good side dish
Cold balsamic marinaded salmon is good on top of a Greek-style green salad.
Cold salmon is also good topped with plain yogurt mixed with chopped fresh dill. Sliced cucumber with vinaigrette is a good side dish. (We’ll talk more about yogurt in my next blog.)
NEXT BLOG: Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 3
Those who follow this blog already know that we’ve been taking a walk around the periphery of the grocery store. This is where you will find the freshest and least processed foods.
Over the last couple of weeks, we toured the produce and meat sections of my local Albertson’s store. Today, we’re taking a look at the dairy section for some brown bag ideas.
Just to clarify: “Dairy” will include the milk, butter, egg, and cheese section of my store. Keep in mind that we’ll be reviewing items that are pre-packaged with nutritional labeling. I would strongly suggest that whenever you consider a food item for purchase, review available nutritional labeling. This is especially important for those of us who have special needs concerning fat content, sugar content, and salt content. You might be surprised at what you find!
Eggs. Let’s take a look at the egg section, typically located near the dairy items. I would like to point out that most of these sections now offer hard boiled, peeled eggs for use in sandwiches, salads, and other dishes.
We have some tradeoffs here. As you can see, six pre-peeled, pre-cooked hard boiled eggs cost some money. Or, you can pay a little less and spend some time boiling and peeling eggs yourself. We’ll discuss recipes with eggs in later blogs.
Cheese. Cheese is a great high protein, high calcium food which can be used for snacks or main meals. Nowadays, cheese is packaged in single-serving, pre-wrapped portions. Very convenient for the brownbagger looking for a easy way to transport food.
Let’s take a look at some nutritional labeling. I’ve found that mozzarella cheese tends to have a lower fat content, especially lite mozzarella:
Please note that one serving (one stick) contains 2.5 grams of fat, with 1.5 grams being saturated. (For people like me who need to watch cholesterol, saturated fat can be a problem.)
Compare the fat content of the mozzarella pictured above with a bag of individually wrapped full-fat Cheddar cheese:
Wow….One stick of Cheddar has almost three times the fat content of the mozzarella, and twice as much cholesterol. Also, it has one gram less of protein than the mozzarella. One plus is that the sodium content is slightly lower than the mozzarella.
Milk. I’ve brown-bagged cold cereal and milk more than once to work. I like cow’s milk very much, but it affects my digestive system in a bad way. And then there’s that cholesterol issue. Fortunately, there are lots of plant-based milk products that are typically sold in grocery stores. For example:
Soy milk. Soy milk contains a relatively high amount of protein and calcium. Because it’s plant-based, it does not contain cholesterol. In addition, most soy milk is enriched with Vitamin D (just like cow’s milk).
Almond milk. Almond milk does not contain as much protein as soy milk. However, it does contain calcium as well as Vitamin E and is also usually enriched with Vitamin D.
Oat milk. For those who are allergic to soy and nuts, oat milk might be an alternative. Like other plant-based milk, it is enriched with calcium and Vitamin D.
Please note that if you have food allergies, you should always ask your doctor about alternatives to cow and nut milk before purchase.
Yogurt. There are two types of yogurt on the market: European-style, which is rather liquidy, and Greek yogurt, which has a consistency like sour cream. Yogurt is a convenient alternative to milk, it’s easy to pack and carry to work, and it makes a delicious breakfast food. But watch out! Many flavored yogurts contain lots of added sugar. Let’s take a look at the nutritional label for one flavored yogurt I found at Albertsons:
This is a pretty tasty brand; I’ve had it before. The protein and calcium content are both good. But look at the sugar content: 21 grams per serving (5.5 oz.). The product also contains 6 grams of saturated fat and 25 mg. of cholesterol per serving.
In contrast, let’s take a look at a plain yogurt product:
The brand we’re now looking at is Strauss Creamery Non-Fat Yogurt (European style), the tastiest non-fat yogurt I’ve ever had. Their full-fat yogurt is just….dreamy. It’s the one non-fat yogurt that is made solely from milk product, without the non-dairy thickeners typically used in other non-fat yogurts. Strauss is usually sold at Sprouts and Whole Foods, but at least one other Albertson’s in Yorba Linda carries it. By the way, you can request specific brands through your local supermarket manager.
Take a look at the specs: One 8 oz serving contains no fat, only 10 mg. cholesterol, half the sugar of the brand we previously looked at, more calcium, more protein….From a nutritional standpoint, this product is superior.
But what about that sour taste? Well, you can add some Stevia or other sweetener to your yogurt, as well as strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries. I’m especially fond of chopped mango and yogurt; they go really well together.
I’d like to leave you with one last recipe that includes foods from the produce department, meat counter, and dairy section. This hearty stew freezes well and carries well in a thermos for brown bag eating:
SOUTHWEST PUMPKIN AND CHICKEN STEW (3-4 servings)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrot, chopped
1 pound cubed uncooked skinless and boneless chicken breast, cut into 1″ cubes.
1 cup (3 stalks) chopped celery, chopped
1/2 cup medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 15 ounce can of solid packed pumpkin
1 15 ounce can chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream, warmed to room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Juice of one lemon
1. In a large saucepan, heat the vegetable oil.
2. Add the next five ingredients and saute for five minutes.
3. Add everything else, except for the lemon juice, and mix well.
4. Heat until the mixture is bubbling. Lower to simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
5. Mix in lemon juice to finish. This dish is very good with cornbread.
NEXT WEEK: Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through the Grocery Store–Part 4
Those who follow this blog already know that we’ve been taking a walk around the periphery of my local Albertson’s grocery store.
Over the last couple of weeks, we toured the produce, meat, and dairy sections. Our last stop will be the deli section….and get ready for a brown bag menu!
I truly love the deli section. Here’s where you find delicious gourmet cheese, meats, olives, and other lovely stuff. Unfortunately, many of these items are full of fat, salt, and preservatives that we might not want to consume. For example:
I’m going to go on record as stating that I adore these Dietz & Watson sandwiches. They are flavorful, filling, and convenient when you don’t really have time to make lunch. But let’s take a look at the nutrition info for this item:
According to the labeling for this product, one entire sandwich contains 14 grams of fat, 6 of which are saturated. What is most concerning is the sodium count: 910 mg., which according to this label is 40% of the Daily Value (DV) for a 2,000 calorie diet for healthy adults. Therefore, a person with health issues affected by sodium intake (for example, high blood pressure) might want to think twice before eating this sandwich. One other thing–the labeling clearly states that condiments in this package aren’t addressed in the nutrition facts. Which means that the sandwich probably has even more salt, calories and fat than what is listed.
Can we put something together with lower amounts of sodium and fat? Let’s give it a try.
First, the meat filling. I noted that the deli showcase includes some fresh roasted turkey breast. Unprocessed cooked meats tend to contain lower amounts of sodium than the processed variety. Sodium amounts are not listed for this item, but I did taste a sample and concluded that there was not a lot of salt in it. The turkey is clearly skinless and does not exhibit any evidence of fat.
Let’s get some of this turkey!
Next, the bread. At my Albertson’s, as well as other markets like Ralph’s and Sprouts, the deli section typically offers Flatout Flatbread, a flatbread high in important nutrients. It tastes good, too. You can also purchase this item on amazon.com.
When reviewing bread, I always look for fiber content, protein content, and calories. One serving of this product (one flatbread) contains 10 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein, and 90 calories. That’s pretty good. (We’ll talk more about breads in a later blog). In addition, a serving of Flatout contains just 10% of the daily allowance for sodium in a 2,000 calorie diet. Even better, it has no saturated fat or cholesterol.
A sandwich just doesn’t go down well without some sort of dressing. But mayonnaise, which is one of my favorites, contains egg yolk and therefore some cholesterol. However, there’s a healthy alternative in the deli section:
Hummus is made from pureed chickpeas, olive oil, and additional flavorings. It has a rich, savory taste. And as you can see from the label above, it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol. One serving (2 tablespoons) contains 7% of the DV for sodium. Today, we’ll try some Athenos hummus.
Let’s take what we have and make a sandwich!
Step 1. Lay the bread on a cutting board, rough side up. Spread 2 tablespoons of hummus on one half of the bread.
Step 2. For some crunch, place lettuce, cabbage, or other leafy vegetables on the other half of the bread. I chose some leftover Taylor Farms Mediterranean Crunch Chopped vege’s, which I obtained from the produce section. (See previous blog.) I also added some leftover miniature red bell peppers.
Step 3. Place 4 oz. fresh roasted turkey on the vege’s as shown below.
Step 4. Roll the flatbread from the bottom up, so that the last part rolled is the half spread with hummus. The hummus securely “glues” the bread roll together.
Step 5. Slice your bread roll in half. If rolled and cut correctly, it should look like this:
Based on data from food labeling, as well as additional data from the Internet, I have totaled significant nutrient stats for the Flatout turkey rollup as follows:
Sodium: 25% DV *
Saturated Fat: 0
Protein: 46 grams
Compare these stats with those listed on the packaged sandwich: Their product is 420 calories; ours is 315. And we’ve significantly reduced fat and sodium content, while boosting protein content. I should mention here that I never advocate food I haven’t tried. This turkey-hummus rollup is really good!
*My butcher was not sure how much salt was used in the turkey I purchased. I did check a website for kosher turkey (kosher turkey is typically brined prior to being sold), and 4 oz. was listed as containing 8% DV of sodium. I would not expect the Albertson’s turkey to have more than that amount, which theoretically would bring the total sodium count for this dish to 25% DV, much better than the 40% listed in the Dietz and Watson turkey sandwich.
I have included photos of the following lunch menu which features the turkey-hummus sandwich as a main dish. You may remember that in a previous blog, I recommended the lunch pail and containers pictured below:
Tomato/cucumber salad (also purchased at my Albertson’s deli)
Non-fat plain yogurt, with a package of Stevia added for sweetness (we discussed yogurt in last week’s blog)
Frozen blackberries and strawberries for the yogurt
Raw walnuts for the yogurt (you can find walnuts in the bakery section)
This finishes our walk around the periphery of the grocery store. Please note that although we looked at an Albertsons, you can find similar foods in the periphery of your own local grocery store.
In a previous blog, I discussed gadgets that you might want to have at your disposal when packing meals. Every once in a while, I will report on how well these and other gadgets work.
This morning, I decided to heat up some of the frozen curried lentil soup I made the other day. I placed a portion of it, still frozen, in my own CrockPot lunch warmer at 11:20am and plugged in the device. At 1:20 pm, I took a photo. As you can see, the soup is completely thawed. I can also attest to the fact that it is piping hot and ready to eat.
This is the first time I’ve tried the warmer out on frozen food, and it performed well. If I were working in an office, I would probably plug it in at the morning break to get the food properly heated by noon.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this device, please see my earlier blog concerning brown bag equipment.
NEXT BLOG: Walking the Periphery: A Trip Through The Grocery Store, Part 2
For many years, I was a traveling trainer for a government agency. My job required that I drive long distances to remote offices all over Los Angeles County. I frequently taught at locations that did not offer drinks or any other refreshments. If I were lucky, there might be a Starbucks or other restaurant nearby, but that was not always the case. So I had to provide for myself if I had any hope of eating during the day.
Here’s a list of equipment that I found useful during my time as a trainer:
Lunch bag. I’m extremely absent-minded, especially in the morning. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked out the door without my keys, or my wallet, or… my lunch bag. To get organized before leaving for work, I started packing all my items (purses, lunch bags, coffee thermos) into a rolling backpack. To save room, I needed a small, compact food carrier that would easily fit inside the backpack.
After checking prices at various locations, I settled on an Arctic Zone lunch bag which I bought at Walmart for $7.97.
The bag is approximately 6″x9″ and well insulated. It has two interior sections for food storage. And it easily fits into a backpack.
Individual food containers. Walmart carries these items for $6.92. They fit nicely into the Arctic Zone lunch bag, and they are BPA free, freezer safe, microwave safe, and dishwasher safe.
By the way: In a previous blog, I referred to the fact that it’s important to keep food cold until it’s consumed or heated up. We certainly don’t want to get salmonella poisoning from our food. So please put a frozen cold pack in your lunch bag before leaving the house.
Thermos. What if you don’t have access to a microwave and you want a hot lunch? There are a few options out there. For example, a solid steel Thermos will keep food hot or cold for hours. Here’s what I’ve always used:
I bought this item on Amazon.com for $19.99. It’s more expensive than other types of thermos….but it works. If you want to use the Genuine Thermos for a hot lunch, fill it with very hot water from the tap and let sit for 10 minutes. Then pour the water out and add your heated food. Just as the label says, this thermos will keep your stuff hot for hours, and it holds up to 16 oz. of food. Caveat: The thermos works best with foods that contain plenty of liquid, such as oatmeal, soup, and stews. It does not keep pilaf or pasta warm for a long time. But here’s something else that does…..
Plug-in Lunch Warmer. Over the last few years, experts have developed a whole list of plug-in lunch containers that are alternatives to microwaves or toaster ovens. I’ve tried one or two of these items. My favorite is the Crock-Pot Lunch Warmer.
You can purchase the lunch warmer online from various sources, including Amazon.com, Target, Best Buy, and crock-pot.com. It holds 20 oz. and costs anywhere from $19.99 to $29.99, depending on where you buy it. (I note that Best Buy advertises it at the lower price.)
The lunch warmer is by far my favorite brown bag device. It heats your food within two hours without burning or drying it up. The best feature is the double seal, which keeps food odors from escaping while lunch is cooking. Thus, you can plug the warmer in at your desk without bothering your neighbors. I’ve warmed up everything from stews to pasta to pilaf, and the results are always great. By the way, the inner container is removable and very easy to clean. Caveat: Although the instructions indicate that you can coil the plug-in cord around the base of the warmer for storage, do not do this. Over time, this stresses the base of the cord, and the warmer will eventually short out. I found out the hard way and ended up purchasing another one. Also, do not cook raw food with this lunch warmer. It’s only to be used for warming food that’s already cooked.