Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Do Lunch

When it comes to lunch spots around my office, there are no "healthy choices." These places cater to the traditional Cleveland waistline, offering such standard fare as the "Big Bob Belly Buster" fish dinners, mile-high corned beef sammies, fried everything, heart attack burgers and mayo-laden salads and wraps. My one ray of light--a Mideast restaurant featuring decent hummus and lentil salads--westernized its menu in less than a year.

Plus, I'm a "conscientious omnivore." I don't eat meat, eggs or milk from an animal that wasn't raised ethically and naturally. Organic and free-range, that's me. So, Subway is out.

No, the only way I can survive lunch is to bring my own food. For a while, I ate homemade turkey sandwiches on whole grain bread. However, even though I purchased the meat from a local natural foods market, I couldn't verify the source of the organic turkey and, well, it was too salty. Plus, while the bread was whole grain, it was a major calorie bomb at about 110 calories per slice and I still wasn't getting enough veggies.

So, I decided to take a break from the meat and add more veggies to my lunch by making my own rice bowls. Brown rice is preferable--it's tastier and healthier than plain white rice. The rice bowls require a little advance preparation, but the final result is yummy goodness.

Here's how I do it:

1. In a casserole dish, mix together 1 & 1/2 cups of brown basmati rice, 2 & 3/4 cups of water, 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 TB butter (yes, butter. Olive oil adds a slightly unpleasant bitter flavor) and 1 tsp. salt. Cover tightly and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 70 minutes. It's that simple. The end result is perfectly cooked brown rice that will serve as a base for 5 lunch bowls:

2. While the rice is baking, roughly chop up 2-3 stalks of broccoli, 1/2 bag baby carrots, 1 white onion, and any other veggie you'd like such as snap sugar peas, green peppers, cauliflower or green beans. Steam in boiling water for no more than 4-5 minutes. You don't want to over-cook the veggies because they will be frozen and then reheated later.

Here, I've steamed carrots, broccoli and onions. I'm also adding frozen green beans, which I don't need to steam at all (fresh organic beans are preferred, but they weren't available). So, I'm letting them thaw while the rice is baking.

Dammit, I forgot the mushrooms!

4. Once you're done with the vegetables, set up an assembly line for your lunch bowls. I'm using 5 re-usable containers that are microwave and freezer safe.

5. Choose your flavor. Here, I'm going for a Thai-style lunch. I've got reduced sodium soy sauce, fish sauce, lime wedges, a pinch of raw sugar and sriracha hot chili sauce.

But you can also try green or panang curry sauces (just watch the portions...they're about 50-90 calories for about 2 TBs), add some lemon grass or make your own pad thai style rice using tamarind paste with the above-mentioned ingredients I'm currently using and a sprinkling of chopped peanuts. Bitch Cakes has a great recipe for a low-cal peanut sauce that you could add to the rice dish.

And a word about Sriracha--or "Cock Sauce:"

I friggin' love this stuff. I put it on everything. I would make love to it if I could.

6. Portion out the rice evenly into the five containers. I usually yield about 4 & 1/2 to 5 ounces of cooked rice per serving. Notice the scale. It's one of the best--and most important--kitchen gadgets out there.

7. Portion out the veggies. As you can see, I like a lot of veggies in my bowl. Not only are they tasty, but they are also very filling.

8. Add your flavor. A squeeze of lime juice. A few dashes of soy sauce and fish sauce. A squirt or two of cock sauce. If you are not a spice-aholic, you may want to cut back significantly on the chili sauce.

9. Now the best part: Shake 'em up! Make sure everything is well-distributed.

10. Then freeze. Take one out each day for lunch. I usually let mine thaw out in my desk and then nuke it for about 2 & 1/2 to 3 minutes.

By my calculations, the nutritional breakdown for the rice base for each bowl (including the butter and salt) is as follows:

Calories = 225

Fat = 2.3 g
Saturated Fat = 1.458 g

Cholesterol = 6.2 mg

Sodium = 224 mg

Protein = 4.8 g

Total Carbs = 44.4 g
Dietary Fiber = 3.6 g

The final calorie & nutritional count for each bowl is going to depend on what type of sauces and flavorings you use. You may want to add a protein punch by adding some tofu, chicken or shrimp.


  1. Wow, that looks really delicious!!! I love your little containers all lined up in a row. I do the same thing every time I make a casserole, since my hubby is a picky eater and won't eat it so ALL the portions are for me! I have to divide it up into portions right away so I'm not tempted to add extra. :)

  2. This looks awesome! I always brown bag it so I'll give this a shot!

  3. Looks great. and it is so true it really is all about preparation. If you are organized and take a little time, you really can eat healthy. I need to work on taking the extra time. Thanks for the info.

  4. you are WAY more organized than me. i wish i could do this- it would keep me from spending so much money all the time

    Kelly Turner

  5. I'm fortunate to have several "healthy choice" eating venues for lunch, which is really nice as I *have* to get aways from the office midday to prevent the desire to bounce a 3-hole punch off someone's head by early afternoon.

  6. First, I make my rice the exact same way, except I use chicken broth instead of water. And I had no idea you could freeze rice like that and have it come out okay. I've always been afraid of that, so thanks for the tip. This is the perfect idea for me.

    I use the same assembly line method for a raw vegetable and bean salad that I've been making for lunch every day. It's great to be able to just grab a container and go. Now I'll mix that up with your rice idea so I can have a hot lunch occasionally!

  7. What a great idea. Thanks. I love the assembly line. I'm definitely going to use this.