Healthy Lunch Idea #3 Butternut Squash and Feta Salad

Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch...
Pumpkin seeds add delicious crunch…

I have to admit, I’ve been making a bit of an effort this week where lunch is concerned. Ok. Not a bit: a lot. It has been time-consuming and has created extra washing up both in terms of the utensils and pots to prepare the food and the plastic tubs that need washing at the end of every day. Has it been worth it? Yes. I certainly feel like I can wear my food halo with pride and relish my inner smugness at avoiding the carb overload that is the canteen.

I have found that preparing enough food for a few days is the way forward with this one. Nobody wants to be faced with extra washing up every night. Having a salad ready-to-go in the fridge the night before means that mornings are freed up and there is no excuse to buy unhealthy convenience foods en route to work. Or try to survive a day on flapjacks, cookies, cakes, crisps etc. I have also discovered that the must-buy to healthy eating at work is a lunchbox. Allow me to indulge in a little nostalgia here. I had a Ninja Turtles lunchbox when I was at primary school and it was cool – I even liked it when the picture on the front went a little crinkly and started to peel off with too much vigorous washing. Anyway. You also need some of those mini gel packs that you can pop in the freezer to keep your food cool and I recommend a tiny plastic pot or jar to keep your dressing separate until you eat. Nobody in their right mind likes soggy salad leaves.

Whilst admittedly still in its infancy, my new-found love of portable healthy lunches has kicked off to a good start and I have decided to share one of my ideas here for all of those people looking for ways to boost their daily vitamin and mineral intake, as well as trying to attain the holy grail of healthy eating: the five-a-day. It is essentially a collection of salady things: rocket, roasted vegetables, feta, tomatoes and cucumber with a sprinkling of olives, tossed over a bed of bulgur wheat and drizzled with a homemade tangy dressing. I’m fairly new to bulgur wheat and was intrigued by its promise of being high in fibre and protein, as well as packing a punch nutritionally with iron and B vitamins, along with vitamin E. It also tastes great along with the other items in this dish.

To prepare this salad, roast chunks of butternut squash in the oven for about 45 minutes, until golden and cooked through. You can add any flavourings here, like chilli flakes, thyme, salt and pepper etc. Simmer some bulgar wheat until cooked according to the instructions on the packet. Then layer up your salad with some iron-boosting rocket, some lycopene-loving tomatoes and cool slices of cucumber with a sprinkling of olives. Last but not least, a healthy crumble of feta cheese over the top – but not too much! Prepare a lemony dressing in a small pot of jar with olive oil, lemon juice and a blob of honey, which can be shaken and poured over the salad before eating.

When eating: sit back, relax and be safe in the knowledge that you are doing your body a favour and providing it with the fuel it needs to get through a busy afternoon. It also becomes easier to resist the biscuit tin in the afternoon if you are making an effort with lunch!

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Healthy Lunch Idea #1

So, in my week off – I’m a teacher by day and want-to-be food blogger by night – I decided to whip up a warm salad to stave off the cravings for all things naughty. Sometimes it actually feels like the biscuits are calling me from the cupboard and I’ve often found that in my plight to be “healthy” I’ve eaten a small lunch, only to be undone by an afternoon cuppa and several digestives. Then once the taste of refined sugars and buttery fats has taken hold, I’ve found myself delving in to chocolates (still leftover from Christmas!) and anything else that’s calorific and lurking in the back of my cupboards. Rocky road, anyone? With guilt washing over me, I consider the soggy salad, or tasteless egg white omlette I had for lunch and just wish I’d had a bacon sandwich instead.

I digress.

I found this recipe online and tweaked it slightly to suit my needs and what was in my cupboard and supermarket at the time. With nourishing, vitamin-filled pearl barley and a healthy kick of smoked paprika (containing capsaicin which helps lower blood pressure) and all the benefits of onions, olives and hit of protein from the feta cheese, it felt quite naughty but on reflection is much better for you and helps to keep cravings at bay. If, like me, you don’t mind eating cold leftovers, I see no reason why you can’t increase the quantities and take some for lunch the next day. It would also taste good with grilled chicken and gently panfried chorizo, if you really wanted to up the naughtiness – perhaps on a workout day? You could also add some beans – I think butter beans would absorb the flavours of the paprika and also provide an extra protein hit.

Here’s my recipe – for one.

50g pearl barley

1/4 White onion sliced

1 large garlic clove (I’m a big fan) crushed

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tbsp tomato puree

small handfull black olives chopped

small handful sunblush or sundries tomatoes chopped

feta cheese (as much – or as little – as you like)

parsely to serve

Place the pearl barley in a pan of cold water and bring to the boil for approximately 25 minutes. Gently pan fry the onions and garlic in olive oil and when softened, but not coloured, add the smoked paprika. At this point, I added a little water with the tomato puree to make a slightly wetter sauce. Keep adding water as needed, a few splashes at a time, while the flavours mingle together. When cooked through for a few minutes, add the olives and sunblush tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil. When the barley is cooked, tip into a bowl and smother with your sauce and crumble some chunks of feta over the top before finishing with some torn, or finely chopped, parsely.

There we have it. Not the least calorific lunch on the block but healthy and satisfying all the same. A bowl yesterday saw me through until dinner time in the evening and because I’d been “good” and avoided sweet, sugary snacks, I was more inclined to enjoy a healthy, nourishing dinner too.

Warm wintry salad with a hit of the Med...
Warm wintry salad with a hit of the Med…

Enjoy!