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 #2 Avocado and Eggs

Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side...
Add crispy, oven-baked Parma ham for a crispy, crunchy side…

I’ve read a lot about the many health benefits of eggs and avocado and had, to my surprise, seen them combined together in recipes and dishes. Eh? Surely the texture of both together would be slimy, wet and somewhat lacking in a crisp crunch from somewhere? I decided to combine the healthy, nutritious elements from both in my more healthy way and added wholegrain toast and oven-baked Parma ham for that much needed crispy element.

Avocados have long been lauded as the holy grail of nutritious choices – good fats to help rid your body of cholesterol, potassium and a range of B vitamins, as well as contributing well to your daily dose of fibre with a protein kick to boot. I have to say it was a long time before I was a fan. I couldn’t stand the slimy, creamy texture and despite several attempts, I eventually relegated them to the bottom of my loves list. The thing that turned it around? Guacamole. Guacamole smothered on salty tortilla chips, guacamole stuffed into chicken fajitas and guacamole on its own with a teaspoon. Then I branched out. I found a recipe for pan-fried, parmesan-crusted chicken breast, which came with a salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and red onions with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. I don’t even particularly enjoy raw red onion but thinly sliced in this salad…yum. It transformed me from someone who desperately wanted to love avocados and the multiple health benefits from eating one – who doesn’t want beautiful, glowing skin? – to someone who could actually enjoy them.

Back to today’s recipe: the combination of crisp grilled toast, soft ripe avocado and boiled eggs with a just soft centre was deliciously offset with a salty kick from the Parma ham. It would be a perfect breakfast for the weekend and I would have liked to have added some oven roasted, or grilled, vine tomatoes but a trip to the dentist had resulted in needing a quick-fix lunch.

Give it a try, here’s the recipe:

2 slices wholemeal bread

1 ripe avocado

1 egg

2 slices Parma ham

chilli flakes and pepper to season

Preheat your oven to a high heat.Place a pan of water on the stove to boil and when at a gentle, rolling boil drop in your egg and boil for 6 minutes (if you want a just soft centre, less time if you want a runny yolk). Whilst this is boiling, pop your Parma ham in the oven on a baking tray (it only takes about 5minutes to crisp up), get the toast on and slice your avocado. When the egg is ready, peel the shell. To assemble, place your avocado slices on the toast (ok, ok, I used a thin spread of butter too but with hindsight could probably omit this!) and chop the egg into four and place on top. Put your crisped up Parma on the side and sprinkle with chilli flakes and pepper. No salt required on account of the ham. Enjoy!

Let me know if you make this recipe and whether you make any changes.