Remember weekday lunches when you were a kid? When I was in middle school, the administration would send home a monthly calendar of the cafeteria’s hot meals, which my mother posted on the refrigerator. It was up to me to check the calendar on school nights and tell her whether to leave lunch money or a brown bag lunch for me to grab before my morning dash out the door to catch the bus. Pizza Day was a “yes,” as was Mac & Cheese Day. Meatloaf Day was a definite “ew, no!” I can’t say my school lunches were the healthiest of choices, but at least I was getting some kind of mid-day meal and refueling for the rest of the day. Either way, my lunch options were basically decided for me. No, I’m not waxing nostalgic for school lunches, but every once in awhile (like today), I wouldn’t mind someone else taking the lead on “what’s for lunch.”
I’m not saying that I miss cardboard cafeteria pizza or mum’s mystery lunch bags, but there are days when I’m just out of ideas or too engrossed in a project when lunchtime rolls around. During the past couple of years, I’ve made a deal with myself to not only eat lunch, but to eat a “good” lunch: something healthful, fresh, and filling. But there are some days when I just want to grab a handful of cereal and get on with the project at hand. Like many people, I’ve skimped on lunch during the course of my working life — to get more work done, attend a meeting, or run errands. Invevitably I’m hangry and foggy-brained by late afternoon. Not good.
Turns out that caffeine and vending machine snacks do not a lunch make. I speak from years of experience. Nor does day-long ganache and chocolate tasting (again, years of experience). As it turns out, taking a break and eating something that actually resembles a meal and not cocktail-party grazing improves focus and productivity. (Need more info? This Fast Company article discusses the best foods to eat for brain power, and the value of taking a 15-20 minute break for increased productivity.)
That’s all well and good, but with multiple projects on the desk today, I still had to remind myself to take a break and make something, at which point I had a whiny middle-schooler moment. I don’t wanna ran through my head. Where’s the magic lunch fairy when you need her? So off I tromped to the kitchen, hoping that lunch (or some lunch-making inspiration) would automagically appear. Hmph. The upside of CSA deliveries is a week’s worth of fresh food. The downside? You actually have to make something with those ingredients (unless you’re all about a completely raw diet). Hmph.
After a few minutes of rummaging through the refrigerator, I managed to assemble a tasty salad of winter vegetables that hit all the right notes: fresh, flavorful, earthy, sweet, and crunchy. And the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble. The key is having an assortment of fruits (yes fruits!) and vegetables on hand, plus a little protein. Here’s where your leftovers can definitely come in handy! If you’ve got some greens, leftover roasted vegetables, and nuts (oooh, maybe a little cheese), you’ve got a hearty lunch salad. And, oh hey, you can feel good about eating a vitamin-packed meal.
Recipe: Satisfying Winter Salad
Yield: 1 Serving
For this salad I used mixed lettuces, gala apples, and an assortment of flavorful roasted vegetables (carrots, onions, and beets) with a simple dressing of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Feel free to substitute ingredients based on your tastes, diet, and what’s in your fridge.
2 cups salad greens
1 small roasted red beet, sliced thinly (¼” slices)
1/2 apple, sliced thinly (¼” slices)
¼ – ½ cup roasted or steamed root vegetables, cut into 1″ pieces (I used roasted carrots and onions, but butternut squash or sweet potatoes would be good substitutes)
¼ cup pecan pieces
Fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Toast the pecan pieces: Preheat a toaster oven to 325°F. Place nuts in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking pan. Heat for about 5 minutes, until nuts become fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
- While nuts are toasting, wash salad greens, pat dry, then cut or tear into bite-sized pieces.
- Assemble salad greens, beet slices, apple slices, and root vegetables in a bowl.
- Drizzle the salad with olive oil and fresh lemon juice to taste.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Top with toasted pecans.
- Optional: Finish with a dollop or chèvre or grating of goat milk cheddar cheese.