Brown Baggin’ It: The Paleo Lunch Post

Reader Rich Eames recently wrote in with a great request:

Can you cover Paleo/Primal lunch options for those who brown bag it to work and don’t have access to cooking facilities?┬áThat would be great to have some different lunch options seeing as sandwiches are about as exciting as…well…stale bread.

(Thanks for the idea and the intro, Rich!).

He raises a solid point, in any case: if, like me, you’re not always keen on eating out every lunch during the regular work week, it pays to have Paleo-friendly options at your disposal. I’ve been back at work for the last month, in fact, and the experience has served a powerful reminder of just how easy it is to munch — to snack on bags of chips, cinnamons rolls, and whatever treats your fellow employees cart into the office, let alone the supply of soft drinks stocking the fridge.

I’m planning another post in the future to tackle a day-long approach to healthy eating during the week, but today I’d like to focus on lunch: how to eat healthy and well every day of the work week whether you’re on the road or sitting behind your desk.

The Golden Rule

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

That’s an utter lie, of course, but I’ll temper it with this: if a healthy lunch is often out of your hands (on the road, looking to save money, etc.), my good friend Intermittent Fasting comes back into play. Why not have a huge breakfast? Three or four eggs cooked in coconut oil with plenty of veggies (and bacon, naturally!) can last me most of the day, and you might find it satiating enough to carry you well through lunch and into the evening hours.

If you’re not used to skipping lunch, prep for about a week of stomach grumbles as ghrelin (the hunger hormone discussed in Roots) adjusts to the new schedule. While you wait, feel free to employ the usual tricks: water with lemon squeezed in it and coffee both kill the appetite, so maybe enjoy a cup of joe (or three) in the morning and move to lemon water come the afternoon.

This might not seem feasible, of course, if you don’t get home until very late. I’d say it’s still worth a shot, though, especially if you bring some sort of Paleo-friendly snack to eat at 2 or 3 pm — not something so involved that it’s basically a full meal, but something easy to grab and toss in your car as a way to stave off your appetite a few hours longer.

Read on below for some examples.

In the Office

The office comes with a few basic perks, the fridge and microwave being key. You can easily bring in leftovers and reheat them as necessary, and you also have access to by far the easiest way of preparing a sweet potato: stab it a few times with a knife, throw it in the microwave for five minutes, and enjoy once it has appropriate time to cool.

Let’s assume, though, one of two things:

1. You don’t have access to those appliances. Hello, traveling salespeople!

2. You secretly miss the ease and portability (if not the flavor!) of sandwiches.

Either way, you’re in luck! Read on for a handful of suggestions on how to liven up your lunch routine.

1. Kebabs!

Not the first thing that comes to mind, right?

If you’re okay with eating cold protein, however, you can easily do a bit of a prep work on the weekend and set this up as a quick and tasty meal during the week. It breaks down like this:

1. Grill some tomatoes, onions or peppers.

2. Grill hunks of some form of protein: chicken, steak, sausage, etc.

3. Pierce them with a stick.

4. Wrap the final product in foil or some kind of wrap and you’re good to go!

Pack a few Paleo-friendly snacks and you’ll have a nice bit of variety with very little prep time.

2. Eggs!

Hard-boiled eggs are a popular choice, but you can also do well for yourself by making up some egg muffins to eat throughout the week. Mark’s Daily Apple has a great recipe for it, so pardon the link love here in lieu of a recipe of my own.

They’re mini-quiches, basically, with all the perks that entails. You get eggs, any vegetables of your choosing, and a convenient way to cart them about. At the risk of forsaking my manliness, I might even deign to call them cute.

3. Finger Foods!

Altogether, now: duh. That said, we have quite a few finger foods here worth mentioning:

1. Jerky. A classic choice, though one not known to keep you (or at least me) full for very long.

2. Trail Mix. Any store-bought brand is guaranteed to contain dubious (freaky) ingredients, so why not make your own? Dark chocolate mixed with macadamia nuts/almonds would serve you well, though better as an accompaniment to one of the other ideas on this list.

3. Leftovers. There’s something to be said for simplicity: take a handful of grilled meat (likely in the finger-friendly form used for kebabs above) and pair it with an assortment of veggies like carrots for something you can throw into a tupperware and get on the road.

4. Olives. Minus the need for a can opener, these things are surprisingly portable. Grab a can, pop the lid in the morning, and pack them in a tupperware for later consumption.

4. The Big Ass Salad!

It’s an obvious choice, but the epitome of variety — you can mix and match freely of nearly any vegetable you want, and there’s nothing stopping you from getting creative with the dressing. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you all know how to construct a salad, but here’s one of my old favorites as a tasty example:

1. Mix your veggies freely. I always opt for spinach leaves as the base and then go a little haphazard with everything else, piling on the onions, peppers, olives, radishes, broccoli, etc.

2. Add bacon. It’s telling, I think, that this step always makes me smile.

3. For the dressing, emphasize balsamic vinegar. The tanginess mixes amazingly well with the saltiness of the bacon and makes for a very tasty salad overall.

5. Sandwiches(?)!

I know what you’re thinking.

If you’ll allow me a moment of bluntness, however, I’d like to say this: I am not a fan of lettuce wraps. That’s not meant as a smear against all things leafy and green, but rather an observation on the mechanics of using them. They get messy, right? I’ve yet to eat any kind of lettuce wrap without looking like an idiot, so I’ve taken to experimenting with tasty (and gluten-free) alternatives to bread.

Enter, ladies and gentlemen, the latest recipe of Three New Leaves: Almond Flour Biscuits.

The dough this recipe produces is pretty versatile. I usually make about eight biscuits (in a muffin pan, admittedly) and then slice them into halves, which opens the door to all kinds of bite-sized sandwiches for easy transportation on the road. Roast beef and dijon mustard is a current favorite, to give you an idea. I’ve yet to try it myself, but I imagine you could bake the dough in something closer to a bread pan in the interest of getting actual slices. If anyone tries it, please let me know!

And a Last Request

What do you eat for lunch?

If you have any suggestions or ideas for Rich, please leave them in the comments below. If you have a recipe, too, please send it my way! I’d love to give it a go and maybe even publish it on the site.

7 Comments

  1. andrea says:

    I am a flight attendant so I usually pack 3 days of food for a typical trip… this has taken years of practice, preparation and patience…intermittent fasting has become a regular way of life for me (thankfully since going primal I now know and appreciate the health benefits of it!). I carry one of those silver cold bags and have gotten great results with keeping my food fresh.
    I usually pack a BIg Ass Salad for day one, I use avocado as my dressing to avoid having to carry any liquid (olive oil ALWAYS leaks in an airplane…), I just mash it up and stir it in. Organic canned chicken and salmon are great to drain and dump on the salad…or leftover grilled chicken or steak. I will freeze several packages of Applegate Farms lunchmeat (serves the purpose of ice and will thaw nicely for day two…), I will eat this usually with a side of raw flax crackers or some previously frozen Paleo Bread or Flaz Foccacia (elanaspantry.com). I also freeze a couple of one cup servings of berries along with a couple of containers of greek yogurt for breakfast/snacks. Apples with packs or nut butter (Justins or Artisana are great for travel)…homemade trail mix. Hard boiled eggs are nice but I try to limit them as the smell is kinda gross on an airplane! :o )
    Larabars are great too in a pinch…and I never leave home without a couple of 30g dark chocolate bars!
    It takes a bit of planning but once you get the hang of it it can be really easy…
    I’m on my way home from 9 days of flying and not one meal eaten out!

  2. mike fareri says:

    Hey Matt,

    i do the 8-5 office job, here is some of what I’m eating during the work week.

    for lunch, i’m all about leftovers. i was never ever a fan of leftovers, ever since i was a kid i was never a fan. now however, since i’ve been doing primal i’m all about them. i always cook extra to pack for the next day lunch. there are some occasions where i’m lazy or went out to eat and do not cook dinner, on those days my lunch usually consist of a can of sardines and some fruit.

    as for snacks…i have a job where there is down time and days where i’m not as busy as usual so you definitively can find yourself snacking more and more on these days. my snacks usually consist of jerky (my favorite, i get them from an Amish farm at the reading terminal. soooo damn good.) some other favorites are Sunflower seeds, pistachio and/or macadamia nuts, 72% or higher dark chocolate and i go to fruit to snake on as well. an apple, orange or grapes can hold me over until lunch as well.

    -Mike.

  3. Nina Yau says:

    number 4! the big ass salad is always a winner in my book! thanks for the great tips, matt; keep up the great work!

  4. Trey Crowe says:

    I usually just pack a primal lunch from my leftovers of last nights dinner. I’m luck enough to not be on the road though and get an hour lunch break.

    I always keep nuts and fruit in the back of my filing cabinet as well. I live in Austin, so there are a few health freaks at the office beside me so I rarely even get a funny look. Guess I’m fortunate that way.

    Oh, and I’m very fortunate that where I work is making space for their version of a crossfit gym free to all employees!

  5. Kristen says:

    Like the first poster I am in hospitality excepting I work on board Amtr@k trains. I also have to pack my own food unless I want to be stuck with what I sell. Another great tip is learning the “art” of bento lunch box arranging. You can fit so much food in such little containers.

  6. Pingback: How to Live Healthy in 2012, Part 2: Your Food | Three New Leaves

  7. Dio says:

    I like to change up the leftovers:
    Pan-seared salmon can be tossed with mashed avocado, soy sauce, and home-made mayonnaise for a great seafood salad. (canned tuna or lumpmeat crab if you didn’t have salmon the night before)