Lunchtime. Is it the one meal of the day that you give the least thought to? Do you find yourself simply ‘grabbing a bite’, or making up the same old sandwich each and every day? Well fortunately it doesn’t have to be this way. Below I have given you some great ideas that are suitable for your lunch box. Don’t be afraid to try new things as well as incorporating your favourite vegetables, beans, grains etc. All of these ideas are vegetarian. However, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat a vegetarian lunch. Experts suggest people try to go meat free at least some of the time for both health and environmental reasons. Cutting meat from your lunch is a simple way of doing this.
Sandwiches and rolls
Sandwiches are such an easy choice. However it doesn’t have to be cheese and tomato sandwiched between two slices of white bread. There are many, many ways you can make this simple option more interesting. Begin by varying the bread you use. There are an abundance of different breads out there these days. Think wholegrain, rye, spelt, pumpernickel, sourdough – to name just a few. Furthermore, it doesn’t just have to be sliced bread. You can have rolls, baguettes, pitas, wraps and all the different variations that come from these options.
Now to choose your filling. Mix and match to make some tasty combinations. There’s cheese and all its varieties – including cream cheese and spreadable cheese. Don’t forget cheeses such as halloumi and feta, which work so well in wraps and pitas. Then there’s egg – mash or slice, add some curry powder or mustard, or just salt and pepper. Beans and chickpeas go really well – you can mash them up for a roll or sandwich or keep whole for pitas and wraps. Cannellini or butter beans are great as you can mash them up and then add herbs or spices to transform them. You can pad out your sandwich with your favourite vegetables – salad leaves, grated carrot, sliced tomato, corn kernels. Things like broccoli and cauliflower go well in wraps – raw or roasted. If you like, you can finish off your sandwich with some relish or mayonnaise.
A salad is not just some lettuce, cucumber and tomato. Really it is a combination of ingredients, mixed together to make something delicious and perfect for your lunch box. To make your lunches more filling you could add a base to your salad. Things like couscous, bulghar wheat, pasta, brown rice and quinoa are good options. Couscous is a great option as it is so quick to prepare. Whilst your base is cooking you can prepare the rest of your salad.
Add whatever vegetables you fancy. Onion (whether, spring, brown, red or even pickled), baby kale, spinach, cherry tomatoes, carrot, broccoli, avocado, rocket are some options. You can add them raw or roast or fry them if you like. Your vegetables can also come from a tin or jar. Things like artichoke hearts, olives, capers and sundried tomatoes work really well and their flavour goes a long way. You can even add some nuts – I love toasted pine nuts, but cashews and almonds are good or just whatever takes your fancy. Don’t forget beans – just rinse and drain and stir them in.
To enhance your salad further, make a simple dressing. Simply combine extra virgin olive oil with your choice of vinegar or lemon juice (or lime). For a salad for two, 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil mixed with 1 tablespoon of vinegar is the quantities you need. You can add spices and herbs, even mustard if you choose. Then stir the dressing into the salad.
Spreads and dips
This is a fun way of eating lunch. Add some crispbread or similar to your lunch box, pop some spread in a container, remember a knife and you’re good to go. Instead of crispbread, you could always make up some polenta. Cook the polenta, pop into a pan and leave it to firm up. Slice it up and serve with your choice of spread or topping. Alternatively you can cut the polenta into fingers and serve them with a dip. Try cutting up some raw vegetables such as carrot and bell pepper. These are perfect with dips along with button mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and radishes.
What works as a dip generally also works well as a spread. Cream cheese is a good choice and can be enhanced with herbs, spices, mustard. I like to blitz up chargrilled peppers and mix them into the cream cheese. You can also blitz up beetroot, artichoke hearts, any type of canned bean or chickpeas. Try adding horseradish sauce and some blue cheese to beetroot – it’s lovely. Raid your pantry and don’t be afraid to experiment.
To add even more variety to your lunch you could add a hard boiled egg, some cubes of cheese, raw nuts, olives, sundried tomatoes or pickles. Grapes also go well, as does dried fruit.
I’ve got a perfect recipe for a vegetable slice. You make it ahead, slice it up and what you don’t use can be popped into the freezer than thawed as needed. You can vary what vegetables you add to it, but the basic recipe remains the same.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 30 x 20cm baking tin. In a large bowl, whisk together 4 eggs and ½ cup (125ml) of milk. Beat in ½ cup (75g) of wholemeal self-raising flour and ½ cup (75g) of regular self-raising flour to make a batter.
Finely chop a head of broccoli and ½ cup (25g) of baby spinach. Cube 100g of feta cheese and grate 1 carrot. Stir the vegetables and cheese into the batter. You can vary what you add at this stage. Try diced pepper, onion, corn kernels, spring onions, cauliflower florets, courgette.
Season. Pour into the baking tin and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and firm.
Leave to cool and remove from the tin. Slice into quarters, then halve each quarter. Place 2 slices into each lunch box, then into the fridge. The rest can be frozen by wrapping each slice in plastic wrap then placing into a container or freezer bag, then popping into the freezer.