Are you looking for very convenient yet healthy lunch options? I worked with a nutritionist about 5 years ago to address a number of deficiencies in my diet, and one of the outcomes was a simple plan for lunches: lots of nuts and dried fruits.
My girlfriend Lynn and I are big fans of these lunches, which we have used for the past 18 months, so much so as to feel like claiming that they make up the best lunch bag for health and convenience. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback about that!
Our Story: Attempts at Many Diets
In my early twenties, I mostly ate the standard American fast food diet, until I got sick, hospitalized, and was explained that I needed to eat healthier. It wasn’t too clear what healthier was though (I could not look it up with just one click on the Internet like we can do today!), and I went through various phases, like vegetarian and vegan. I stayed dependent on lots of restaurant meals and ready-meals. Although my diet had improved, it wasn’t great, and I had various symptoms of a poor diet, like low energy and persistent stomach-aches.
I went through a detailed food intolerances and food allergies battery of tests, worth about $3000, fortunately all covered by my insurance. This revealed a few allergies I knew, and lots of these so-called food intolerances. It is still very much a matter of debate in the scientific community whether food intolerances are real, and if the test results are meaningful. Nevertheless, I was alarmed by my test results, and with the help of a very sensible nutritionist, I proceeded to greatly improve my diet.
My test results were saying that I had intolerances to just about everything I liked and everything I was eating regularly: wheat, gluten and all common grains, milk and all milk products, some meats, eggs, many common fruits and vegetables, tea and chocolate, etc. For about a year of great distress, I mostly eliminated the offending foods, until I realized I could start reintroducing them without bad symptoms as long as I didn’t eat them too often.
I think my story is pretty typical of those who go through food intolerance testing. For most people, these expensive tests are useless, because just too many foods will test positive, and it is totally unclear what that means: whether that is a real problem, or just evidence that these foods showed up a lot in the person’s diet.
The benefit of the tests was thus indirect: it kicked me into making the effort for a big change. In brief, my breakfast is mostly just fresh fruit, 4-6 different kinds each morning, with a latte (coffee+lots of warm milk). My girlfriend skips the latte, and instead has natural yogurt and granola over a smaller amount of fresh fruit. The lunch is as explained below, while my dinner is essentially the Mediterranean diet: meat or fish with lots of vegetables. It features hardly any bread stuff outside of restaurants and the odd pizza.
As for how Lynn adopted the lunch diet, it was straightforward: she loved the convenience of having a ready-made meal to grab in the morning and take to the office for lunch without any refrigeration. She wanted some adjustments to the recipe, to make it less sweet, including cutting out the chocolates. I agreed they were good changes. She wanted fewer hard-to-chew almonds, fewer ultra-sweet medjool dates, and no salted ingredients, all good ideas.
The Lunch Ingredients
- Cashew nuts
- Pistacchio nuts
- Macadamia nuts (very expensive!)
- Coconut (careful, lots of saturated fats!)
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- (Sesame seeds: too small)
- (Chia seeds: also too small)
- (Pine nuts: expensive!)
- Dates (the medjool kind)
- Ginger (feels like a fruit but it’s a root!)
- (Other dried berries: strawberry, blueberry, raspberry)
We used to include dark chocolate in various forms, but removed it upon admitting to ourselves that the mix was already sweet enough with all the dried fruits.
Ideally, use unsalted nuts and seeds.
We don’t include granola or various grains, but you can certainly experiment with that. As I am updating this post today 4 months after the first version, I note that we still don’t put granola in our lunches, and that many granola products have a lot of added sugar, but of course you can select products without.
You can also experiment with adding dried chickpeas or soy nuts or edamame.
The Optimal Ratios of Nuts to Dried Fruits
There is a lot of leeway in the various ratios.
Walnuts are high in omega-3 oil, hence if you like them, put twice as much of them as the average ingredient.
Some ingredients are more expensive (macadamia, pistacchio), so put less of them according to your budget.
Careful about ingredients with added sugar: typically this is the case with dried ginger, pineapple and definitely cranberry.
Don’t put more than 3 dried apricots and 3 dried prunes in each bag, to avoid digestive issues.
We aim for an overall 2 for 1 ratio of nuts to dried fruits.
The Benefits of Nuts & Fruits Lunch Bags
These lunches are delicious! They also offer plenty of variety and flexibility.
- This is not a weight-loss diet! These foods are packed with energy, and they will sustain you until dinner.
- You will feel full for multiple hours, with no need for snacking, yet you won’t feel stomach-heavy and overfull because the ingredients are so dense.
- The nuts are packed with good fats, and contain a sizeable amount of protein.
- The dried fruit will provide you with plenty of carbohydrates and good sugars, as long as you limit the amount of ingredients manufactured with added sugar.
- Your lunch for the day doesn’t need refrigeration.
- If you don’t use it, e.g. because you had a last minute change of plans like colleagues asking you out to lunch, you don’t waste your lunch, you can use it the next day.
- You can put together 20-25 bags in 60-90 minutes, store them in the fridge. This will last you perhaps 2-4 weeks.
- You don’t need to get all the ingredients all at once: you can shop for them over several weeks at the stores that have the best prices, and stack them, until you are ready to do your next batch of lunches.
Making your own mix as opposed to using ready-made mixes is best because: it offers more variety, more control over the content (especially to avoid added salt and sugar), also you would find that it turns out to be more economical than a ready-made mix if you put exactly the same ingredients.
Typical costs for us average $5 per bag, and we tend to eat between 1/2 and 2/3 of a bag per day as a lunch meal. The advantage of having a bag size that is larger than a lunch meal gives us flexibility: if we are more or less hungry, we eat more or less, but don’t run out of food.
No vegetables: You will notice that this lunch menu does not contain vegetables. It is well established that it is not necessary to eat every essential nutrient at every meal. We love vegetables and eat nearly only vegetables at dinner time. By all means, if you need more variety, it is totally fine not to eat a nut and fruit bag like us every day, or complement it with practical vegetables, fruits or anything else.
Nuts are expensive: Indeed, nuts are delicious but expensive ingredients. We are lucky to find them in large fresh quantities at Costco mostly, and a few other stores. If you don’t have good access to affordable nuts near you, it is very sensible to reduce the amount of nuts in favor of other ingredients like granola.
How about stomach sensitivities? For some people, hard nuts may hurt the stomach. Perhaps it is just an issue of chewing the nuts fully before swallowing them! But we understand that it could be much more complex. As for us, we digest these nuts and dried fruits very well.
If you are a busy person who would like to automate one meal per day, this recipe could be the solution for you!
Please let us know your experience with this, or any other question that you may have in the space for comments below.Social tagging: Healthy eating