Even the parameters of the lunch box are limiting, let alone the opportunity to reheat. The lunchtime conundrum remains an everyday occasion to let yourself down, or worse: someone you love. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Countless overachievers across the country in various aspirational pursuits – the arts, athletics, high-stakes finance – face the same constrictions, and, true to form, create disruptive solutions that, yes, are possible to scale.
Casting a net widely across all professions, we looked at the packed lunchtime habits of successful Canadians, in an effort to power up your midday meal and give you new options for the start of the school year.
Cara Kasdorf, team lead at Blueprint Nutrition in Waterloo, Ont., then added her own thoughts to these lunches, all in an effort to ensure you’re maximizing your day’s potential. You might not make every option on this meal plan, but at least it’s a thought starter to ensure you’re not giving your eight-year-old (or yourself) the same turkey sandwich three times a week.
For productivity: Meghan Roach, CEO, ROOTS
“I’ve gotten into the habit of making ‘overnight oats,’ which is Muesli with oats, yogurt and milk, with apple butter added for sweetness and almonds, cranberries, raisins and sliced apples sprinkled on top. I often end up bringing that for my lunch and, for the kid lunches, you could use fresh berries instead of the nuts. When I make my overnight oats, I’m always sure to make an extra-large batch to last a few days.
“One area where I invest is in cheese. My husband jokes that I could live on bread and cheese and, being pescatarian, it’s a great option. I love goat cheese, brie and pepper spreads and my favourite bread is the sourdough baguette from the Blackbird Baking Company.
“During the day, I constantly refill my water bottle and try to abstain from pop or juices, but if I do have juice, it’s something like Greenhouse, which is packed with vitamins.
“When it’s a long day at the office, I snack on different proteins: things like edamame, and different alternatives to meat, like cheese and nuts. With the exception of nuts, these are also great to add to my kid’s lunches.
“As a family, we’ve powered up with our make-your-own pizzas. We make them the night before school and encourage the kids to add different vegetables, like green peppers and tomatoes. For them, it’s fun, but they’re also getting tons of nutrients. Before school, we toss it in the oven for 10 minutes, and who doesn’t love pizza? It’s nutritious and comes with the perfect packed lunch bonus: it’s good to eat cold.”
Kasdorf says: “Overnight oats are a great option! They increase productivity because they have fibre, which is great for long-lasting energy. Fibre is a slower burning type of carbohydrate, unlike refined carbohydrates which are jammed with fructose, so it takes longer to break down and digest and gives you enduring energy. Plus, the best part of overnight oats is the choices for toppings are endless. Try boosting the nutrient content even more by soaking it overnight with 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds, and adding two tablespoons of hemp seeds before eating.”
For creativity: Haviah Mighty, Juno winner, rap album of the year
“Stir-fry veggies and rice with a protein, like beans, tofu or lentils are a healthy option, easy to pack and a simple meal to prepare. You can also cut up some fruit as a dessert option. I don’t cook the most intricate meals, but I have a go-to seasoning routine when making simple stir-fries. Whether it’s asparagus, peppers, mushrooms and corn or other fresh vegetables, this combination usually adds some flavour:
1. Cut up some fresh white onion and garlic (diced) and toss in the pan.
2. Add some granulated garlic or, if you have it, minced garlic, which is good.
3. Toss in some chilli flakes and a dot or two of your favourite hot sauce.
4. Mix in a bit of soy sauce or tamarind sauce, and sesame oil.
5. Top off with green onion or basil – depending on your taste buds. If you want to add a sweetness to your savoury meal, you can sprinkle on a little cinnamon or brown sugar.”
Kasdorf says: “Dark, leafy greens are a great source of nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, calcium and magnesium. These aid creativity because they help boost brain function to get the creative juices flowing. Stir-fries are a terrific way to use up veggies so they don’t go to waste. If you have wilting spinach, kale or other greens in the fridge – throw them in your lunch for an extra boost. I like using both edamame and pumpkin seeds to be creative. Edamame beans are great for plant-based protein and pumpkin seeds are rich in iron and are an excellent source of healthy fats – both of which aid mental clarity.”
For energy: Brianne Jenner, Team Canada Olympic Hockey gold-medal winner
“Some of my go-tos are veggies and hummus, overnight oats with peanut and banana (and sometimes protein powder), fruit – usually apples – Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, hard-boiled eggs (if I need something easy and portable), beef jerky, cheese and crackers, and trail mix. I also love leftovers for lunch. I try to always make extra for dinner so I have lunch for the next day. My wife and I also love to make what we call “peanut butter pudding,” it’s a great high-protein bite – cottage cheese, all-natural peanut butter, honey and chunks of dark chocolate. It’s one of our favourite bedtime snacks. As a kid I wasn’t a picky eater, I usually ate whatever was packed. But my all-time favourite school lunch? Easy, that would be cold, leftover pizza.”
Kasdorf says: “Peanut butter pudding sounds delicious and it’s a great boost of energy! Cottage cheese and peanut butter used in combination lead to better blood sugar control and longer lasting energy because they avoid glycogen dips and spikes. Packed with protein, healthy fats and fibre, peanut butter is a great source of energy. However, if Brianne is looking for even more energy, she could swap the peanut butter for almond butter because it’s also a great source of calcium.”
For endurance: Fred Fox, global ambassador, the Terry Fox Foundation and the Marathon of Hope
“I love tomatoes. I don’t like broccoli or cauliflower or really any vegetables, even though green is my favourite colour. I get teased often.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, healthy eating wasn’t really a thing. Terry would open the menu on the Marathon of Hope and when the waitress came to the table, he’d point to every item: ‘I’ll have each of these.’ We didn’t know. We ate hamburgers, French fries, apple pie, bacon and eggs, toast; it was how we were raised.
Back in the day, Mom and Dad didn’t have a lot of money. For lunch, they’d crack open a can of spam. Bologna sandwiches and meat spread weren’t tasty, but every now and then Mum would throw in a banana or an apple. Mum also liked making egg sandwiches.
These days, I’m pretty fit and try eating healthy – I snack on carrot sticks and yogurt and try to eat plain green salads, but I’m a big fan of Caesar salads. I also like Thousand Island dressing (but when packing a salad, always pack your dressing on the side).
Today, my kids are all in their 30s and two of them have kids of their own, but when my kids were young my wife Theresa did their lunches – peanut butter and jam, cold cuts of meat, juice boxes, that kind of stuff.
I’m not the cook in the family, Theresa is, but I do make a good post-run smoothie. I use blueberry, raspberries, pineapple, yogurt and cranberry juice.”
Kasdorf says: “Smoothies are a great post-run snack. They provide an excellent boost in post-workout endurance because of their mix of protein and carbohydrates. The protein in the yogurt helps muscles build back strong. Use Greek or Skyr yogurts to power up the protein intake even more, and add frozen cherries to help boost antioxidants, which can aid with recovery after exercise (and, for the record, I love hearing about Terry’s approach to endurance when he ran the Marathon of Hope – when you put in those kinds of miles everyday, you DO need one of everything on the menu)!”
For focus: Soumen Roy, executive director and country head, TCS Canada, sponsor of the Toronto, New York and Chicago Marathons
“When I pack my lunch, I pack for at least two people. I spent a significant portion of my career in Japan, where lunch was more a social thing and I like to encourage our team to eat together when they can.
I love cooking and baking and experimenting with Mexican, Asian and Continental cuisine. I make Mexican tacos with Asian filling, North Indian food with non-Indian veggies and a variety of Continental salads with Indian spices and yogurt, and obviously bring the leftovers for lunch, ideally with plenty to share.
My father, too, loves to cook, and growing up in Durgapur, a little city in Eastern India, we had a huge garden. My dad grew jackfruit, mangoes, guavas, bananas, papayas and even red and white grapes, in a place where you supposedly can’t grow grapes. I still like all these fruits for lunch today. At my home, I grow zucchini and pumpkins, cucumbers, eggplant and two types of Jamaican spinach. All of which are tasty lunch additions and great for an afternoon snack.
I’m 80-per-cent vegetarian so lunch, for me, is salad. I’ll take lettuce, cucumber, carrots, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, eggs and something like either chicken or tofu and then add lots of sautéed peppers: red, green, yellow and orange. The thing to remember when packing salads for lunches is not to go big on the dressing. I add just a little lemon juice and olive oil and a tiny bit of yogurt – with fresh ingredients, that’s all you need.
Another nice touch to salad are lentils and chickpeas, either soaked or boiled. When I’m cooking, I’ll always generously apply oil and Indian species, like cumin, coriander and fennel. I also like to experiment liberally with sprouts.”
Kasdorf says: “I love adding legumes to salads – they provide both fibre and protein, and eating several servings of legumes per week has many benefits to heart health and disease prevention. I also think lighter meals taken more frequently make you feel more focused. A salad can be a great plant-based source of iron, which aids red blood cell production, and that stimulates the blood and helps you feel tuned in. I also recommend soaking the beans or lentils to increase the body’s ability to absorb their nutrients. All of this helps you focus, and be sure to include a good source of vitamin C in the salad – like peppers, roasted sweet potato or strawberries. This will help increase iron absorption from the beans and lentils.”
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