Summer is in full swing and with all the fresh fruits and vegetables available, now might be the best time to give your packed lunches a healthier update. Taking advantage of the amazing array of produce that’s in season doesn’t have to mean a lot of extra effort, either. Whether you are traveling, heading out for a picnic or just toting your lunch to work, here are some make-ahead, diabetes-friendlier ideas to help you enjoy the best flavors of summer. (Remember to check with your healthcare team before making any changes to your meal plan.)
Some people think of soup as cold weather comfort food, but I find it’s also great during warm weather too. A chilled soup may be remarkably refreshing on a hot summer day, and healthful, lower-carb options are virtually endless. Some chilled soups, such as gazpacho, cucumber or zucchini soup, are easy to make and packed with vegetables. You might also add cooked meat, fish or poultry for a little extra protein and staying power to see you through to dinnertime. (Get more tips for soups and stews here.)
Salad in a jar
Salads may be a great staple on a reduced-carb diet and they are easy to transport when you’re on the go. It is possible to pack salad in any old container, of course, but canning jars might just be one of the best. Why? Because the salad and the dressing go into the same jar without the risk of a soggy mess by lunchtime. The trick is to layer dressing at the bottom, and firmer, less absorbent ingredients, such as tomatoes and peppers, on top of that. This protects the more delicate ingredients, such as lettuce, from getting drenched and soggy before you’re ready to eat. (Read more about low-carb veggies.)
If you’ve ever made a frittata, you may know just how quickly and easily this open-faced omelet comes together. And they are, in my opinion, just as good cold as they are hot from the oven. My family and I often make a really big frittata for dinner and take the cold leftovers with us for an easy lunch the next day. And with so much fresh produce in season, it’s easy to pack them full of vegetables, from asparagus to zucchini. You may also make smaller, individual-sized frittatas by baking them in well-greased muffin tins.
Wraps and lettuce wraps
I have found that wraps always make for a fresh meal that’s easy to transport. They may be made with your favorite fillings, from chicken salad to grilled veggies and cheese. Commercial wraps are often high in carbs, but there are some reduced-carb options on the market. If you’re eating gluten-free, you may want to seek out wraps made with coconut flour, or you may also find some great recipes online to make your own at home. And there are always lettuce wraps! I suggest keeping the lettuce and the fillings separate until you’re ready to eat so they don’t get soggy. (Learn more about eating gluten-free.)
Bento boxes are similar to lunch boxes but typically have individual compartments to keep the various food items separate. Originating in Japan, bento can be highly elaborate creations with the food carefully arranged to resemble plants or animals. But they may also be quite simple, and the compartments make it easy to transport fresh finger foods without risk of everything jumbling together. Consider things, such as hard-boiled eggs or your favorite lunch meats and cheeses, along with nuts, fresh fruit, veggies and some dip.
Smoothies are the ultimate portable meal and they don’t necessarily have to be for breakfast. I suggest making a big smoothie in the morning, transferring it to a glass jar or an insulated thermos, and toting it with you wherever you’re headed. Fresh summer berries make for delicious smoothies and you might even sneak a serving of vegetables in there too. Kale, spinach and avocado all blend up well with Greek yogurt and berries. If you like, add some protein powder or some chia seeds for a more satisfying treat. (Read more about how yogurt may fit into a diabetes meal plan.)
Don’t be afraid to shake up your routine and add the best of the season to your lunches. Summer won’t last forever!
Carolyn Ketchum is a writer, runner, and the mastermind behind All Day I Dream About Food, a mostly low-carb, gluten-free food blog. She has a master’s degree in physical anthropology and an extensive background in higher education administration. Ketchum is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience