5 Healthy Work Packed Lunches
Words / Pete Evans
I believe that having a packed lunchbox of organic wholefoods to take with you when you’re on the go is one of the best things you can do to live in optimal health. This isn’t just about eating right; it’s about eating well. I’ve been on my own health journey for a number of years now and I know it’s the small changes I continue to make each day that add up to big, noticeable changes to the way I feel.
Creating a tasty lunchbox that includes a wide variety of nutrient-dense ingredients is a way to support yourself and be focused, energised and able to function productively, even on the busiest days.
The basic idea is to start by dividing the lunchbox into sections (I’m a big fan of using glass containers designed with this purpose). From there, you only need a handful of easy recipes everyone in the family loves and, together, you can set aside a bit of time during the weekend to create them in bulk. That way, you always have healthy creations on hand whenever you need to throw together a quick, nutritious lunchbox.
My big piece of advice is to make sure half of the lunchbox contains delicious, in-season vegetables. Vegies are versatile and can be sliced, diced and cooked in a way that complements whatever flavours and textures you throw at them. It’s also really important to include as many healthy fats as possible by using simple dressings made with a base of good quality, extra-virgin olive oil.
1. Greek-style Lamb Muffins
Who doesn’t love lamb and mint? Growing up, I remember having mint jelly on my roast lamb. With this delicious lunchbox treat I hope to recreate that memory for kids everywhere. Use good-quality lamb mince to make a double batch of these super-yummy muffins, then enjoy for dinner — and lunch the next day.
80mL (⅓ cup) coconut oil or good-quality animal fat, plus extra for greasing
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. chilli flakes (optional)
600g lamb mince
1 tbsp. dried mint
2 tbsp. dried oregano
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To serve, salad of your choice & mint jelly (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced) and lightly grease a 12-hole standard muffin tin with a little oil or fat. Heat the oil or fat in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute, then add the cumin and chilli flakes (if using) and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the lamb mince with the cooked onion mixture, dried herbs, eggs and some salt and pepper until well incorporated. Spoon the mixture evenly into the holes of the prepared tin, then bake for 15–20 minutes until the muffins are cooked through. Cool slightly for 1 minute.
The muffins may release a little bit of liquid, so drain well before you turn them out of the tin. Serve the muffins with a salad of your choice and some mint jelly on the side.
2 Granny Smith apples, cored & chopped but not peeled
1 tbsp. lemon juice
2 large handfuls mint leaves
1½ tbsp. powdered gelatine
3 tbsp. honey, or to taste
Place the apple, 500mL of filtered water, the lemon juice and 1 handful of mint leaves in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until the apple is soft. Remove from the heat, add the gelatine and honey and stir until the gelatine dissolves. Allow to cool completely.
Place the apple mixture in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Pass through a fine sieve and discard the leftover pulp. Finely chop the remaining mint and mix into the apple mixture. Pour into a glass jar, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours, or until set to a wobbly jelly consistency.
Give it a good mix before serving.
2. Thai Chicken Cakes
Michele Chevalley Hedge showed me a recipe she likes to cook for her children and it has become a family favourite in our house as well. We’ve used chicken but you could substitute turkey, fish, seafood, pork, lamb, beef or pretty much any other animal protein you love. Always remember to serve these with raw or cooked vegetables and some fermented vegetables.
500g chicken thigh fillets, cut into pieces
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Large handful baby spinach leaves
2 tsp. fish sauce
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
3 tbsp. coconut cream
1 tsp. finely grated ginger
4 iceberg lettuce leaves, trimmed into cups
1 avocado, sliced
½ Lebanese cucumber, sliced
Small handful of coriander leaves
1 lime, halved
Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease an 8-cup muffin tin with coconut oil.
Place the chicken, garlic, spinach, fish sauce, turmeric, coconut cream and ginger in a food processor and pulse a few times until finely chopped. Spoon the chicken mixture evenly into the prepared tin, then bake for 12 minutes, or until cooked through. Cool slightly for 5 minutes before turning out. The chicken cakes will release a little bit of liquid when cooked, so drain off the liquid before you remove them from the tin.
Arrange the lettuce cups on a large platter or serving plates. Place two chicken cakes inside each cup, along with some avocado, cucumber and coriander, and squeeze over some lime.
3. Kid-Friendly Kimchi
Makes: a 1.5L jar
You’ll need a 1.5L preserving jar with an airlock lid for this recipe. Wash the jar and utensils in very hot water. Dry well and set aside. Alternatively, run them through a hot rinse cycle in the dishwasher.
400g red cabbage
100g daikon (white radish), diced
1 green apple, cored & julienned
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 French shallot, thinly sliced
Handful coriander leaves, chopped
Juice 1 lemon
1½ tsp sea salt
1 sachet vegetable starter culture (2–5g, depending on brand)
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages. Choose an unblemished leaf, wash it well and set aside for later. Shred the cabbages in a food processor or slice with a knife or mandoline, then transfer to a large glass or stainless-steel bowl.
Add the daikon, apple, onion, shallot, coriander, lemon juice and salt and mix well. Cover and set aside. Prepare the starter culture according to directions. Add to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Using a large spoon, fill the prepared jar with the vegetable mixture, pressing down to remove any air pockets and leaving 2cm of room at the top. The vegetables should be completely submerged in the liquid. Add more water if necessary.
Fold the clean cabbage leaf and place it on top of the mixture, then add a small glass weight (a shot glass is ideal) to keep everything submerged. Close the lid, then wrap a tea towel around the side of the jar to block out the light. Store the jar in a dark place with a temperature of 16–23°C for 10–14 days. You can place the jar in an Esky to maintain a more consistent temperature.
Different ‘vegetables have different culturing times and the warmer it is the shorter the time needed. The longer you leave it to ferment, the higher the level of good bacteria and the tangier the flavour.
Chill before eating. Once opened, the kimchi will last for up to 2 months in the fridge when kept submerged in liquid. If unopened, it will keep for up to 9 months in the fridge.
4. Zucchini & Mint Salad
Here’s a wonderful salad you can put together in a matter of minutes for your lunchbox. If you’d like to turn it into a meal, add some raw tuna, cooked prawns or roast chicken.
2 tbsp. coconut oil or good-quality animal fat
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 zucchini, cut on diagonal into 1cm slices
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1½ tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp. currants
Small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
Small handful mint leaves
Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or fat in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until just starting to colour. Immediately remove the garlic from the pan and set aside.
Melt the remaining coconut oil or fat in the same pan over medium–high heat. Add the zucchini in batches and fry for 1 minute on each side until golden-brown and just cooked through. You don’t want to overcook the zucchini, as it will become mushy.
Season with salt and pepper and set aside until needed. Mix the garlic, vinegar and olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Toss the zucchini with the pine nuts, currants, parsley, mint and garlic dressing to combine. Arrange on a platter and serve warm or at room temperature.
5. Coconut Snowballs
If you don’t want them in your lunchbox, try serving these at your next party, school fete or work fundraising bake-off. They look amazing, taste just as good and are pretty damn easy to put together if you can get the kids to help.
120g (2 cups) shredded coconut, plus 50g extra for rolling
3 melted tbsp. coconut oil
3 tbsp. maple syrup
2 tbsp. coconut milk
¼ tsp vanilla powder or ½ tsp natural vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
Place the shredded coconut and coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process on high, scraping down the side of the bowl now and then, for 2 minutes, or until a thick and grainy paste forms. Add the maple syrup, coconut milk, vanilla, cinnamon and salt and process until well combined. Place in the fridge for 15 minutes to set.
Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll in the extra shredded coconut to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Eat at once or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Variation: To make beetroot snowballs, add 100g grated beetroot to the shredded coconut and coconut oil and process, then continue with the method above.