Hey, What’s For Lunch?

I admire those people who bring their individually wrapped, specially prepared lunches to work. I aspire to be one of them. My friend Allie is one of those super prepared people who comes to work with her spinach salad ingredients in individual containers and stuff. She keeps telling me to just put it together the night before, and someday soon I will do that. I swear.

Right now, the best I can do is pack my lunch bag with a frozen meal, a drink — sometimes I bring a diet soda, a Vitamin Water, or I drink those Crystal Light on-the-go sachets — a packet or two of Emergen-C (BIG review of these coming soon!) and a snack, like an apple and some peanut butter or one of my beloved 100 calorie snacks. Something like that.

I used to order out for lunch a LOT, which led to weight gain, boredom, and less money in my bank account. Seriously, I can’t justify a $12 to $15 lunch these days, it makes no sense. My place of work is located in the midst of many overpriced lunch venues, so if a girl wants a decent salad, that’s the range she can expect to spend. That adds up big, if it’s four, five days a week. A recent lunch date to an adorable round-the-way cafe cured me of going out to lunch for a good month. Get this — (very) small soups, salads, and diet sodas for two came up to $42. I got instant indigestion. Call me a cheapskate, but that check made me not want to return there in a long time. My goal these days is to only order out or go out to lunch one day a week. I like to save it as a Friday treat.

Far more women than men are on the frozen food train — I’m far more likely to see the dudes around my office coming in with greasy bags of Burger King or Pollo Tropical, than gingerly removing a Healthy Choice Cafe Steamer basket from the microwave. Understandably so — lots of frozen food is bland, and served in portions that seem laughably small compared to the servings at your neighborhood lunch spot. But if you’re watching your waistline, and you’re pressed for time every day and prefer to just grab something to take for lunch at work, FF is a decent, popular option. Because I’m resigned to eating frozen food on the daily, I’ve had to seek out the healthiest, most filling alternatives to the teeny frozen pizzas and hot pockets. And now I’ll share my favorite discoveries with you!

First of all — I gotta give it up to Hungry Girl. I don’t even know how I discovered this amazing resource, but I’ve been getting her e mails for almost two years now, I think. Her tips get better and better, and I love the Weekly Weigh In, which serves up food reviews and recipe swaps in my e mail every day. I discover so many new lunch options through Hungry Girl, so hats off to her and her appetite for the next delicious thing.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I love vegetables. Now more than ever there are loads of vegetarian frozen food options, and many of them are even tastier than their carnivore-friendly compadres. My favorite of all favorite frozen meals are made by Amy’s, and I think some their food is so much tastier than anything else in my grocery’s freezer. I LOVE me some Amy’s!

I really like the bowls — the pastas are really delicious, and the black eyed peas and veggies bowl over brown rice is really healthy and filling and good. I basically buy the Thai Stir-Fry every week — it’s tofu and veggies covered in this soft, comforting creamy coconut sauce, served with jasmine rice. I adore it. I get mad if I can’t find it in the grocer’s freezer every week. It is by far my favorite frozen meal, and I actually try to not buy it too often (I limit myself to one a week, and I could easily eat this one twice), lest I grow sick of it like I did with Kashi’s entire line of meals. I used to love Kashi’s Black Bean Mango, but ate it to the point of ridiculousness. I don’t even glance sideways at it when I’m grocery shopping now.

The aforementioned Healthy Choice Cafe Steamers are pretty good, and I’ve been seeing them advertised aplenty these days. The General Tso’s Spicy Chicken ain’t half bad (but when it comes to Asian influenced Healthy Choice frozen meals, I still prefer the sweet and sour chicken). The whiskey steak is good if you have a sweet tooth and like strong sauces. Healthy Choice paninis are really good, and so are the Lean Cuisine ones. But they’re so little! One of these teeny sandwiches isn’t enough to satisfy me. If I have a little sandwich like this, I try to add a vegetable side to fill me up.

Because I immediately reach for anything that claims to have nutritious value, I had to buy these new veggie blends by Green Giant — Healthy Weight, Immunity Boost, and Healthy Vision. They’re veggies that they package together and toss in a light sauce. The best by far was the Healthy Weight — sliced carrots, sugar snap peas, black beans and edamame lightly tossed with butter sauce… yum! I’ll definitely repurchase this one. The black beans and edamame make it different and delicious, without it this would have been another bland, lame veggie-in-the-micro side. I thought the Healthy Vision (sliced carrots, zucchini quarters, and sliced green beans lightly tossed with rosemary butter sauce) was soggy and kind of sucked.

My current fave idea for on-the-go veggie sides comes from Bird’s Eye. Their Steamfresh sides come in individual packages of either single or mixed veggies. Right now the singles only come in corn, sweet peas, or my personal favorite, baby brussels sprouts. I know, I know. Seriously, they can be so good. Take a spoon of butter, sprinkle it with garlic, salt, and pepper, warm it for a few secs so it’s melty, toss ‘em in the butter, and you too can have a delicious brussels sprouts experience during lunch hour. If you think such a thing exists. Lots of people hate the sprouts, but I’m totally into them. Yes, I know they’re like little bitter cabbages. Still love ‘em.

Another inherently girly thing about taking frozen food to lunch is the lunch bag issue. Do you go environmentally unfriendly and rock the plastic grocery bag? Do you take a paper sack? Or do you actually have a lunch bag? I have a red one now (had a purple one in high school that was the object of many a soccer game).

But because October is Breast Cancer Month and I am obsessed with all of the beautiful charity items that support the Susan G. Komen foundation, I’m thinking of treating myself to one of these tres chic Lean Cuisine designer lunch bags. They cost $9.95, $5 of which goes to the cause. You gotta register with Lean Cuisine before you pick your fab bag. I am totally getting the pink circle one. Get yours quick, before they’re gone!

What are you eating for lunch today? I’m always looking for something new and yummy to try. Have you figured out any cool planning-lunch-the-day-before tricks? Let me know!

Hungry for more food reviews? Check out two of my fave blogs, IAteAPie, and Heat, Eat, Review.

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Comments

  1. How ironic…I’m eating a Lean Cusine spaghetti with meat sause as I read this! Supplementing the frozen meals with a veggie side is fantastic. The meals are so small! Normally, I know I could eat 2! (I don’t though, lol) I could probably more if I was REALLY hungry! I usually always eat frozen meals…lean cuisine, smart ones and healthy choice are the brands I always buy. That Amy’s sounds good…I’ll be on the look out! THANKS!

  2. hey bella, funny you mention spinach salad because that’s what i’m having later today because i had a late breakfast. so it’s spinach with shredded carrot, lazily chopped tofu, sliced almonds, some chopped red onion and a bit of garlic. i mix it all together with sesame oil and salt. your options sound great. enjoy!

  3. Lately I’m on the fruit thing at work. I walk to the grocery store when I get to work, buy whatever fruit is on sale (translates to in season) and buy a bunch and eat that through the day. It’s super cheap and helps me to lose the pounds. We have a fridge here at work, so when I do bring my own, I buy bags of spinach from Trader Jose’s and toppings (olives/cherry tomatoes/tuna) and put these together at work in a huge salad bowl. Nothing against frozen foods, but I stay the hell away from them because they are usually high in sodium and high blood pressure runs in the fam bam. OFF TOPIC: thanks again for the AMBI, I’ve been using it for about three days and I LOVE IT!!! I’m ready to switch from my Olay Complete. You Rock!

  4. I LOVE AMYS…. Im vegetarian and her foods are great with FLAVOR…try the others they are GOOD…

    Did you get my email about Knees and Elbows…I need help bad! Lol

  5. afrobella says:

    Hey TooTot! Did you ever get my response? That’s a problem I have too. I’m seeking an answer and will get back to you on that!

  6. Our freezer here at work is packed full of people’s Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine meals. I have tried a few Lean Cuisines that weren’t bad, but the sodium count stops me dead in my tracks! And the smell of those Healthy Choice meals around here is deadly, I just cannot stand that processed food smell. I would love to bring lunch every day but I am too lazy to pack lunch the night before and just cannot get on that frozen food train. Does anyone make frozen meals that are not full of sodium and processed to death?

  7. Trinichica says:

    I love the Lean Cuisine dinners and I was always under the assumption that the sodium was not so bad considering the sodium content of some of the other prepared foods……PEAJAI, Cook big on Sunday and you could get some of those ziploc containers and pack your lunches for the week; freeze them and pull them out each day so that you get a nice low-sodium, home-cooked, healthy meal that you prepared…it might get a little boring but it’s a thought….Hey BELLA, I already signed up for Hungry Girl, it is soooo informative; and the cute bag…I have to order that! Thanks for the great tips.

  8. That’s a good idea, Trinichica! I have slacked off a bit on my home cooking and it never really crossed my mind to cook enough food to last all week.

  9. Dettygirl says:

    Another thing I do is to bring my frozen lunches for the week on Mon. morning. I put my name on them (there’s an office thief in every workplace) & that helps not stress me. Because I at least I know I have SOMETHING to eat! Then you can bring your fresh sides as needed.

  10. I love Amy’s and it took me a really really long time to try it because I rarely like frozen food but I’m glad I did. Wasn’t crazy about the shepard’s pie yet I think it was more preference than it being just that bad.

    Need to scoop up one of those lunchbags and if you’re not familiar another goodie is veganlunchbox. Peep the blogs for all types of lunch ideas. The owner and author of the book I believe by the same name use to pack lunches for her son and post them up to the readers. She’s homeschooling him now so she doesn’t post anymore but the blog is still up and that boy eats better than most adults I know LOL so a ton of good ideas to get there also. Oh the site is veganlunchbox.com

    AND another fave is veganyumyum.com Not a lunch website but as you mentioned veggies tons of mmm mmm good recipes on this site (peep the ppk too and their food porn on the message board)

    I’ll hush because i can go on for days with this topic!:-)

  11. Aww thanks afrobella…guess i didnt see the email back…I know youll get us some great info..because the lemons, sugar, and loofah arent working :P

  12. TheBeautifulOne says:

    Just watch the salt content in these food frozen foods ladies! Stay healthy!
    I have salmon with cherry tomatoes and mushrooms for lunch every other day and Pho or dolsot bibimbap when I have time to stop into my favorite noodle place. Dessert? Fruit or some redbean filled treats (they are delicious!) It’s almost been a year since I’ve had my surgery and I only eat fresh food. It’s cheaper and great for keepin the waist sweet and petite! Ha!

    Stay healthy and happy everyone!

  13. designdiva says:

    Donna,
    Those 2 websites you mentioned had me drooling over the keyboard! LOL …Thanks for the suggestions!

  14. designdiva says:

    Oh forgot to mention…Amy’s is fantastic! I’ve had the roasted vegetable pizza (you don’t even miss the cheese!) and enchiladas, which were pretty good too.

  15. I love Amy’s too! I’ve only had the palak paneer and a burrito, but I guess I’ll expand my horizons and try some of their (her?) other offerings soon. I generally do what one of the earlier posters mentioned: I cook 3 or 4 meals on Sunday, pack up my lunches for the week and I’m set.

  16. Amy’s is great. Also, another tip for when you are REALLY tempted to go out to lunch but you budget won’t have it–try getting some of the rice/noodle bowl meals that don’t require refrigeration and stash them in your desk. If you’re into Indian food, my favorites come from Tasty Bite (You can go to tastybite.com to check them out). They sell them in the ethnic food section at Shop N’Save and a lot of other places. They are not as spicy as restaurant Indian food, but they are tasty and filling, and most are vegan or vegetarian. I also like the noodle bowls and noodle soups, I forgot who makes them. They are pretty filling. You do have to watch your sodium content though. If it’s a nice day outside, warm up your noodle bowl, grab a piece of fruit, and head outside to enjoy your lunch. Since today is payday Friday, I am treating myself out to lunch with a friend at a Mexican place.

  17. You have quite a lovely blog here! I’m always about the food and lunch is a big issue for me everyday. I try to cook from scratch, but sometimes there’s just no time, like this week.

    I was in Stop & Shop picking up a few things after work, and I saw some crab cakes on sale. Dockside Classics is the brand. They are $7.99 for four, but the sale was buy one, get one free, so it seemed reasonable. I was a bit apprehensive, because I really like crab cakes and sometimes store bought ones can go horribly wrong. They are really good! Oh and they are only 180 calories each and not much sodium. I have two today and on the side, I cut up some cucumbers and drizzled them with some Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar from Trader Joe’s. I’ve been eating this all week and I’m not bored with it yet!

  18. I love love love those websites (HG & IAteAPie), and I have really been enjoying the LC’s lately. I really like Amy’s too but I’m super cheap, and I’d rather spend $2 than $5 on a frozen meal (isn’t that awful?!)

    Before you judge me, though, I’m still an entry-level and student… :)

  19. warrior11209 says:

    I am having lunch as we speak – I brought a turkey and cheese w/ mustard on Pepperidge farm 15 grain bread,1 cup of vegetarian vegetable soup and an apple – I am eating a little heavier today – I had a extr-long workout last night in kickboxing. Trying to lose some more weight – already lost 40 pounds in 6 months and I need to lose 60 more. I bring my lunch everyday – it is now a habit and I can control what I eat. I used to eat alot of frozen food packages but since I am getting older I have to watch my sodium intake.

  20. I too love me some Amy’s. When I was working, I would take Amy for lunch on a daily basis. Love they enchiladas!

  21. Bella,
    You have convinced me to actually try pack a lunch. I think I’ll buy one of those cute neopene lunch bags because I used to really feel like a dork carrying a plastic bag from target.

  22. Packing a lunch every day has saved me soo much money…it is hard to make time for the fresh meals though so I fall back on a lot of the frozen meals too.
    Watch out for the Vitamin Water though– that bottle is 2.5 servings so it end up being a LOT of sugar.

    I recently discovered Hungry Girl and love it! I love the tips I’ve been getting!

  23. Dettygirl says:

    LOL to BlackHoney! I thought I was the only shame-faced one rockin’ a Target bag to work!

  24. Hummas with feta and fresh basil leaves on sourdough bread. Now that’s good eating and inexpensive!

  25. Seeds of Change makes really good frozen meals that I have taken for lunch occasionally. All the selections are vegetarian and certified organic. The meals are very tasty with yummy flavors my favorite is Spicy Thai Peanut Noodles, the best part is the meals are visually appealing. I prefer Seeds of Change to any other frozen meal except maybe Amy’s. That being said, most of the entrees are pasta or rice based two foods that I avoid.

    I frequently bring my own homemade lunch, one of my favorite containers is a plastic salad bowl with a purple transparent lid, built into the lid is a little salad dressing reservoir – this bowl may be called “Salad to Go” but I am not sure.

    I build my salad with about 1 cup of dark green leafy salad greens then add sliced red peppers, broccoli slaw, shredded carrots, grape or cherry tomatoes, steamed string beans or whatever vegetables I have in the fridge. The key to this salad is that it is full of tasty veggies it looks colorful, tastes fresh and healthy, it’s very filling and the best part is that I didn’t drown it in salad dressing because the little reservoir only holds about 2 tablespoons max.

    To round out the meal I’ll also eat some protein like tuna, cottage cheese, lean turkey or roast beef.

    Morning preparation is easy – I do all of the prep work like food shopping, washing veggies, slicing or chopping on Saturday or Sunday. Also, I buy most of the items already shredded. The salad can be quickly assembled and packed in your favorite lunch bag the night before.

  26. Hey Bella,
    This is like my first time coming to your page. I know I have to be really late, but I really liked this post. It was really interesting to me, and I must say I am one of those fast food freaks. Im trying to break the habit so I might try some of the names you listed and see how I like their products. I will be coming back soon I can just feel it.

  27. I love Amy’s as well! I do pack my lunch everyday (except for Fridays when I go out for sushi with some colleagues) but I typically don’t bring frozen food. Today I have a sandwich, grapes, applesauce and a granola bar, which is typical of what I normally bring.

  28. Sumatra77 says:

    Although not everyone has the time to do this, I strongly recommend making your own stirfries at home and taking them in to work. Whenever I warm my thai basil chicken with brown rice, people think I bought it from a restaurant. With a few pantry staples, it takes VERY little time to make and it’s healthy and delicious, and CHEAP!

  29. hey bella! great post! keep em coming =)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] onson55 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptTheir Steamfresh sides come in individual packages of either single or mixed veggies. Right now the singles only come in corn, sweet peas, or my personal favorite, baby brussels sprouts. I know, I know. Seriously, they can be so good. … [...]

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