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Brown-baggin' it the healthy way

Food pros give secrets to healthy lunches, fighting mid-day slump

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Posted: Saturday, January 23, 2010 12:00 am

So January is almost over, and there's only one thing holding you back from acheiving complete success on that resolution to get healthy: Lunchtime.

You've managed to conquer breakfast with oatmeal and eggs. You've got a desk drawer of healthy snacks like nuts and fresh apples. You even stick to a healthy dinner every night. But if you're like many, lunch is that odd time of day you can't seem to get right, the time when your hunger and not-quite-there self control tells you it's OK to go to the drive-thru or out with coworkers where you probably look over the salad menu and find the big burgers, slices of pizza and meat-stuffed sandwiches.

While they have their fair share of comfort foods, some local restaurateurs say with a little time and extra effort, anyone can create their own healthy lunches, whether they go home for lunch or pack a brown bag.

Susan Rader, owner of Chalkboard Cafe, has a list of regular healthy menu options from pulled pork (with the fat pulled off), to quiche and homemade soups, but she says there are many things people can do at home to create a healthy lunch.

One of her favorite healthy options are wraps. First, she spreads a thin layer of low-fat Italian dressing on a large spinach wrap. She then layers her fresh veggies: spinach, tomatoes, grated carrots, avocado and cucumber. Sometimes she'll add turkey breast and a slice of cheese. It's a light and fresh lunch that is a cross between a salad and a sandwich.

At home, Rader also makes a chicken salad sandwich that is typically not-too-low in fat. Instead of using processed meat, she bakes her own chicken, cubes it and mixes it with light mayonnaise for a lighter version. The key is to roast the chicken and then remove the fatty skin.

For sandwiches, Erin Smith, owner of Scooters California Grill and Catering Company, recommends using a good, lean bread, such as the Earthgrain brand thin breads.

Salads are the obvious lunch option for those wanting to lose weight. To keep from getting bored, Rader recommends sprucing up a salad with raisins, cranberries and walnuts. Instead of heavy salad dressings, Rader uses her Gerard's Light Champagne dressing. "That is phenomenal," she said.

Michael Warren, owner of Crush Kitchen and Bar, also recommends salads that can be made with low-calorie dressings or just olive oil and balsalmic vinegar. "If you want it to have even more flavor, use an infused oil and then top it with a can of albacore tuna — yum," he said.

For some salads, do what Smith recommends and use salsa instead of a dressing.

Warren, who fills up on yogurt, nuts and fruit, also looks to vegetables dipped hummus, a meal that is filled with protein and vitamins and minerals. He also recommends nuts and yogurt, and even Odwalla Superfood and Naked Juice for a vitamin-packed smoothie.

Especially during the winter months, homemade soup can be an easy-to-grab lunch option. One of Rader's favorites is the lentil soup, which only gets fat from two tablespoons of butter. You can make a big batch and eat it all week long.

Chalkboard Cafe's Healthy Lentil Soup

About 10 servings.


1 cup lentils

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove minced garlic

1/2 cup diced celery

1 cup diced yellow onion

2 cups diced fresh tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon cumin

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

7 cups vegetable stock

1 tablespoon paprika


Soak lentils for 30 minutes in hot water. Drain. Melt butter in soup pot and saute the garlic, celery, onion and tomatoes for five minutes. Add oregano, bay lead, thyme, cumin and black pepper. Continue to saute until onions are soft. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the lentils and paprika and cook for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at



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