I had the opportunity to provide lunch for 12 of my professional colleagues for a recent board meeting. In the past our lunches for 12 ran between $170 and $180 for a lunch that consisted of salad, sandwich choices and 2 soups. There are local chains that do a pretty good job of providing a healthy assortment of lunch items that are also good for you too. A few requests came in to not have red meat or mayo so I built my menu around these requests.
Wellness Lunch for 12
Potato, leek & cauliflower soup
Roasted vegetable sandwiches with hummus spread
Greek grilled chicken sandwiches with yogurt feta spread
Gala apples and red grapes
Quinoa is a full protein grain that is one of the few grains that contains all of the essential amino acids. This grain is related to amaranth and is in the genus Chenopodium. It is grown in the highlands of Peru and is related to beets and spinach. It is especially high in manganese and iron and has more lysine in it than any other grain. There is an outer coating on the quinoa grain called saponin. This is a bitter substance that is a natural insect repellent. It is best to rinse quinoa before cooking it to rid the grain of this bitter feature. I did a post a while back on the making of quinoa salad that can be found here. Make a batch of this salad and keep it in your fridge as a tasty component to a healthy and satisfying lunch.
Once quinoa is cooked and cooled you add diced and shredded vegetables of your choice. Use what you like. This salad had a mix of shredded carrot, green onion, diced celery, cucumber, red pepper, mint, parsley and cilantro (herbs I had in the fridge). You could even add frozen corn or black beans or even a jalapeno if you want a touch of heat. Clean out your fridge of veggies you need to use this week so you keep a good turn around going on in your fridge. Being aware of what is in your crisper in the fridge gives you ideas for what needs to be used on a weekly basis.
A homemade dressing consisting of lime juice, rice wine vinegar, minced garlic, salt and pepper gets tossed into the mix. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight for the flavors to blend. You may also add small currants, golden raisins, sunflower seeds or chopped dates to this salad.
For my sandwiches I roasted the following in a 400 degree oven: red peppers, sliced eggplant, portobello mushrooms (with gills scraped out) and sliced red onions. Prepare your vegetables by cutting the peppers in half and taking out the seeds, slice eggplant to be in half inch think rounds, and portobellos top side up. You may want to lightly spray the cookie sheet with cooking spray so they don't stick. Check after 20 minutes and move around so you get even roasting on all vegetables.
Let the roasted vegetables cool then peel the skins off of the red peppers. Cut the eggplant, mushrooms and red peppers into strips. Set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to assemble your sandwich.
Here is a fabulous homemade hummus recipe (there are so many out there) that comes from the Lebanese Taverna in Arlington. I tried this hummus there during lunch one day and absolutely love it. Now I make it almost weekly. If you take a little more time to soak the chickpeas and then cook them instead of using a can you will save a lot of money and have a creamier texture to the chickpea puree once you put it all together.
Lebanese Taverna Hummus (adapted from)
Chickpeas (1 cup dried and soaked overnight or 2 x 19 oz cans drained and rinsed)
3 minced garlic cloves
1/3 cup each tahini, lemon juice, and water ( you can adjust any of these elements depending on whether you want it to be more lemony, sesame or smooth).
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Prepare your chickpeas whether using canned or dried beans. For dried beans, once you have drained the soak water, cover again with water in a saucepan and cook the beans for about a half an hour bringing first to a boil then turning the heat down to a simmer. Cook until the chickpeas are soft or they easily squish between your fingers. Drain and cool.
2. Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth, adding more water, lemon or tahini to reach the texture you prefer. Keeps about a week in the fridge. Serve with cut vegetables for a healthy snack and leave the chips alone. (I like hummus with celery and red pepper strips, but then again, that is me.)
I took three large chicken breasts (you could use two for this sandwich) and cut each one into 3 bite size pieces (cutting against the bias so they are thinner when grilled). The marinade consisted of 2 minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper, lemon juice (3 tablespoons), 6 tablespoons olive oil. I marinated the chicken overnight. The next day I heated up my new Pampered Chef grill pan over medium heat till hot and carefully placed the pieces in the pan to sear on both sides. The smell was heavenly. Let the chicken cool. You can do this ahead of time also so assembly takes minimal time.
You could purchase a nice whole grain loaf for these sandwiches but I decided to bake 4 loaves of Italian bread dough found in the dairy section at the store. From my Pampered Chef days I used to make a sandwich ring called the Savory Sandwich Ring. For the loaf you would take 2 of the refrigerated loaves and brush on a mixture of egg white, minced garlic and italian seasoning. This gives the outside of the bread a nice flavor and browning when in the oven. For these sandwiches, I kept the long shape but brushed on the seasoned egg white.
For the yogurt-feta spread I blended a cup of plain yogurt, a minced garlic clove, half a cup of crumbled feta and some chopped basil (or could use parsley). Taste and adjust your seasoning to suit your tastes.
Assembly of the chicken sandwich: Use a serrated bread knife to cut your loaf in half lengthwise. place a layer of baby spinach leaves or fresh basil (if you can find it) on the bottom, top with grilled chicken slices, then some roasted red pepper (if desired) and more spinach leaves. On the top piece of bread, spread the yogurt feta dip. Put on the top piece of bread. From this stage I wrapped the uncut sandwich in plastic wrap then wrapped again in a large piece of foil. This made it easy for transport. At the site, I had a cutting board and a serrated knife. I unwrapped the foil from the sandwich and left on the plastic wrap cutting each portion with the plastic around it. This made it sanitary and it kept the sandwich together nicely.
Assembly of the roasted vegetable sandwich: Cut the loaf as above. On the bottom piece of bread spread some of the yogurt feta spread. Next add a layer of baby spinach leaves, then layer your vegetables so each bite will give you a taste of each vegetable. Add another layer of spinach or fresh basil (basil adds such flavor). The top layer of bread got a nice spread of the hummus. Wrap as before. I think I even added a nicely ripened avocado to this sandwich to add some richness to the finished sandwich.
I found a standard recipe for potato & leek soup from one of my cookbooks. Since I also had some cauliflower I decided to add about half a head cut up into florets to the pan. I did not use any added cream, but surely could have. It really was not needed for this lunch. The soup once all veggies cooked was pureed right in the pot with my immersion blender. Think about how you can upgrade the foods you eat by making substitutions that still provide an element (ie. creaminess) but without added fat or even dairy. I think the only diary in this entire lunch came from the plain yogurt used in the yogurt feta dip. (You could make a vegan spread by using a block of soft tofu instead of the yogurt and be no worse for wear.)
My budget for a lunch for 12 was $200. A healthy lunch on a cold day was provided for a mere $65 dollars with just a little thought and planning. The best ingredient added here is something you cannot get in any food establishment: love. Sounds mushy, yes but when you prepare food that is healthy and good for those who enjoy it you add an element that you cannot find in any store. It is your own attention and care.
Cook for yourselves, every day and reap the rewards of great energy, health and happiness.