Dear Blue Apron,
I am recently gluten-free, and I've got my breakfast down (yogurt, smoothies, eggs) and my dinners figured out (stir fry, tacos, grilled everything). But I'm struggling with weekday lunches! I want something quick and healthy, so I end up eating the same blah salad every day. What are my other wheat-free options?
—New to This
Congrats on making the change and conquering two out of the three of your daily meals!
If it makes you feel better, we think lunch is a problem for everyone, not just the newly gluten-free. You want more variety in your midday nosh than you do at breakfast, but desk-front dining doesn’t exactly demand the sort of kitchen adventure we like to have at dinner.
Here are a few ways to embrace the wheat-free grains, vegetables, and meats you can eat and learn to make the most of lunch—no bread required.
1. Love Leftovers
Those stir-fries and tacos you’ve got figured out for dinner? Why not see if you can stretch them to the next day’s lunch by increasing the amounts of meat and vegetables you use? If you’re easily bored, try making two related versions of your dinner and saving one for the next day, such as a stir-fry with Italian spices and another that’s more Asian inspired.
Even if you’re left without leftovers, you might try taking inspiration from dinners to inspire lunch. A pork chop with mashed sweet potatoes might not immediately strike you as lunch material, but I bet you’ll be pretty happy when you’re chowing down on that while your co-workers eat sad desk salads. Stick with simplified dinner-ish formulas, and you’ll be set.
2. Think of Salads Like Sandwiches
If you’re like us, you don’t get as bored of sandwiches as you do of salads. There’s turkey, tuna, ham and swiss, egg salad, caprese, and on and on. So, let’s do a little mental trick where we replace the bread in our minds with greens. (There, that was easy!)
We think that opens up salads to far more creativity than your standard chopped veggies and grilled chicken. You can start with a chef’s salad, which is typically a combination of deli meats, cheese, and chopped egg. Branch out to antipasti—think salami, roasted red peppers, olives, and artichoke hearts—and then you can really get crazy after that. Skip the bread and use banh mi filling to top a cabbage salad. Ditch the sub and add meatballs to a spinach base. Get creative!
3. Go With Potatoes
We’re fans of every variety of potato, from the large baking potato to sweet potatoes of every color (did you know they come in purple?). There are a million uses for potatoes, but we’ll focus on most lunch-friendly ones.
First off, you can use potatoes in salads, in place of the croutons you’re probably missing. Crisp them up in the oven or the frying pan, and season with salt and pepper or some herbs. That’s what we do in our yummy escarole and white bean salad, and it’s a winner.
You can also bulk up a potato salad with other vegetables and a hearty dressing, like a pesto-based one or even a blue cheese dressing. Both provide a welcome change of pace from your regular old salad.
4. Bread Alternatives Abound—Really!
When we say bread alternatives, we don’t mean expensive, uber-processed gluten-free “breads.” We mean looking around the world to see what hand-held delicacies might replace the sandwich in our lunchtime rituals.
You don’t have to look far to encounter the shrimp summer roll. There, rice paper holds together lettuce, shrimp, and carrots—more or less a salad, but packaged into a hand-held meal. Dip the rolls into rich, protein-filled peanut sauce for a complete lunch.
Arepas, South American corn cakes, can also take the place of your bread. We make the patties at home from masa harina (corn flour), then split them in two and fill with herbs and cheese. And even summer squash can stand in for bread when you stuff it with a savory meat-and-grain filling.
Being gluten-free doesn’t have to limit your lunch options. By focusing on what you can eat (summer rolls! frittatas!) instead of what you can’t, you might find that you enjoy your new diet’s feasts more than your old lunch habit. And when co-workers ask for a bite, no need to tell them it’s missing that formerly vital lunchtime ingredient.
Photo courtesy of Blue Apron.