Eating out tends to feel like the most overwhelming (and sometimes scary!) part of starting a diet with less sodium. But with a little advanced planning, good communication, and return visits to favorite spots, eating well at a restaurant will start to feel easy. Not to mention tasty.
This blog post is written by Jessica Goldman Foung , also known as Sodium Girl.
Eating at work can be a slightly trickier situation. With a limited window of time, limited choices nearby, and last minute plans, it can be quite difficult to find good choices with less sodium. And often, desk lunches fall into the prepared food or fast food categories -- both which can mean foods with high amounts of sodium. Leaving one with the option of making all work meals from scratch at home, or -- gasp -- cheating on that diet with less sodium.
Like everything else, though, about a diet with less sodium, simple tricks exist that will make convenient food possible. And before you pick up a turkey sandwich or heat up that microwave soup, use the following tips to eat well at work while watching your sodium intake.
Use Mugs and a Microwave
Just because you might need to skip prepared foods with higher amounts of sodium doesn’t mean you have to skip the power and convenience of the microwave. Several microwave-focused recipes and cookbooks already exist.
You can whip up morning eggs, a noon-time tostada, a fruity cake treat in a matter of minutes, or chips! Just be sure to pack all the dry items you need and stock your office kitchen with the wet ingredients (recipe included later in this post).
Adjust recipes according to your diet -- substituting other spices for salt and using foods with less sodium, ready-to-eat products in place of foods with higher sodium.
Read food labels to help you make healthier choices. Compare the nutrition labels of similar products and choose the one with the lowest sodium. And if it’s microwave noodle soup you crave, you can make that, too. Simply fill a container with your soup ingredients (noodles, vegetables, and protein). And then, at meal time, use a, earthy Genmaicha tea bag (a savory tea bag) and some hot water for the broth.
Stock the Pantry
Even if you don’t work in an office with catered meals and well-stocked kitchens, that doesn’t mean you can’t take matters into your own hands.
Start small by organizing a spice cabinet or go big by making over the office kitchen, filling it with quick-to-cook grains (like oatmeal, quinoa, and microwave rice); flavored oils and vinegars; low- or no-sodium beans, tomatoes, and vegetables (canned or frozen); other textural and flavorful add-ins, like nuts and seeds, no-sodium nori (seaweed) sheets, and unsweetened dried fruit; or the items that will help you make your favorite fast food dishes.
Again, read food labels to help you make healthier choices. Compare the nutrition labels of similar products and choose the one with the lowest sodium.
You can also ask your boss or office manager to sign up for a CSA box to have fresh fruit and vegetables on hand. Or use Craigslist or eBay to buy reduced-priced kitchen tools -- like a recipe cooker! -- that will open up even more quick meal opportunities.
Alter a Menu
If you do have a favorite sandwich spot, sushi restaurant, or pizza joint, you might be able to keep it in your lunchtime routine. Simply take the time to meet with a manager and discuss your food needs. If you’re a loyal client, they may be willing to come up with something you can enjoy. You may even get a lettuce-wrapped sandwich named after you.
And for those times you end up somewhere new, think of the menu like a pantry. Even if you can only order a salad or a bowl of sautéed fish, use the ingredients listed on the menu to customize your own dish with things you know they have on hand (like avocado, fried eggs, fresh herbs, and nuts).
Organize a Potluck
Work meals offer a way to network or socialize with peers. To stay in the loop while maintaining your a diet with less sodium, organize a monthly potluck. Use shared Google docs to let colleagues sign up for meals, as well as alert people to food needs -- surely, someone else is following a special diet, whether it is vegetarian or gluten-free. It’s is a great way to start a new office tradition and enjoy lunch hour together.
Pick a theme -- salad; tacos; spring rolls! Offer a dietary friendly base -- leafy greens; corn & whole grain flour tortillas; rice wrappers and butter lettuce leaves. And let everyone participate by bringing different fillings. That way, everyone can fill their plates just as they please/need.
Create a Refrigerator Salad Bar
If you decide to go with the “meals from home” route, there are simple ways to make cooking lunch from scratch easier and more time efficient.
First, there’s batch cooking, or cooking large amounts of one dish at one time. This can be anything from soups to salads, a whole chicken, casseroles, or mini versions of a bigger meal (like lasagna or fritattas) cooked in a muffin tin. It can be one recipe or multiple. But the point is to make more servings than what you need for dinner. Cook it all on a relatively calm day when you have time for extra prep, and then re-purpose for your office meals throughout the week.
For a second option, take a cue from the local salad bar and set one up in your fridge. Like batch cooking, use a calm afternoon or evening to prepare shredded carrots and zucchini noodles; grilled corn and roasted tomatoes; quick-cook grains; shredded chicken, hard-boiled eggs, or spiced beans; and a salt-free dressing or two. Then mix and match throughout the week. And don’t forget you can do something similar for breakfast, too.
Jessica Goldman Foung is also known as Sodium Girl.
After lupus caused her kidneys to fail, Jessica Goldman Foung refocused her life and work to study food, health and the ways they interact. She began SodiumGirl.com in 2009 to capture her adventures in her low-sodium life.
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