When it comes to lunch, I've definitely always felt it's the single most important meal to potentially make or break your day. For those with access to enough food & the ability and luxury to choose what to consume, it seems that even those with the best intentions of eating well can sometimes fall prey to poor choices in the gruelling middle of the workday. You know, in the middle of daily pressures and all the stresses that present themselves when we are learning, being challenged, and interacting with colleagues, leaders & clients? We all have them, those pressures, and it seems at least to me that this critical meal can either set us up for an afternoon of strength or derail us completely if we aren't prepared. All hail the packed lunch in this case, and today I'm sharing a new variation on one of my all-time favourite midday power meals.
I like to pack healthy lunches as often as I can, to not only save money but also to keep my energy up for a quality day on the road -- and mostly to ward off those energy dips that can turn me into a poor-decision-making-woman-on-a-rampage. When it comes to my kids, I'm no different, and have always been 'that mom' that doesn't pack the so-called 'good stuff'. In other words, my kids get all those healthy goodies without all the packaging and pretty colours, and it's just always been that way and is not about to change.
Today's recipe & post (as one of my all-time favourite high protein & packable lunch foods) is in honour of this year's Food Bloggers For Hunger campaign, led by Nicole Gulotta, to help champion a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. Hunger is the whole world's problem, and I'm happy to take part in this great blogging event, where over 120 bloggers are donating their posts to help raise awareness, and hopefully raise some critical funds, to help feed schoolchildren in South Africa through an organization called The Lunchbox Fund.
A few statistics regarding the state of South African children (taken from the Giving Table Website):
- 65% of all South African children live in poverty. Receiving food encourages these children to stay in school and obtain their education.
- Nearly 20% of all children in South Africa are orphans, with approximately 1.9 Million of those children orphaned as a result of HIV and AIDS.
- Lack of food can diminish concentration, erode willpower, and strip away a child's potential. Compound that with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS or the trauma of losing parents and loved ones, without food, a child's attendance and performance at school is severely jeopardized.
- The Lunchbox Fund identifies schools or forms partnerships with locally based NGOs or community organizations in order to evaluate and identify schools. It funds distributors to buy and deliver food, monitor the feeding scheme, implement a Project Manager, and deliver reports back to them for evaluation.
On a personal note, I'm constantly in awe of the work people do to help alleviate the tragedy of hunger in their own communities. As I work hard here at home to do whatever small part I can for my community (through my organization Not So Fast), I'm well aware of the challenges and hard work people face when it comes to this kind of monumental task. It's a hard gig, let me tell you, but with the right kind of help, it can be done ---- and with the right mindset, we all can pitch in too. So today, I'm joining up with other bloggers to ask you, my readers, to consider giving to the Lunchbox fund as part of this weeklong campaign to help nourish the bellies of South African school children. Every little bit helps, and as little as $10 goes an awful long way towards the larger goal for this campaign - which is set at $5,000 (I see that being well-surpassed with all that is behind this). To donate anytime this week, visit the fundraising page here.
In the meantime, imagine how you might make what you feel are poor or compromised choices when you are either short on food or have eaten what can be viewed as the wrong food (hm, chocolate bar for lunch?). Well imagine for a second if that was your every day, except the 'wrong food' could be 'no food'. We know it's not a pretty thing to think about, but the good news is, we can do something to help - even if it is just one child each of us on our own can affect. Every single little bit helps.
And of course, while we are here, together, let's also not forget the recipe for today. I'm excited to share your next favorite lentil salad, which is easy, inexpensive, and full of plant-based nutrition and fiber. This one also comes with a warning: the Haloumi croutons are outrageous, and of course, totally optional too.
Huge thanks to Nicole for her efforts in organizing, and what an amazing event to be a part of --- let's do this. Let's Feed South Africa…..there are a whole lot of better futures out there for all. Let's join hands, give thanks, and be the change. xo
French Lentil Salad with Haloumi Croutons:
- (1) cup French lentils, also known as black lentils or Beluga lentils
- (1) beet, roasted & diced into a 1/2 inch dice
- ( 1/2) pound green beans, washed & trimmed
- (1) red pepper, minced
- (1) 125 gram pack Haloumi cheese, cubed
- (1/2) cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- (1) recipe Herb Dijon Vinaigrette
Start by pre-soaking the lentils – this is ideally done the night before you want to cook, or if you want to make this in the late afternoon, you can soak the lentils early in the day. Put up a steamer to boil on the stove with plenty of water, enough for 25-30 minutes of light boiling. Rinse the soaked lentils and add them to the steamer. Steam them for 25-30 minutes until soft, but still firm and brown. Once done, remove to a bowl and set aside in a bowl to cool.
I often just cook up a batch of these and keep them in the fridge until I am inspired to use them. I just cook them & toss them in a little olive oil & salt to trap the flavor. Folks have asked why I steam them vs. boiling them, and the only thing I can say is this was a trick I learned forever ago, and cooking (only the French kind) lentils this way produces a firmer texture without them turning to mush. Perfect for salads and I never cook them any other way if I plan to eat them cold.
To pre-roast your beet, simply wrap it in foil, and prick holes throughout the foil 6-8 times with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees on a tray (to catch any errant beet juice) until soft - about an hour or so. When ready to use, run the beet under cold water to rub the skin off, and dice into desired sized pieces.
Another tip: I will often roast 3-4 beets at a time and keep them wrapped in the fridge. Perfect for chopping and adding to salads or making a beet salad with.
To prepare the beans, simply wash, trim, and cut into 1 inch lengths. Put the beans up to cook in a pot with one inch of cold water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, cook, covered for 4 minutes (do not overcook if you can). Drain and rinse in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
First of all, I must give credit where credit is due, as this recipe comes from the Fresh Energy Cookbook, and the beautiful collection of easy to digest recipes from Doris Choi & Natalia Rose. It's a keeper, seriously! Simply heat the oven to 350 degrees and cube the cheese into one inch pieces. On a parchment lined baking sheet, spread the cheese pieces evenly and place in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping over at the halfway mark. They will be browned and most of the moisture will have evaporated when done. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool before using.
The dressing, nuts & pepper:
Lastly, chop the pepper & make the dressing. Toast the walnuts in the oven along with the Haloumi croutons for 10-15 minutes until fragrant and browning. When cool enough to handle, chop them finely with a chopping knife and set aside.
Assemble the salad:
When you have all of your ingredients ready, toss them all together in a mixing bowl and add the dressing as you wish, using