Healthy Snack/Lunch Bento Boxes

Today, I am preparing to house sit/dog sit and take care of my French bulldog friends, Theo and Remy. The dog owners usually stock the freezer with some of my favorite healthy frozen foods, but I thought I would pack some supplemental bento boxes that could work perhaps as lunches or as healthy snack boxes.

I went out to the grocery store with some ideas but not too much of a plan and picked up a variety of healthy snacks.

I picked up some savory plantain chips and cheesy kale chips …

some baby carrots with avocado ranch dip, strawberries, vanilla yogurt covered raisins and light Babybel cheeses,

some sundried tomatoes,

and Annie’s fruit snacks that came in cute shapes like barns, tractors, pigs, sheep, cows, bunnies and carrots. I’m sure they are meant to have kid appeal for kids’ lunches, but I am a kid at heart, so why not?

Here’s a little humor for you on these fruit snacks. As I was putting together my bento boxes with these fruit snacks, I couldn’t recognize all of the shapes unless they were flipped the right way. The molded details are really only on one side. I was assuming one of them was a tractor until I flipped it and saw it was a cow. Mom got a kick out of that and said, “You can’t tell the difference between a tractor and a cow? You wouldn’t make a very good farmer. You would sit on the cow and try to plow the field!”

The variety of snacks meant that each bento box could be a bit different, and I wouldn’t be eating something identical every day.

I used these segmented plastic lunch boxes that I purchased some time back on …

And used some silicone cupcake liners that helped me squeeze in a few more compartments for separate items.

Here are a few different layouts ..

yogurt covered raisins, kale chips, plantain chips, sundried tomatoes, fruit snacks, Babybel cheese and strawberries
strawberries, Babybel cheese, yogurt covered raisins, sundried tomatoes, kale chips and plantain chips
yogurt covered raisins, Babybel cheese, fruit snacks, plantain chips, carrots and avocado ranch dip

Some of you may notice that it seems spare for a lunch or is lacking in more protein based snacks. Partly, I’m not sure if these will end up being snacks or lunches. In the past, when I have done something like this, I have included rolls of turkey cold cuts or turkey rolled with a little neufchatel cream cheese and lettuce. So, there’s an idea for more protein. For snacks, the portioning helps to limit some of the snacks that have more calories or fat, although I don’t feel like I need to limit carrots or strawberries.

I think bento boxes like this can serve different purposes. With a few changes, they could work as kids’ snack or lunch boxes. A few of these snacks like the carrots, cheese or fruit snacks are kid-friendly. I’m not sure about the sundried tomatoes or kale chips, but it might depend on the kid. You might want to double up on the protein for a lunch box, but with a few moderations, this could work for either an adult or child’s lunch box.

You could pack some of these bento boxes for a vacation, so you have some options for lunches or snacks while on the road or, if you have a fridge where you are staying, you have some options for either snacks or lunches that won’t involve eating out.

I want to show you a few other food or drink items I am packing.

I am growing to like these Bubly sparkling water drinks. I am trying to drink more water and less of other drinks that have sugar, and plain water is not as interesting to me as this sparkling water is. This just has a little bit of fruit flavoring and carbonation and nothing artificial.

I also got these tiny frozen desserts — ice cream surrounded by mochi. Mochi is a sweet Japanese snack made with glutinous rice. I got them in six different flavors: cookies and cream, vanilla bean, green tea, ripe strawberry, double chocolate and dulce de leche. The packaging is so tiny that there is no nutritional information on it, but I am assuming that just the tiny portion size makes it a better choice than some other frozen desserts would be.

I hope this post gives you some inspiration about healthy eating and snack or lunch prep.

Five Fad Foods I Like and You Should Try

(If You Haven’t Already)

Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash

This post was inspired by Dr. Tanya at her blog, Salted Caramel. It was not difficult to think of five fad foods that I like (as I like a lot of different foods.) Let’s see if we can narrow it down to five.

1.) Roasted Vegetables

Photo by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

I’d like to think that I would have eaten more veggies as a child if roasting veggies was as common then as it is now. I’d much rather eat a veggie roasted than boiled which was the most common way I ate them (or didn’t eat them) as a child. It just sweetens them up a bit, sometimes almost caramelizing them. I could eat them every day. I’ll always remember my trip to Whole Foods where an employee at the hot foods counter persuaded me to try a roasted Brussels sprout. “I wish every veggie could taste like this,” he told me. I agree.

2.) Sheet pan dinners

Photo by Christine Siracusa on Unsplash

Sheet pan dinners seem almost indistinguishable from roasted veggies at times. The sheet pan dinner incorporates the other but includes your proteins too. Salmon is pictured above — one of my favorite things in the world. Often sheet pan dinners include sausage — one of my other favorite things in the world. They are fairly easy to prepare. Everything goes into one pan and cooks together, and if you line your pan with foil, the clean up may just be simple too.

3.) Quinoa

Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Quinoa is a grain that is considered a superfood. It really has an incredible amount of nutrition in it such as manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron, zinc and potassium. It is also really high in dietary fiber and in protein. I do like the tricolor kind as pictured above. It doesn’t taste different than the ordinary kind, but I find it more visually appealing.

I did not know what I was doing when I first tried quinoa. I just cooked some and added some fruit on top — cherries. I was not impressed. Rice, cooked the same way with no seasoning, would be equally unimpressive. Quinoa is great mixed with herbs, lemon juice and olive oil and other seasonings. You can add veggies and make a salad. It’s very versatile.

4.) Grain Bowls

Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash

Grain bowls have a grain base like maybe quinoa or rice or farro. Your veggies or any protein along with sauces or dressing are added on top. It’s like a healthier version of a casserole without loads of cheese and creamy soups. There’s something very nice about having a complete meal in a bowl, and the flavor combinations can be very interesting and varied.

5.) Sriracha

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Yes, I like that hot stuff with the rooster on the bottle. I still like Tabasco. I’d still probably prefer a Tabasco taste on things that traditionally have it … like hot wings. I would say that the difference is sriracha has more sweetness than Tabasco, and Tabasco has more tang than sriracha. Someone who is not accustomed to hot spices might not detect the sweetness exactly. They are both about equally hot. It is also a thicker sauce than Tabasco which might be helpful in some recipes or applications.

What do you think? Do you like any of these fad foods? Would you try them if you haven’t tried them yet?

Healthy Choices at Three Popular Chain Restaurants

If you’ve been trying to reduce calories, you know that eating in restaurants can be tricky. You can easily save a lot of calories by cooking and eating at home, but eating in restaurants is not always avoidable, nor would we always want it to be. There are occasions like road trips, birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions and get-togethers with friends. We don’t completely want to give up the fun of eating out, but when you see that some menu choices have 1200 to over 1300 calories, it can be discouraging.

If you plan ahead, you can do pretty well without spoiling your diet, and you can plan your other meals and their calorie count around what you plan to order out.

Here are a few lighter, healthy choices at Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Ruby Tuesday.

Healthy Choices At Applebee’s

One of your better choices is the cedar salmon with maple mustard glaze, which is 350 calories without sides. Add the garlic mashed potatoes for 250 calories, your best choice for a carbohydrate side, and steamed broccoli at 100 calories. Another option is to skip the potatoes and add another veggie side, such as the garlicky green beans at 180 calories.

Image of cedar salmon with maple mustard glaze, a healthy choice at Applebee's

Another one of the better choices is the shrimp wonton stir fry at 680 calories.

Shrimp wonton stir fry

One of my favorite choices at Applebee’s is the Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp, which is Cajun spiced and served on a sizzling iron skillet along with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and onions. Unlike the shrimp wonton stir fry, it is not promoted as lighter fare, but it is actually a little bit lower in calories than the stir fry, at 600 calories and equal in calories to their cedar grilled lemon chicken, which is promoted as lighter fare. I’m not sure why it’s not officially included in their lighter menu, although it lacks a nutrition-packed veggie like the broccoli in the stir fry and comes with potatoes which might seem not as low-carb friendly. Still, calorie-wise, it’s in the range of these other dishes and even a little bit lower than some.

Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp

Healthy Choices At Olive Garden

Olive Garden or any Italian restaurant may seem particularly difficult to navigate if you are on a low-carb diet such as Atkins, South Beach or Keto. You’ll find several lighter fare choices under their “Tastes of the Mediterranean” section of the menu. A few of these are pasta-free.

One of these is the fairly new salmon piccata, accompanied by parmesan-crusted zucchini, at 570 calories. The grilled salmon is drizzled with a lemon garlic sauce and sprinkled with tangy capers and flavorful sun-dried tomatoes. Honestly, I have not been much of a fan of zucchini for most of my life, but this parmesan-crusted zucchini is one of the dishes that helped turn me around.

Image of Olive Garden's salmon piccata, a healthy choice.

Olive Garden also has a sauce-less herb-grilled salmon served with steamed broccoli at 470 calories.

The chicken margherita is another high protein, pasta-less dish, served with that same parmesan-crusted zucchini. It is topped with basil pesto — one of my favorite tastes — mozzarella, grape tomatoes and a lemon garlic sauce. This dish has 550 calories for a dinner portion and 380 calories for a lunch portion.

Olive Garden chicken margherita

I’m of the philosophy that cutting calories is more important than cutting carbs or any particular food. Olive Garden also offers some healthy choices in their pasta dishes.

For instance, you can order the chicken giardino at 530 calories. The ruffled pappardelle pasta noodles are mixed with a light, lemon herb sauce and a variety of healthy vegetables such as carrot, red bell pepper, broccoli and zucchini.

Olive Garden chicken giardino

Healthy Choices at Ruby Tuesday

One of my favorite things to order at Ruby Tuesday is the New Orleans seafood. This dish is Cajun-seasoned tilapia with small shrimp and a parmesan cream sauce. Although it’s not included in the official Fit&Trim menu, at 336 calories, it can certainly be light if you choose your sides carefully.

Image of New Orleans seafood, a healthy choice dish at Ruby Tuesday.

This meal comes with two sides. The lightest of the side dishes are fresh steamed zucchini at 22 calories, fresh steamed broccoli at 45 calories or the green beans at 51 calories. In the past, Ruby Tuesday has also offered roasted Brussels sprouts which were delicious. The lightest of the starchy sides is the rice pilaf at 190 calories. The garden salad bar is also a choice for one of your sides.

Another good choice, not necessarily included in the Fit&Trim menu, is to get a small steak with healthy, lighter sides. Try the 6 oz. asiago peppercorn steak at 297 calories. The tasty steak comes with a parmesan cream sauce and shaved asiago cheese.

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