Last month I expressed my dissatisfaction with the typical Jamaican lunch and the feedback was enlightening. I didn’t realize so many people were concerned about the portion distortion, nor experienced the distended abdomen (“food baby”) and sluggish feeling afterwards. My abdominal distention would last until night or even the next day sometimes and cause serious discomfort. If I wore tight-fitting clothing, within 30 minutes of lunch I appeared infanticipating. This is likely due to a myriad of factors: the stale recycled oil used to fry or stew the chicken, high MSG content, overeating bleached rice while rushing my meal in a short lunch break, high sodium content or even the sugar many cookshops are notorious for adding to rice and peas, chicken and gravies as their “secret ingredient.” I finally decided to make a change although it’s still in progress. Here are my weekday lunch substitutes so far:
The components vary depending on what I have, but my ideal ingredients include (not all in one smoothie of course!):
- 1 glass milk: I use 1% lactose-free milk (cows’ milk to which lactase has been added to break it down to the more digestible glucose and galactose), with hopes to use almond, hazelnut and hempseed milk, or even yoghurt occasionally.
- 1 handful of nuts or seeds: peanuts, almonds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds etc.
- Fruit: banana, mango, pineapple etc.
- Spices: vanillin (1/4 tsp), powdered cinnamon (1/2tsp), nutmeg (1/4 tsp, grated).
- Occasional ingredients: cocoa powder
- 6-10 ice cubes
Prep/cook/clean up time: 20 minutes. Blend until smooth and serve cold. Affordable combinations I’ve tried so far are banana and mango smoothies.
I make them overnight sometimes and freeze, or in the morning. Drinking lunch instead of eating may not sound filling but it actually is! It’s due to that soluble fibre and complex carbohydrates causing a slower release of energy, however I carry these only on early days.
2) Pasta Dishes
My most frequent concoction is what I like to call coconut tuna pasta and consists of penne, elbow or twist pasta, coconut milk, tuna (canned in water, drained), julienned sweet pepper and spices (chopped scallions, thyme, cayenne or Scotch bonnet pepper, parsley). It takes about 20 minutes to make al dente pasta, during which I prepare the other ingredients. At 20 minutes I stir everything else in, mix, cool, store and clean up. Overall, this takes about 40 minutes and I prepare enough to serve 2 lunches (but my brother takes it for dinner so it always seems to serve once 😒). Even with substitutions, I think this can work out affordable and relatively efficient.
I plan to substitute tuna for leftover chicken, lentils or chick peas occasionally, and switch pasta for sweet potato or yam if I happen to find any at decent prices.
So time-consuming!!! I still make my wraps (knock-off tortillas) from scratch because for the life of me I cannot find any affordable brands! The cheapest pack of 10 7-inch diameter tortillas is like $500JMD, while if I sacrifice the hour it takes to knead a dough for about 8-10 wraps, flatten with a rolling pin and make them on stove top in a skillet, it’d cost about $40JMD total. I kid you not since a kilogram of flour costs $100 and I use 1/3 bag each time with some paprika for colour and flavour, and of course water.
So far my fillings have been:
- Curried lentils
- BBQ lentils
- Curried chickpeas
I’ll probably keep all the fillings legume or vegetable related just because it’s cheaper. Health is an added plus 😉.
Ideas I haven’t actually tried yet are loaded potatoes (which I’ll most likely load with cheese and chorizo) and some other tasty bites I’ve pinned here mostly taken from budgetbytes.com, music to the ears of a broke girl who likes to eat.
When all else fails, there’s the good old sandwich which doesn’t exceed 15 minutes to fix (ham, etc.). I don’t mind getting soup for lunch at tuckshops either when available and occasionally, I give myself a break and have lunch delivered. There are often inexpensive healthy delivery options in the corporate area from humble home cooks trying to earn an honest living if you ask around.
These are some of the dishes from the only such cook I currently support who delivers to my campus at lunch hour (click pictures for description).
Benefits Reaped So Far
- No abdominal distention after meals, whoopee!
- No distention= clothes fitting better and looking slimmer (at least in my opinion 😊)
- No discomfort after eating
- I feel more energetic.
- I feel happier knowing I’m taking better care of myself.
- My tastebuds are happy from a wider meal and flavour variety. I no longer feel stuck in a lunch rut and man, do I not miss the grease and rice!
- Making time to cook.
- Keeping warm food warm. I’ve yet to find a small food thermos, so I often end up reheating food even it was cooked that morning. Plus, I’m doing a microbiology clerkship right now so I keep thinking of what could be growing in the food I’m leaving at room temperature.
- Keeping smoothies cold. My insulation flask isn’t too insulating.
- Spills. This hasn’t happened to me, but carrying lunch makes this a disastrous possibility.
Will I eat rice & chicken box lunches again? Possibly. But never again will it be a daily habit.
**Disclaimer note: I’m only referring to cookshop or cafeteria box lunches. By no means am I saying Jamaican cuisine on a whole is like this because we do have very healthy and scrumptious local food. You just have to search widely, pay more or make it yourself if you want it on the go at lunch time.**
If you already make these, plan to or give any a try, join the conversation below in the comment section. I’d appreciate healthy affordable suggestions too as we strive to live our best lives. 🤗 P.s. Before this new “lifestyle” I’d never eaten yet alone cooked a lentil. 🙈 I’ve been missing out.
‘Til next time.