For the first time in a very long time I am working a 9-to-5 job. I worked like this years ago, back in the days when I barely knew what balanced life was left alone balanced nutrition. Now I am older and wiser (and far more sensitive to what goes in my body), I have been putting in the time and effort to make sure I meal prep a nutritious lunch meal that keeps me fuelled as well as keeps my body feeling good.
My number one criteria is ensuring I am hitting my protein needs. Without it, I slink off inside my head at around 2:30pm and don't come back to the desk mentally for the rest of the day. That said, it doesn't mean I completely discount carbohydrates as your brain and body need carbohydrates to maintain good mental output and concentration. The carbohydrates I do include I make sure are from sources that offer complex, slow-release energy instead of the quick-hitting stuff and I try to get my carbs mostly from whole food sources. On top of those two key components, I make sure I am getting vegetables in to hit my 'five a day' as this is regularly missed in meals I don't have as much control of. So, to hit top marks on all three criteria, this pasta bake has been created- high in protein, rich in complex carbs and full of vegetables (three types!) with an optional extra of greens on top.
One serve of this bake gives you 25 grams of protein as well as a good hit of complex carbohydrates from the pasta and sweet potato. I try and use a pasta made from spelt, corn, quinoa or lentils to make sure it is as low GI and high in protein as possible. I also ensure the vegetables far outweigh the pasta with a ratio of 5:1 making it more of a vegetable bake than a pasta one. This way I can be sure I am getting plenty of vegetables in and not just loading up on pasta. Once baked, it serves me four to five times depending on how hungry I am or what I have to do that day. Once re-heated, I always top it with fresh leaves such as roquette or baby spinach, a drizzle of olive oil and a splash of apple cider vinegar to make it the perfectly balanced meal of protein, complex carbs, vegetables, greens and healthy fats.
makes 4-5 lunches
Lunchtime Vegetable Pasta Bake
500g zucchini, cut into 2cm chunks
300g eggplant, cut into 2cm chunks
200g sweet potato, cut into 2cm chunks
1tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper
200g small shaped pasta such as macaroni or penne, use gluten-free if needed
2 eggs, lightly whisked
250g whole-milk cottage cheese
2tbsp pesto (jar or homemade)
Grated vegetarian parmesan, as topping
Once reheated, you can top your lunch with some of the following:
Fresh roquette leaves, baby spinach leaves, olive oil and apple cider vinegar, pumpkin seeds, fresh avocado slices
Heat your oven to 200 degrees (celsius). Toss the chopped up vegetables in olive oil, smoked paprika, salt and pepper and spread them evenly out on an oven tray. Place in the oven to bake for 40 minutes until the vegetables are soft and going golden.
While the vegetables are baking, cook your pasta as per the instructions on the package. Once cooked through, drain the pasta and set aside. Then, combine the eggs, cottage cheese and pesto in a large mixing bowl and also set aside.
Once the vegetables are done, remove them from the oven and turn the oven down to 180 degrees. Add the cooked pasta and the baked vegetables into the mixing bowl of eggs and cheese and toss together until everything is evenly coated in the egg mixture. Season if required and then pour the mixture into a large baking tray or pan, sprinkle over some grated parmesan and place back in the oven to bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove the bake from the oven and allow it to cool completely before cutting it up into four or five evenly sized pieces. Package them up into tupperware to grab and go during the week.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
You can substitute vegetables for ones you prefer or are available in your area's season. Just aim for around one kilogram of vegetables and ensure at least one of them is high in starch such as potatoes or sweet potato.