A Filling, Low-Cal Lunch Option That Costs Less Than $2 a Day
Workweek lunches are the bane of my existence. As I sit at my desk, struggling to decide what to order on Postmates (and overspend on), it always comes down to the boring, age-old decision between salad or sandwich, neither of which ever truly hits the spot for me. Salads never fill me up, and sandwiches always feel a tad heavy and carb-dense. But my lunch dread and money drain ended when I started making the most genius, healthy dish on Sundays to take with me to work all week: quinoa mac 'n' cheese. Keep scrolling to read my recipe!
I discovered quinoa mac 'n' cheese at a Sunday football event, where the typical football fare abounded: wings, chips, hot dogs, etc. A vegetarian friend, however, had made herself something that smelled better than anything in the room and that looked like heaven. All of us gathered around her creation when it came out of the oven and were mind-blown when she told us what it was: quinoa mac 'n' cheese. Genius! She kindly shared a bite, and it was so good that right that minute I took out my iPhone to furiously jot down her recipe.
Since then, my boyfriend and I have been making it almost weekly, with several innovations along the way (like adding kale, chopped green pepper, and spinach to up the greens content). We make one casserole dish on Sunday and parcel out squares to take to work Monday through Friday. It is so filling, comforting, and satisfying yet so light, healthy, and protein-dense. Every time I bring it to work, I get no less than seven wide-eyed, salivating stares and questions: What is that? I heat it up for 1 minute, 30 seconds in the office microwave and savor every bite. It honestly gets better as the week goes on and the flavors settle into themselves more. It also costs under $10 to make a whole batch for the week (assuming you have some staples in your kitchen like olive oil and spices), and because quinoa is the base of the dish, it has saved me a ton of money and calories. It's the lunch solution I swear by.
• 2 tsp. olive oil
• 1 diced green pepper
• 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa
• 4 gloves garlic
• 3 cups water or stock
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup milk of your choice (we use skim)
• 1 1/2 of low-fat grated cheddar (or cheese of your choosing)
• Panko breadcrumbs
• Preheat oven to 350ºF.
• Sautée the garlic and pepper in the olive oil in a saucepan until tender.
• Stir in the dry quinoa, and cook with the vegetables, stirring frequently for 5 minutes.
• Add the 3 cups water or stock, and season with salt and pepper.
• Cover and reduce the heat, and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes (you know it's done when all the liquid has been absorbed and it looks like cooked quinoa).
• Preheat oven to 350ºF while quinoa is simmering.
• Remove from heat and let stand.
• Coat a glass casserole dish with cooking spray (we use a 7x11, but any casserole dish that will fit the mixture will do).
• Whisk together eggs and milk in a large mixing bowl, and add the 1 1/2 cups cheese, and the entire cooked quinoa mixture. Stir very well and know that because the quinoa mixture is still hot, the cheese will likely melt.
• Pour the whole mixture into the casserole dish, and top it will breadcrumbs (we use Panko, and you can also sprinkle a little more cheese on top if you want to).
• Bake at 350ºF for 30 to 45 minutes—it varies based on oven and the dish you are using, but you will known when it is done because it will be golden brown around the edges and top.
• Voilà! After it's done, you can dress it however you want—chop some scallions to have on top, serve it with a side salad, or drizzle it with sriracha or hot sauce. It's a very versatile dish.
The dish that we make makes 8 very hearty servings, which breaks down to just 250 calories per serving. For a filling, nutritious, warm, home-baked healthy lunch, 250 is about as low-cal as it gets!
Have you ever heard of quinoa mac 'n' cheese? Will you try out this recipe? Let me know below, and share what your favorite healthy low-cal lunch solution is, too! Click here for my favorite cookbook for low-cal meals.