These healthy, creative lunches are deliciously easy solutions to end your brown bag boredom.

Caprese Orzo Mason Jar Salad. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet/YAM magazine
Caprese Orzo Mason Jar Salad. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet/YAM magazine


Buon Appetito: Caprese Orzo Mason Jar Salad

Mason jar salads have taken the lunch set by storm. They are easy to make and keep fresh — and they look so mouth-wateringly pretty. We’ve provided a recipe for a nutritiously zesty Italian-inspired Caprese Orzo salad. By following the layering principles shown in this recipe you can easily create Mason jar salads using any ingredients you like. (Makes 4 salads. Use wide-mouth quart Mason jars.)

(In layering order, from bottom to top.)
• 4 to 8 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette dressing (recipe below)
• 10 oz small fresh mozzarella balls
• 2 cups tomatoes (small, whole plum or cherry tomatoes are best)
• 1 cup baby spinach and 3 fresh basil leaves, torn (for first green layer)
• 2 cups cooked orzo pasta
• 1 cup fresh baby spinach and 3 fresh basil leaves, torn (for second green layer)

Balsamic vinaigrette dressing:
(Makes enough for 4 jar salads)
• 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 5 tbsp balsamic vinegar
• 4 cloves garlic (skinned)
• 1 tsp dry mustard
• 1 tsp sugar
• 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (loosely packed)
In a blender, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, dried mustard, sugar and basil leaves until dressing is smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

To prepare:
• Make dressing and set aside. Divide ingredients evenly to put into four Mason jars. As a rule with Mason jar salads, add the dressing first then begin adding the heaviest, most non-absorbent ingredients, working your way up. Store upright so that the greens will stay protected from the dressing. When you’re ready to eat, unscrew the cap, shake your salad into a bowl and toss.

Note: With the lid sealed tightly, these salads can last up to five days in the refrigerator. If you are making salads with soft or perishable ingredients such as avocados, hardboiled eggs, fish or cooked chicken breasts, add those on the day you plan to eat the salad.


Beautiful and Healthy: The Bento Box 

Bento boxes aren’t just for Japanese food. The principles can be applied to foods from all kinds of cultures. The goal with bento is to assemble a meal that is as appetizing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds, with a good balance of proteins, starches and fruits and vegetables. This can be achieved by following the principle of goshiki, which means five colours: red or orange, yellow, green, white, and black, dark purple or brown. Rice usually forms the larger portions in traditional Japanese bento boxes but you can reduce the amount (or even replace rice with another item) to reduce carbs.

We have provided you with some basic bento recipes that are easy to make ahead of time, but you’ll no doubt soon come up with your own bento variations based on your diet and flavour preferences. For instance, many recipes call for brown sugar but you can substitute brown-sugar Splenda. For sake substitutions, some people prefer white grape juice. A great bento resource is

Do keep soy sauce and wasabi in the fridge at work to dress up your bento as needed. 

Teriyaki Chicken
The word teriyaki combines marinade, or tare (which means “to shine”), with yaki, which means grilling or broiling. The result is a perfect protein accompaniment to your bento box.

• 2-3 chicken breasts, skin on
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 tbsp Japanese soy sauce
• 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
• 2 tbsp mirin

Teriyaki Sauce:
• 2 tbsp honey
• 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
• 2 tbsp mirin
• 2 tbsp sake

To prepare:
For brine: In a large Ziploc bag, blend water, soy sauce, brown sugar and mirin; add chicken breasts and seal. Marinate in fridge for one hour.

For teriyaki sauce: Add honey, soy sauce, mirin and sake to a small saucepan; boil at medium heat until the sauce is glossy and slightly viscous with a carmelized taste.

To grill chicken: Turn broiler on; put oven rack in upper position. Place chicken breasts skin-side down on a cooking rack over a pan. Grill until done then flip the breasts over and baste the skin side with teriyaki sauce. Broil until the skin is golden brown, with slight charring. Baste once more then remove from the oven. Cool and slice. Divide into portions for your bento box. The remainder will keep in the fridge for about three days.

Onigiri Rice Balls
These bento staples are simple to make as long as you use sticky sushi rice (find at the Japanese market or ask your grocer) and keep a bowl of salt water handy (1/2 tsp salt to 2 cups water) to dip your hands in before forming each ball. This keeps the rice from sticking to your hands. We’ve presented the recipe for basic onigiri balls, but you can use a variety of fillings depending on your tastes. (Do try smoked salmon, cream cheese and chopped chives.)

• 1 1/2 cups uncooked Japanese sushi rice (Note: other types of rice do not work well)
• 1 sheet of roasted nori seaweed, crumbled
• 1/3 cup sesame seeds to mix into rice and use for a garnish

To prepare:
• Cook rice as directed on package. Once water is absorbed, allow rice to sit covered for 10 minutes.
• Mix rice with crumbled pieces of nori and sesame seeds.
• Mix water and salt in a bowl to rinse your hands before forming the rice balls. (Salt water keeps the rice from sticking to your hands; wet your hands before forming each rice ball.)
• Create each rice ball by using about 1/3 cup of cooked rice. Repeat with remaining rice, keeping the rice warm and moist throughout the process. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy!

Shredded Vegetable Pickled Slaw
(Makes 3 to 4 cups)

• 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
• 1 cup finely shredded carrot
• 1 cup finely shredded cucumber
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 cup rice vinegar
• 4 tbsp sugar
• 2-3 dried red chili peppers
• 2 inch square piece of kombu or nori seaweed, shredded

To prepare:
• Put vegetables in bowl; sprinkle with the salt. Massage vegetables until they have wilted a bit.
• Combine the rest of the ingredients in a non-metallic container with a tight-fitting lid. Add vegetable mix and stir well to coat vegetables. Marinate overnight. Keeps in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Ginger Salad Dressing
Serve this deliciously zesty dressing over a bed of fresh greens topped with a garnish of grated carrots and julienned cucumber. (Makes about 1/3 cup)

• 2 tbsp rice vinegar
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1/2 tsp sugar
• 1 tsp sake (optional)
• 1 tsp grated ginger
• 3 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 tbsp sesame oil

To prepare:
Mix all ingredients, except oil, in a bowl. Add vegetable oil and sesame oil gradually; mix well.

 By Kerry Slavens