Protein Powered Lunches

As we move from summer holidays into fall, a challenge that surfaces annually is that of regularly filling our lunch bags, for school, work, autumn hikes, or other pursuits. Whether our task is to meet the appetites of a crew of ravenous teenagers, to find something tasty to get us through the afternoon, or to meet our basic nutrient needs while trying to lose weight, a hearty, high protein lunch solves the dilemma. One family of my acquaintance has survived fairly well on 7 long years of peanut butter sandwiches–however others prefer a little variety, and look forward to the occasional new taste treat.


Our books “Becoming Vegetarian” (in Canada) and  \”The New Becoming Vegetarian (same book, in the US), both co-authored with Brenda Davis, and “Raising Vegetarian Children” (co-authored with Jo Stepaniak) feature charts of creative sandwich and lunchbox ideas that are designed to provide a nourishing boost at mid-day, and sustain you through the afternoon. Delicious new versions of hummus can be made with red beans, or with added flaxseed that provides your day’s supply of omega 3’s. For those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, Gee Whiz spread (made with white beans) and cashew-based Muenster Cheeze provide the cheesy flavour that we love. For variety, occasionally replace the usual bread slices with fresh, crusty rolls, or pumpernickel. Other sandwich-like options, especially for those with gluten sensitivities, are nori rolls or vegetable salad rolls (in rice paper wraps). Bean burritos are tasty cold as well as hot. To prepare one, fill a corn or wheat tortilla with mashed and seasoned pinto beans, plus your choice of avocado, salsa, sprouts, grated carrot, chopped white or green onion, tomato, lettuce, or olives.


Those who have been following the weight loss theme of my past few Common Ground columns may be encouraged to know that progress has been steady and rewarding. For the first month and a half, I followed a plan that resulted in 1-pound loss each week. Then, with helpful tips from coach Lizanne Foster, I shifted to a 2-pound-a-week plan in which we combined my nutrition expertise with her awareness of my blind spots.


Following a diet that meets one’s nutritional requirements makes an immense difference in preventing the cravings that can throw you off course. We require about 0.8 gram of protein per kilogram body weight; if your goal is to lose fat but not lose muscle, or even to gain muscle, it makes sense to ensure that each meal contribute at least 15 grams of protein. This nutritious sandwich filling, spread or dip meets the 15-gram requirement; bread further increases the protein to 20 grams per sandwich. A hungry teen or athlete can polish of two or three of these sandwiches and significantly boost his or her intake of protein, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamins in the process.


Angelic Tofu Sandwich Filling

This sandwich filling has the flavour of deviled eggs, but without the cholesterol. A batch fills 5 or 6 hearty sandwiches; leftover filling can be refrigerated to use over the next day or two. If you prefer, this seasoned tofu can be served on a lettuce leaf as part of a salad plate. Try it as a spread on crackers, or served as a dip with raw veggies. Use it to fill half a pita pocket bread, along with chopped tomatoes and lettuce or sprouts.


1 lb                  firm tofu, drained

2-3 tbsp           Vegenaise or other mayonnaise

2 tsp                tamari, Bragg Liquid Soy or soy sauce

1 tbsp              nutritional yeast flakes

1/4 cup                        onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup                        celery, finely chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Optional ingredients

2 tsp                mustard, any kind

2 tbsp              parsley, finely chopped

6                      olives, diced

1/3 cup            pickles, sweet or dill, diced

3 tbsp              toasted sunflower seeds

Drain tofu well and pat it dry with a clean cloth. Place tofu in a bowl and mash it with a fork or potato masher. Stir in Vegenaise, using just enough to make the tofu stick together (generally about 2 tbsp for moister varieties of tofu and 3 tbsp for dryer types). Add tamari, nutritional yeast, onion, celery, salt, pepper and any of the optional ingredients you would like to use.

Makes 2 1/2 cups or filling for 5 to 6 sandwiches.

Nutritional analysis per 1/2 cup filling: calories: 152, protein: 16 g, fat 9 g, carbohydrate: 6 g, dietary fiber: 3 g, calcium: 120 mg*, iron: 10 mg, magnesium: 58 mg, sodium: 183 mg, zinc: 1.7 mg, folate: 51 mcg, riboflavin: 0.9 mg, vitamin B12: 0.6 mcg*, vitamin C: 2 mg, vitamin E: 0.1 mg, omega-3 fatty acids: 0.5 g.

*Analysis done using calcium-set tofu and Red Star Vegetarian Support Formula nutritional yeast (the latter provides vitamin B12).

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian, internationally known speaker and consultant, based near Fort Langley. She is author of seven books including the new “Food Allergy Survival Guide”; her website is www.camd58.sg-host.com. For personal consultations call 604-888-8325.

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