Fast, Filling Lunch: Spinach Quinoa Salad

I used to be the hungriest human, always vaguely starving and on the edge of a blood sugar crash, wanting to eat all the food, all the time.

A couple of years ago, I cleaned up my already cleanish diet. I cut out all packaged foods, stopped drinking diet coke, and cut way back on my sugar and gluten intake. I also started eating a giant breakfast and lunch. Goodbye, packaged breakfast bar. Or, let’s be honest, skipping breakfast altogether. Hello, sweet potato hashbrowns, sauteed spinach, chopped tomatoes, chicken sausage and 2 fried eggs.

Shockingly, if I eat a big breakfast and a big lunch (like 500-700 calories big), I feel less like throttling someone and then eating a 1lb bag of gummy bears when 4pm rolls around. Who knew?

I sit down and eat lunch with my kids every day. It’s important to me that they see me prioritizing my own food and making time to enjoy my meals. But, I also have less than 10 minutes to get lunch together most days. And making real food takes more time that making processed food.

Enter the hero of real-food-eaters everywhere: Weekly Meal Prep. Either Sunday or Monday, I spend 1 hour prepping ingredients.

Here’s what I did this week:
*Cooked a batch of quinoa (2 cups, dry)
*Roasted asparagus and Brussels sprouts
*Made a jar of vinaigrette (1 part vinegar, 1 part EVOO, squeeze of dijon, squeeze of honey, salt and pepper to taste, shake in a mason jar until emulsified)
*Shredded 4 peeled sweet potatoes in the food proccessor (used for sweet potato hashbrowns for breakfast)
*Hard-boiled 6 eggs
*Washed and chopped bell pepper strips and carrot sticks

A quick 50 minutes of work on the front end meant yesterday I could make my lunch in 6 minutes.

This salad is my current favorite version of my go-to lunch strategy, which is basically quinoa + chopped greens + roasted vegetables + nuts + something umami + vinaigrette = lunch.

It’s fast and the quinoa bulks it up so you aren’t hungry 45 minutes after finish your lunch. The nuts, olives, and proscuitto make it feel satisfying, not like you’re eating a sad pile of lettuce when what you really wanted was a cheeseburger.

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Spinach Quinoa Salad
serves 1

1 giant handful spinach, chopped into small pieces
1 heaping cup cooked quinoa
1 chopped tomato
6 roasted asparagus spears, chopped into 1″ pieces
6 kalamata olives, chopped
1T pinenuts
2 slices proscuitto, finely chopped
1T capers
3T vinaigrette

Toss everything together in a large bowl. Taste, add more vinaigrette and/or salt if needed.

Notes:
*You can easily take this to go. Just pack your vinaigrette separately and add it at lunchtime.
*Don’t skip the spinach chopping step; it lets you get more of each ingredient in a bite.
*If you eat dairy, you would not feel sad about adding a couple of tablespoons of crumbled goat or feta cheese to this salad.

On Borrowed Time.

I keep a journal I write in every night. It’s a five-year journal, so each night I can look back at what was happening on the same day in previous years. I started year three in January, and the contrast of Penelope in 2014 and Penelope in 2016 is a chasm. The tiny details of our life with a 2-year-old I would have surely forgotten – what we were eating for dinner (sesame noodles), her favorite time of day (running around as a “wild and crazy nudey booty between dinner and bath”), the funny things she was saying (“Mama, this is not upsetting” when she spilled bath water on the floor) – bounce off the page and take me back.

Two years ago: “Tonight in the bath, P called herself ‘Penelope’ instead of ‘Pelope’ for the first time. Hugh and I were both instantly teary. She, on the other hand, could not have been more pleased with herself.”

For a few minutes, I am right back in that warm bathroom, back in that exact moment. I can see us giving Penel her bath, Hugh on the floor by the tub and me leaning against the edge of the sink, chatting and watching our fish flit around in the water. She sat up and started dumping water from one bath toy to another and said, “Penelope’s pouring water.” I remember Hugh and I looking at each other. He said, “did she just say…?” And then she said it again. And again. She was so proud, looking at us with her big grin. We grinned back. We cheered and exclaimed and bent down to hug her wet little body. Hugh squeezed my arm. We both blinked back tears. And just like that, she was Penelope forever more.

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When I read it again, I can feel the feeling of my heart – the way it simultaneously swelled with pride and tightened with bittersweet acknowledgment. I can summon that familiar ache in an instant.

Since Ivy was born, Penelope has been very interested in growing and getting older. Many times each day, she asks, “Am I growing right now?” She is fascinated by the fact she is literally growing and changing a tiny bit each moment. I always answer, “Yes, you sure are. You are growing a little bit bigger right this very minute. Isn’t that wonderful?”

And it is. It is, of course, a joy and privilege to have two healthy, thriving children. I do not take it for granted. But, the passage of time is also a tiny bit of heartbreak every day.

As I see her becoming the person she is going to be, I feel a messy jumble of emotions – pride and gratitude and joy and sadness – all tangled together. I watch my lovely girl all day long. I try to memorize her. I take pictures. I write myself notes. I pour out everything I can think of into that journal at the end of the day.

And, yet, I know. I know no matter how present I am, how much I work to be only here, to appreciate right now without looking backward with longing or forward with worry, no matter how many notes I make or pictures I take or funny moments I text to Hugh, I know these days will fade away into a blur.

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Already, I can conjure a highlight reel of them, my hazy, happy Penelope memories – the way she used to wave backwards, her chubby palm turned in; the squealing shriek she made to express her joy before she could talk; when she called hyenas hi-nennies; the tottering walk with both arms straight-up in the air; the way she only referred to herself in the third person; the way she couldn’t get both feet off the ground when she jumped – and they seem like a lifetime ago.

Before Penelope was born, I thought the letting go was one big moment. The college drop-off. That I would spend eighteen years building toward releasing her into adulthood.

But, by the time she leaves, I will have let her go over and over again. I will have cheered and clapped and smiled my biggest smiles for her thousands of times. I will have been standing there for her whole life, proud smile on my face and heart in my throat, as she inched away, looking back every now and then to make sure I was watching, so gradually I barely realized she was going.