Trader Joes’ Marinated Three-Bean Salad (and other healthy lunch options)

Marinated bean salad

I just had to take a picture of this beautiful salad I made for lunch today.  The ingredients are simple – mixed greens and arugula from the farmers’ market, sliced red bell pepper, diced almonds and Trader Joe’s brand marinated three-bean salad, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice and garnished with a couple of San-J black sesame tamari brown rice crackers (a staple in any gluten-free pantry).  

 

For people learning to cope with a gluten-free diet or trying to introduce healthier eating habits, lunch may be a challenge.  Maybe you, like many Americans, are used to eating sandwiches or pizza or fast food. Maybe eating a salad to you means getting a pre-bagged salad at the grocery store (and spending a fortune on it) and smothering it with creamy dressing and loading it with croutons (or ordering a similar salad at a restaurant).  I am here to tell you that salads can be a beautiful thing and should be simple and healthy, not just an excuse to drench your iceberg lettuce in all the things that are bad for you.  

 

I make a salad for lunch every day, and each day of the week it turns out differently.  I rotate the greens, which I buy each week from the farmers’ market.  Sometimes arugula, sometimes baby red and green leaf lettuces, sometimes mixed field greens or spicy watercress (my husband calls it “weed salad”).  Then I add any combination of fresh vegetables: avocado, radishes, bell peppers, ripe tomatoes (best when in season), cucumbers, etc.  Sometimes I top it with beans, as shown above – these canned beans from Trader Joe’s are very tasty, practical and affordable (a $1 can will make about 4 salads).  Other times I use fresh turkey or ham from the deli counter instead, or some diced chicken breast.  For a dressing, I use some combination of oil and vinegar or oil and fresh squeezed lemon juice (always keep a REAL lemon in your fridge, not one of those plastic bottles shaped like one).  A good extra virgin olive oil is my favorite, especially with balsamic vinegar.  But sometimes I use flaxseed oil (even richer in omega-3’s than olive oil) or sesame oil.  Then I sprinkle some chopped nuts on top (walnuts, pecans, diced almonds, or pine nuts will do) and garnish with a few gluten-free crackers and I’ve got a complete meal.  As you can see, the varieties are endless.

 

By now my body is so used to eating salads every day that I really notice a lack of energy if I miss a day.  It is so important to have fresh, raw vegetables every day – they are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and beneficial enzymes that aid digestion and are not nearly as present in cooked vegetables.  But just because a salad is healthy doesn’t mean it should be unappetizing – heavens no!  The healthier it is and the fresher the ingredients, the better it will look and taste.  Get rid of your bottled dressings – they are usually loaded with things you don’t want to eat.  Discover a good quality extra-virgin olive oil and make your own healthy dressing.  Chopped nuts add the crunch of croutons without the gluten while adding more protein (and a San-J tamari brown rice cracker beats a crouton any day!).  Find your own favorite combination and develop a habit of nourishing your body with fresh, raw vegetables every day – you will definitely see your energy level increase and begin to crave the foods your body naturally requires.

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