Pack a Healthy Lunch

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Do fast food meals make it hard to stick to a healthy eating plan? Don’t worry – eating right is in the bag when you pack your own lunch. Bringing food from home can help you eat better, feel better and save money, too. Instead of standing in line at the cafeteria at lunchtime, you’ll have time for a power walk in the crisp autumn air!

What’s a good lunch?
Lunch should provide a quarter to a third of your daily nutrients, depending on how often you eat. A soda and bagel won’t do that! What will? Getting a variety of foods from MyPlate food groups – at least two servings of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and foods rich in protein and calcium.

Planning makes it easy
• Post a list. A good use of all those refrigerator magnets is to hold a list of your favorite lunch items – tuna salad, vegetable soup, bran muffins, etc. Add to it whenever you get an idea. It will keep your lunches from getting boring.
• Make lunch at dinner. Pasta for supper? Put some in a lunch container, then add the leftover vegetables and some salad dressing for an instant pasta salad – ready to go in the morning! Tacos tonight? All the trimmings will liven up tomorrow’s sandwich. Extra tossed salad? Pack it for lunch and bring a single-serving can of tuna for an elegant salad.
• Use your freezer. If you have access to a microwave at work, freeze single portions of leftovers to take for lunch. If not, you can still freeze things such as muffins and sandwiches for lunch.
• Have a fallback pattern. Know what to pack when you don’t know what to pack! Have a basic lunch plan of a piece of fruit, a zippered bag of pre-cut vegetables, a sandwich on whole-grain bread and a small nonfat yogurt. Keep these staples in your kitchen so it will be easy to grab and go!

Just desserts
When you’re counting calories, dessert counts. So make it count nutritionally, too. If you have to have a ‘little something’ to round out your meal, be sure there are healthy pluses – a tofu-based pudding, baked pear with raisins, a few dried apricots with almonds. These might just keep you from raiding the vending machines in the afternoon!

Keep it fresh
Soggy sandwiches and salads aren’t appealing, so pack wet ingredients separately. Lettuce and tomato slices can be put in a small plastic bag and added to sandwiches at the last minute, salad dressings and other condiments can be put in small containers.

Play it safe
The basic food safety rule says to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If you can’t use a refrigerator, keep your lunch cold by packing it in an insulated cooler or lunch bag with a frozen ice pack. It will stay fresh up to six hours. A frozen juice box will also keep your food chilled, and be slushy enough to drink with lunch. If foods need to stay hot, pack them piping hot into a good thermos.

Pearly whites
Can’t brush your teeth after lunch? One study found that chewing sugarless gum immediately after eating helps rid your mouth of decay-causing acid.

Mix 'n' Match
Tired of the same old sandwich? Try something new! Choose a base from the ‘outside’ list, and add one, two, three or more things from the ‘inside’ list to jazz it up. You might want to pack the insides in separate containers.

Outside
• Whole-wheat bread (100%)
• Whole-wheat pita bread
• Bran muffin
• Lavosh (flat bread)
• Corn tortillas
• Whole-grain, lowfat crackers
• Flour tortillas
• Rice cakes
• Pumpkin or banana bread
• Cornbread
• Oatmeal bread
• Steamed white or brown rice
• Leftover pasta

Inside
• Nut butter or peanut butter (try it mixed with applesauce, tofu or cottage cheese)
• Hummus or mashed bean spreads
• Sliced lettuce, tomato, cucumber, summer squash, radishes, peppers
• Fresh herbs or dried seasoning mixes
• Shredded carrots, beets, cabbage
• Thinly sliced apples, pears, peaches, bananas
• Lowfat cheese or soy cheese
• Tuna, salmon or sardines
• A slice of skinless roasted chicken breast or turkey
• Apple or pumpkin butter
• Mashed sweet potatoes
• Salsa (mix sliced tomatoes with prepared salsa to lower the sodium)
• Refried beans
• Chutney
By Cheryl Sullivan, MS, RD.

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