Lunch options commonly include packing your own, eating out or skipping the afternoon meal entirely. It is no secret that routinely eating out can lead to an overdose of sodium, fat, and calories. Skipping meals regularly can seriously disrupt eating habits and contribute to a metabolic imbalance in general. Clearly preparing your lunches offers the most promising solution towards consuming a balanced and healthy diet.
Whether “back to school” or just changing up mid-day options, consider the following tips when imagining new ideas for brown bag lunches.
- Make sure you have all the tools and utensils needed to pack a meal. This includes some kind of insulated lunch or box, appropriate containers that may fit a salad or a divided container/bento type box to neatly pack a leftover meal. Have baggies on hand and foil to wrap up a sandwich. And don’t forget about utensils to enjoy your lunch.
- Keep it safe: If you are not able to refrigerate your lunch, be sure to keep food in an insulated container with a freezer gel pack. Bacteria multiply rapidly if food is held in the “danger zone” of 40°F to 140°F for more than 2 hours, or after 1 hour should the temperature be above 90°F.
- Get in the habit of emptying out and cleaning your lunch bag/box out when returning home so it is ready to go when needed.
Plan: Consider what you are going to bring for lunch. Some good ideas include:
- Sandwiches: Easy to make and portable. To keep sandwiches interesting and nutritious, try these tips:
- Choose different breads: Go for whole grain bread, pitas, mini bagels, tortillas, small dinner rolls, English muffins or flat breads. Don’t rule out rice cakes, lettuce wraps or crackers in place of bread.
- Try a variety of spreads for tasty combinations: Use mustard, salsa, hummus, tzatziki, hot sauces or mayonnaise.
- For protein, include leftover chicken, meats and fish, canned tuna or salmon, bean spreads, egg fillings and more.
- Mix different ingredients: Try peanut butter and sliced apples, egg salad with arugula, turkey and hummus wraps, chicken pita sandwiches, curried tuna or a veggie chickpea sandwich.
- For a vegetarian and gluten free option, these Lettuce Mushroom Wraps with water chestnuts have a nice crunch and mild flavor. For a bit of spice, add a dash of chili sauce.
- Salads and Bowls: A simple vegetable salad or a grain-based option can bring versatility and interest to an afternoon meal. Include leftovers in salads and bowls to save on time and cut back on waste.
- This Chicken and Quinoa Buddha Bowl can be enjoyed hot or cold. Don’t have all the ingredients? Simply sub out with what you have on hand. If you have leftover rice, use that instead of preparing quinoa.
- Looking for a healthy salad recipe that doesn’t skimp on flavor? This Mediterranean Chopped Salad combines roasted chickpeas, feta cheese, fresh vegetables and a bold za’atar vinaigrette for a medley of amazing flavors.
- For a plant based, protein packed lunch, this Kale White Bean and Tomato Salad is a nutritious option that will keep you satisfied for hours.
- Love your leftovers: Cook once and repeat the meal! It is easy to put dinner leftovers right in a portion-controlled container when cleaning up. Simply grab your pre-portioned lunch from the refrigerator the next morning.
Save time in the morning and pack lunches the day before.
- Put together a sandwich or salad when you are already prepping for dinner.
- Think food groups and include a serving of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grain, and dairy in your lunch.
- Plan ahead and include a fun snack like a small piece of chocolate or baked chips. No telling what you might grab if you are looking for something sweet or crunchy.
Finding time to prepare lunches during the week can be difficult, but once getting into the routine, it will become second nature.