Don’t forget your lunch! Brown-bagging for grown-ups
By Jane Harrison, R.D., Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth
You’re rushing off to work in the morning. With barely a minute to spare for breakfast, a homemade lunch seems out of the question. That means eating out again – adding more calories, fat and sodium than you’d otherwise have.
With a little thought and planning, though, it’s not difficult to pack a quick but nutritious lunch. Not only will you eat healthier, but you can cut your monthly food budget.
Following are tips to get you started. Once you establish a lunch-making routine, it will become automatic.
Start slowly. Make the commitment to bring your lunch two days a week. If you set your goals too high (every day, for instance), you will most likely not follow through.
Have the right equipment. Purchase a good insulated bag with enough room to fit a plastic container for carrying leftovers.
Stock up. Pack your pantry and fridge with items that you can throw together for a balanced meal in minutes. You’ll need some form of protein (from lean meats, beans, eggs, peanut butter), a whole grain (bread, pita, crackers, wraps, leftover brown rice), a fruit and a veggie. Check out these ideas:
- Turkey breast or roast beef on a whole-wheat wrap, pita or bread. Stuff with lettuce, tomato and canola mayonnaise.
- Hummus and sprouts in a whole-wheat pita.
- Tuna, egg or chicken salad mixed with canola mayo. To avoid a soggy sandwich, store it in a plastic container and wait until lunch to spread it on whole-wheat bread.
- Natural peanut butter and all-fruit jelly (or sliced banana) on whole wheat.
- Leftovers from dinner.
- A can of low-sodium soup into a microwave-safe container. Heat it up at work and enjoy with whole-grain crackers.
- Container of low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt, canned fruit (peel-top packed in juice) and nuts (in plastic bag).
- Bottled water (plain or sparkling) is best. Try to limit diet drinks, juices and sodas.
Don’t forget your 5-a-day. Get your recommended servings of veggies with raw mini carrots, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes or cut peppers. Bring ready-pack fruit canned in its own juice, or fresh grapes, apples, pears, easy-peel Clementines or dried fruit, such as apricots.
Veto the vending machine. Come prepared with your own healthy snacks such as mini rice cakes, graham crackers or natural tortilla chips. This will help you avoid a mid-afternoon slump and the temptation to visit the vending machine. Pack your snack in small, portion-controlled plastic bags. Other satisfying snack options are:
- Low-fat natural yogurt brands without artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrups. Add nuts or a piece of fruit if you’d like.
- Part-skim string cheese and hard-boiled eggs, which are quick, filling snacks for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Just like taking time for exercise, it is important to make nutrition a priority. Take time before bed or leave yourself an extra five minutes in the morning to pack up your “body fuel” for the day. With some careful planning and kitchen creativity, you can form a new and lasting habit that will keep your pocketbook (and your waistline) in shape.
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