Lunchtime Quandaries: Brown Bagging

delicious and healthy school lunch with paper bag

It can be so tempting to step out of the office every day and grab lunch from a nearby restaurant. The expense can add up quickly, though, and you often end up eating larger portions and less healthy foods than you would prepare yourself. The solution is clear: Brown bag it.

It's less time consuming than you may think, and you will find myriad uses for the money you'll save. Plus, you can use the time you save waiting in line to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Elevating your heart rate for that 30 minutes a day, even a few times a week, will multiply the benefits of those healthy lunches.

Make A List

Before you do your shopping for the week, decide on five meals and snacks that you can mix and match as the week goes on. This way, you won't be stuck with unappealing leftover bits on Friday.

Make your list, and stick to it. Impulse purchases at the supermarket are rarely healthy choices. 

Plan Ahead

Choose a couple of proteins you can use in different ways throughout the week. For example, if you like chicken, plan to buy several breasts, which are versatile, high in protein and low in fat. Here are just a few ideas of what you can do with them:

  • Poach for chicken salad on hearty 100% whole wheat or pumpernickel bread. Instead of gobs of mayonnaise, lighten the dressing with plain low-fat yogurt or light sour cream, and throw in some nuts or grapes for texture. Layer on some spinach and tomato.
  • Grill and slice over a green salad with whatever veggies you love and low-fat dressing (keep it on the side until you're ready to eat). Low-fat cheese, a handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg add protein and interest to your meal.
  • Sautee with some sliced peppers and onions and fajita spices, which come in a fool-proof packet at the grocery store. Reheat it at work with a couple of small tortillas or flatbread, and a side of brown rice with beans.

Don't Forget Snacks

A sandwich or salad alone is not going to cut it. You need variety in your life! Make sure you include healthy snacks on your shopping list, and try to do any preparation you can over the weekend when you're not so rushed. Portion dry snacks into individual sandwich bags or reusable containers. Clean and slice vegetables, or wash and dry fruits. The more you do ahead of time, the more likely you are to stick to your plan. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Honey-wheat pretzels
  • Apples, grapes or clementines
  • Carrots, celery or cucumbers cut into sticks
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Popcorn with a bit of olive oil and salt, or your favorite spices
  • Low fat yogurt, with a bit of granola for crunch
  • Zucchini or banana bread muffins (bonus: these freeze well, travel well and are pre-portioned)

These are just a few of the infinite options. Don't forget to drink lots of water, stick with whole grains and low fat proteins as much as possible and above all, get creative. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.

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