Fall is almost here, and this time of year is a time for many to get back into the daily grind after months of fun in the sun, and long, lazy days. It’s a perfect reason to get back to packing lunches for the kids AND, just as importantly, for yourself. Already packing for the kids but not yourself? Simply add another bag to the bunch as if you had an extra child.
It’s cheaper. A homemade lunch is better for your wallet than a restaurant or café meal that can cost up to $15, totaling up to $75 per week, and $300 per month! Wow, that’s a lot of savings!
More importantly, a brown-bag lunch is healthier for your body. This is because you control what goes into the bag and if you don’t want mystery meat or hidden dressings, sauces, and spreads, you don’t have to worry. You can save countless calories, sodium, fat grams, and sugar by preparing your own lunch, and by portioning out exactly how much you plan to eat. You may even lose a few pounds!
If you aren’t already brown-bagging it, you may feel intimidated or overwhelmed. Not to worry, here are some tips to consider:
- Start small. Choose 2 days out of the week that you plan to pack your lunch. Perhaps Monday and Friday are chaotic, but you can manage Tuesdays and Thursdays (if your Mondays and Wednesday evenings are relatively open). This will get you into the habit of packing without causing too much strain.
- Double up on dinner. If you like hot lunches, then this is a perfect solution. Simply prepare an extra serving of food for dinner and when you are serving your food, have your lunch container empty and ready to be filled. Lunch—done!
- Stretch out your protein. Leftover grilled fish, lean meats, roasted chicken or turkey, tofu, or even beans make a perfect topping to a bed of pre-washed salad greens or steamable frozen veggies. Pair it with a fruit in its own package such as a banana, orange, apple, or pear, and/or a whole grain roll or a handful of whole grain crackers and you’ve got a meal.
- Keep it simple. Why not combine reduced fat cheese cubes or slices with ready-to-eat fruits such as grapes and berries, and a handful of whole grain crackers. Similarly, a few tablespoons of peanut butter spooned into a plastic container with a baggie of ready-to-eat baby carrots and a whole wheat pita is just as simple, yet very satisfying.
- Put safety first. Remember to use a reusable ice pack or, better yet, a frozen water bottle to keep foods cold. By the time the water melts, you’ll be ready to eat (and drink).
As a nutritionist and health coach with a passion for healthy eating, I’m proud to say that I pack my lunch (and afternoon snacks) every single workday. Today, I brought LEFTOVERS—one of my favorite lunch options. Last night, I made a super simple chicken stir fry with frozen colored bell peppers, red onion, garlic, fresh ginger (that I zest from a piece of ginger that’s been in my freezer for weeks), and whole wheat couscous that took 5 minutes to make as I was stir frying the veggies. I had my lunch container ready to go as I was plating up the dinner plates, which made preparing the next day’s lunch that much easier.
I will highly recommend my lunch box of choice, a flexible, zip-up 12-can size pack which has an ice pack lining built right in. Simply store it in the freezer overnight, and it’s literally an ice chest that keeps the food cold all day long.
In addition to my packed lunch, I always make sure to throw in a fruit (my favorite is a banana) and a nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt to snack on in the afternoon. Easy, and delicious.
I challenge you to start packing your lunch this week, whether it’s for 2 days or all 5 days. Who knows what benefits you’ll experience from a healthier, cheaper, more delicious, lunch!