man at work eating a healthy lunch


Tips for packing a healthy lunch

Brown bagging it every day can be challenging. Especially when you try to be creative and make healthy choices. But, I've found that it helps if you plan ahead. Weekends are a great time to plan your lunches for the next week. Prepare a grocery list so you know what you have on hand and what you need to buy. When you can, make extra or use leftovers from dinner the night before for your lunches.

Planning ahead also involves doing prep work. Working ahead saves precious time in your morning rush to get out the door. Wash and cut up fruit and vegetables, grate cheese and portion out sides and snacks as soon as you get home from your shopping trip. Then, prepare what you can the night before so you can grab and go.

To keep your lunches as healthy as possible:

  • Incorporate whole grains whenever you can. You can now find whole grains in English muffins, tortillas, hamburger and hot dog buns, sub rolls and even naan.
  • Choose fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. Eating with the seasons automatically can help keep you out of a meal-time rut.
  • Choose low-fat meat and meat alternatives and low-fat dairy items.
  • Limit items that are high in saturated fat, added sugars and salt.
  • Remember, it's okay to reward yourself with an occasional sweet treat.

Here are some more tips and meal ideas to invigorate your lunches:

  • Variety really is the spice of life. Vary your protein with hard-boiled eggs, black or garbanzo beans, dry roasted edamame, nuts and seeds, low-fat cottage cheese, pre-cooked shrimp, imitation crabmeat and tuna or chicken salad made with low-fat plain Greek yogurt instead of mayo. 
  • Try greens like bok choy, cabbage, spinach, butter lettuce, romaine, arugula and watercress or fresh herbs. 
  • Ditch the grains altogether and top an avocado or leaf lettuce with egg salad.
  • Keep on hand a selection of condiments you like best. Some favorites of mine are hummus, guacamole, horseradish, spicy brown mustard and ranch dip I make with plain Greek yogurt.

Keep some of these go-to speedy sides to add to your lunches:

  • Single serve containers of low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, yogurt smoothies or pudding. 
  • Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins. 
  • Low-fat cheese cubes or string cheese.
  • Bananas dipped in pudding, vanilla wafers in applesauce or graham crackers in strawberry yogurt.
  • Baked chips, whole-grain crackers or pretzels with various dips such as onion flavored low-fat Greek yogurt, mustard, low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter. 
  • Air-popped popcorn flavored with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, dill, curry or nutritional yeast

Here's a week's worth of sample lunch ideas to get you started.

Cucumber sandwich with ranch (Greek) yogurt dip on whole-grain bread
Apple slices with peanut butter
String cheese
100% juice

Peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bagel thins
Sugar-free pudding with banana slices
Carrots with hummus
Skim milk 

Ham and cheese whole-grain English muffin with tomato slices
Honeydew cubes 
Black bean salsa with cucumber slices instead of chips

Salad with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, turkey pepperoni slices and avocado
Skim milk

Cold grilled chicken strips with honey mustard dip
Potato salad tossed with plain yogurt, dill and fresh herbs
Sliced grilled peaches with goat cheese
Fruit infused water


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