Some Nutritious Brown-Bag Lunch Ideas

When you bring your own healthy lunch to the office, you’re assured of a tasty and nutritious meal. Here’s how to make brown-bagging it as easy as child’s play.

Bringing a brown-bag lunch to work has many benefits: Not only do you get foods you like but you can control your portion sizes, boost your nutrition, and save yourself a lot of time and money.

“The benefits of a healthy lunch are enormous,” says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. When you pack your lunch yourself, you can choose nutritious foods rather than resorting to buying a fat-laden burger and fries, greasy pizza, or other fast food. Portions are more realistic when you bring a brown-bag lunch instead of ordering from a restaurant — and portion size is important because overeating, in addition to eating unhealthy foods, can put you at risk for many illnesses.

There are other advantages as well. “A brown-bag lunch is definitely cheaper, when you think about how much you would spend to go out to lunch every day,” says Blake. “Multiply the price of eating out by five and it’s unbelievably costly.” Brown bagging also makes for an easy lunch and is a timesaver. “By the time you go out, order a sandwich at the deli, come back and eat it,” adds Blake, “that’s a lot of wasted time.”

Leftovers and Other Easy Options

Blake likes to cook extra food for dinner and then wrap the leftovers for a healthy lunch the next day. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same meal, she says. You can cut up leftover broiled chicken and roasted vegetables and add them to a salad. Or you can use the chicken and the vegetables in a sandwich on whole-grain bread or stuff them into a whole-wheat pita pocket. “When you cook dinner,” Blake advises, “double or triple the amount of vegetables you would normally make so you’ll have leftovers to make an extra-healthy lunch the next day.”

Lunches should contain some whole grains and some protein — protein in particular makes you feel full. And, Blake adds, “you need a little fat because fat makes food stay in the stomach longer, and it also gives you that feeling of fullness.”

People rarely eat enough fruits and vegetables, so always include them in your brown-bag lunch, Blake advises. “If you don’t make them part of lunch,” she says, “cut up carrot and celery sticks and pack them for a snack.” You can also pair low-fat cheese with cut-up fruit rather than crackers.

In winter, one of Blake’s favorite healthy lunches is a hearty bean soup that she makes at home on the weekend. “Making soup is not as difficult as people think,” she says. “You can make a satisfying bean soup with a can of diced tomatoes, a can of mixed vegetables or a bag of frozen vegetables, a couple of cans of beans, and low-sodium chicken broth. Accompany your lunch portion with a whole-grain roll, a piece of low-fat cheese, and some fruit, and you have a quick and inexpensive lunch that’s full of nutritious food.”

“Yogurt can also be a good part of any lunch,” Blake says. “A cup of yogurt isn’t a meal in itself — you’d be hungry pretty soon afterward. But it’s a great addition to lunch at work.” Add some whole grains or cereals or fresh fruit to your yogurt and it will be an even healthier addition. Also, low-fat yogurt contributes some dairy, which should be incorporated into your diet as a matter of course.

Tips for Lunches That Travel

Here are more suggestions on making brown-bag lunches:

  • Be prepared. Make your lunch the night before. In the morning before work, all you have to do is reach in the refrigerator and grab it.
  • Assemble at work. Keep the bread and the filling in separate containers until you’re ready to eat. That way your sandwich won’t get soggy. If you like tomatoes on your sandwich, slice them and pack them separately. Add them to the sandwich just before you’re ready to eat.
  • Make a hot meal. If you have a microwave at the office, pack your lunch in microwave-safe containers. “Today’s neat plastic containers with dividers are not only microwavable but also reusable,” Blake says.
  • Be creative. You’ll tire of lunch if you bring the same thing every day. Shake things up: Have a salad one day, soup and a sandwich another — and don’t forget the leftovers. Dinner menus usually change from day to day, so using leftovers from dinner a couple of times a week is an easy way to add variety.

It doesn’t take much effort to pack a healthy lunch to take to work, and it has many benefits, including saving you time and guaranteeing that your lunch will be nutritious. Also, the menu is sure to be one that you like.


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