Packing healthy lunches and snacks to take to work or school offers many benefits. Healthy brown-bag meals can reduce fat, calories, and sodium in our diet, improving overall health. Smart choices can help us maintain a healthy weight.
To move lunch and snack time into a healthier direction:
• Choose foods with higher amounts of the nutrients we need: fiber, protein, calcium, and vitamin C.
• Avoid foods loaded with things we need to eat less of: saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
An easy way to accomplish both goals is to include more whole foods, and less processed foods, junk food, and fast food at meals and snacks.
5-Minute Lunch and Snack Picks
Cold Cheese and Fruit Kit: Make your own “Lunchables” (because the brand name ones are filled with sodium and other stuff) by filling a reusable container with assorted cheese slices, easy-to-eat fruit like apple slices and grapes, and whole wheat crackers.
Falafel Pita Pleaser: Purchase ready-to-bake falafels in the vegetarian refrigerator section of some supermarkets. Bake them up ahead of time, then insert them in a whole wheat pita pocket spread with some hummus (homemade or store-bought).
Fish in a Pinch: Work a fish serving into your week by adding tuna or salmon to your green salad, pasta salad, or sandwich. For a satisfying snack, toss some tuna or salmon with balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy with whole grain crackers.
Love Your Leftovers: One of the easiest ways that corporate nutritionist Maggie Moon, MS, RD, makes sure she has a healthy lunch tomorrow is to start with dinner tonight. Before serving dinner, she packs some of it away in portable containers, stores them in the refrigerator, and then takes one to work the next day.
Pasta Salad Prep: Make cold pasta salad with leftover pasta shapes from last night. Toss chilled whole grain pasta with cheese cubes, lots of bite-size vegetables, and a homemade or bottled vinaigrette dressing made with olive oil or canola oil.
Pizza Bagels or Pizza Calzones: Bake a mini pizza in 5 minutes by spreading pizza sauce or pesto on whole wheat bagel halves or a whole wheat pita pocket (use the whole pita as a crust). Top with shredded cheese and your favorite veggie toppings (green onions, tomatoes, chopped red peppers, onions, olives, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms), then broil in a toaster oven until the cheese is bubbling. If using a pita, fold one half over to make a calzone! Wrap it up for your bag lunch or, if your office has a toaster oven, bring it to work unbaked and bake it there.
Stock Your Work Fridge With Salad Dressing: To make it easier to enjoy salads at the office, Moon keeps her favorite salad dressing in the work refrigerator. Look for salad dressing with the least amount of sodium and made with canola or olive oil.
Southwest Wrap: Toss some drained canned black beans with salsa, avocado, red onions, shredded romaine lettuce, and cheese and wrap in a softened whole wheat tortilla. This is a favorite five-minute grab-and-go lunch for Karen Ansel, MS, RD, American Dietetic Association spokesperson and co-author of The Baby & Toddler Cookbook.
Sushi with Veggies: Pick up a tray of premade vegetable sushi at your supermarket or favorite Japanese restaurant. It makes a great grab-and-go lunch the next day. Because it features veggies and avocado, there’s no chance the sushi will smell “fishy” the next day.