Break out that Hello Kitty lunch box you’ve had stored away since elementary school – it’s time to pack some lunch. And no, it’s not for your kids – it’s for you to take to work! That’s right – brown bag lunches are back in style and good for your waistline and your wallet.
Eating a healthy lunch is key to getting through the day and being productive at work. Taking a lunch break is one part of staying focused, and having a balanced plate that is appropriate for you is the other. What does a balanced plate include? Lean protein, fiber-rich carbohydrates (whole grains, fruit, vegetables), and some healthy fat. This combination of nutrients helps you maintain stable blood sugar levels and leaves you satisfied so you’re not running to the vending machine by 3 P.M. for a pick-me-up.
Most people think boxed lunches are boring and consist only of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but times have changed. Mix it up with some of these combos instead.
- Go meatless. Fill a whole-wheat pita with hummus, cucumbers, carrots, and a sprinkling of feta cheese.
- Embrace leftovers. Who says turkey Bolognese with broccoli over whole-wheat spaghetti or fish tacos can only be eaten for dinner? If you’re taking the time to cook dinner, make a little extra to take with you for lunch the next day.
- Make a bento box. A traditional bento has rice, fish or meat, and vegetables. Sounds pretty balanced to me! Change it up with whole grains like quinoa or barley, lean protein like chicken breast or salmon, and some seasonal roasted veggies.
- Liven up your salad. Instead of spending $10 on a chopped salad from those make-your-own salad bars, put one together at home – just make sure you remember a few key ingredients. Top mixed greens or baby spinach with some fresh veggies like bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers. Add in your protein – beans and tofu are both great vegetarian options; grilled chicken, roasted turkey, or cheeses are also healthy and satisfying. Add some crunch with chopped almonds or sunflower seeds. Don’t forget to go easy on the dressing – 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette should be more than enough to cover the plate.
- Build a gourmet sandwich. Two slices of bakery-fresh whole grain bread, a couple of slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar sounds pretty good, huh? Or how about curry chicken salad on a whole-wheat wrap? Other ideas: turkey breast with roasted red peppers and Dijon mustard, salmon salad with dill and red onion, or lean roast beef with sliced avocado.
Don’t forget these lunch accompaniments that may round out your meal:
- Low-fat yogurt
- Sliced peppers, cucumbers, and carrots
- Cup of soup (choose broth-based or bean-based soups; steer clear of cream-based options)
- Drinks – water, unsweetened ice tea, diet soda, sparkling water
Looking for something sweet to finish the meal? Be sure to pack a piece of fruit or have a treat with an ounce of dark chocolate, a couple of graham crackers, or a mini muffin.
Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the founder of Nutritioulicious, a nutrition counseling and consulting practice in New York. Jessica has extensive experience as a nutrition writer, editor, and speaker. She is the co-author of We Can Cook:Introduce Your Child to the Joy of Cooking with 75 Simple Recipes and Activities (Barron’s 2011). Jessica also consults for food and beverage companies including The Coca-Cola Company, Frito-Lay, the Corn Refiner’s Association, and Avocados from Mexico. Additional services she provides including recipe analysis and recipe development and makeovers. Connect with Jessica via Twitter @JLevinsonRD and on Facebook.