Packing a Brown Bag Lunch

Whether your goal is to save time or money, eat nutritious foods, or maintain a healthy weight, packing your lunch will aid you with each of these.
Packing a Brown Bag Lunch - News

Updated: August 31, 2017

Packing a Brown Bag Lunch

Why Pack a Lunch?

A bagged lunch is a time saver

You don't have to stand in line at the cafeteria, drive to the fast food place or sandwich shop, make a point to order for delivery, or wait for your food to be served in a restaurant. That gives you spare time to relax, run errands, take a walk, check email or surf the web.

Keep lunch costs low by following these practices

  • Eat "planned over's" from last night's dinner (e.g. chili, soup, pizza, pasta casserole, spaghetti, and leftover meats for sandwiches). When storing dinner leftovers, pack a serving in a separate container for tomorrow's lunch. Put that container in a designated "lunch" spot in the refrigerator.
  • Cook large batches of soups and stews and freeze in portion-size containers.
  • Buy the amount of food that can be used in a reasonable amount of time; you won't save money if the food goes to waste before it is eaten.
  • Make enough lunches at one time for the next few days.
  • Make you own snack-sized self-sealing "grab and go" bags (e.g. vegetables, cheese and nuts). Pack enough for the entire week at one time. Commercially-packaged single servings of these items can be expensive.

Studies show that 92% of restaurant meals have too many calories. In addition, research found that even "healthier" fast food options still pack too much salt and fat. We may know that bringing lunch from home is the best strategy, but some of us may still need guidance on what to pack.

Plan what you're going to eat

Being prepared to pack lunches starts with a little extra planning before you shop. Before you head for the grocery store, plan your meals and snacks for the week. Review recipes for what ingredients are needed. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list of what you need to buy. When you shop with a list, you will have everything you need to prepare meals and snacks throughout the week.

The parts of a nutritious lunch are a source of protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and food rich in calcium. Aim to include three or more of these food groups in your lunch.

Good protein choices include beans; hard-cooked eggs; peanut butter; nuts; lean turkey, ham or roast beef and tuna. Choose whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, crackers and rice. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. Delicious raw vegetable choices include raw baby carrots, pepper sticks (especially red), cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, sliced cucumbers and celery. Favorite cooked vegetables include: green beans, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and corn. Popular fresh fruits include: apples, bananas, grapes, blueberries, peaches, plums, clementines and oranges. Choose fruits canned in juice rather than syrup. In addition to milk, try to pack other calcium-rich foods like low-fat varieties of yogurt, cottage cheese or cheese.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare healthy, low-cost, and delicious lunches at home:

  • If mornings are busy, be sure to prepare your lunch the night before.
  • Line pita pocket bread with Swiss cheese and stuff with vegetables just before eating. This makes a delicious sandwich.
  • If you pack a salad, put the dressing in a separate container and add it just before lunch.
  • Use whole wheat bread or bagels for making sandwiches stuffed with your favorite filling with a side of 3 bean salad.
  • Create a "wrap" with your favorite vegetables, meat and cheese. Egg salad with lettuce and tomato work great.
  • Try hummus (chickpeas) for a tasty sandwich spread. Tuna on celery sticks is always easy.
  • Combine peanut butter, honey, and banana slices on whole wheat bread, or use peanut butter with apple chunks on raisin bread.
  • Don't limit lunch to just sandwiches. Use leftover casseroles, pizza, soups, chili and other dishes.
  • Check the grocer for convenient salad kits and frozen bean, vegetable and grain dishes for quick lunch ideas.
  • Take along whole fruit, such as apples and oranges to add color, texture and flavor to your meal.

Here's a new twist on a wrap to try:

Creamy Avocado and White Bean Wrap

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 dash of hot sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded (or a bag of pre-shredded cabbage and carrots)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons minced red onion
  • 4 8- to 10-inch whole-wheat wraps, or tortillas

Directions

  1. Whisk vinegar, oil, hot sauce and salt in a medium bowl. Add cabbage, carrot and cilantro; toss to combine.
  2. Mash beans and avocado in another medium bowl with a potato masher or fork. Stir in onion.
  3. To assemble the wraps, spread about ½ cup of the bean-avocado mixture onto a wrap (or tortilla) and top with about ⅔ cup of the cabbage-carrot slaw. Roll up. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Eat neat: Keeping the filling inside a wrap or burrito can be a challenge, especially if you're on the go. Wrap your burrito in foil so you can pick it up and eat it without losing the filling, peeling back the foil as you go. Another idea is to forgo the wrap and serve the bean-avocado mixture and cabbage-carrot slaw atop of brown rice, which can conveniently be found in microwavable bags at your grocer.

Instructors

Nutrition Health Food Safety

More by Dori Campbell, MS, RD, LDN