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How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

I'm a big fan of packing my own lunch. Instead of pulling into a fast food place, I can have the food I want, when I want it for very little money. It's a simple way I can take control and improve my health. It's also an ideal solution for people who work jobs that don't allow long lunch breaks or for people far from healthy restaurants.

Unfortunately, the lunches most people pack aren't healthy. In a rather startling study done in England, researchers found that only about 1% of the lunches kids brought from home met the nutritional standards set for school meals. 99 out of every 100 lunches were too high in fat, salt and/or sugar.

That's when I realized a lot of people don't know what a balanced lunch should be. We live in a world where packets of cheese, crackers and highly salted meat (hello Oscar Mayer Lunchables - Cracker Stackers) are passed off as a healthy choice. Instead of fruit we give kids Fruit Roll-ups made with sugar and trans-fat. It's no wonder people don't know what to pack. So I've decided to share some ideas.

Every lunch should have the following. A serving of fruit, one of vegetables, a whole grain with fiber, a protein source and a little fat. Here's how.

Fruit

Start with a piece of whole fruit and skip the juice. An 8 oz. glass of orange juice has 112 calories, but a California Naval orange only has 69, plus more than 3 grams of fiber. You can also pack a banana, apple, grapes, strawberries...there are dozens of options. If you can't get fresh, choose canned ones packed in water or fruit juice, not syrup.

Vegetables

Vegetables can be something simple like snap peas, celery, carrots or sliced cucumber. If you don't want to eat them plain, include a small container of fat free or low-fat ranch dressing to dip them. A little peanut butter on celery can be a good option too. You get the vegetables, some protein and healthy fats.

Salads are great because you get a lot of volume with very little calories. Just be cautious of what you dump on top. Choose the low or fat free dressings and make sure the salad is dry before you pour it on. The dryer the vegetables, the better the dressing will cling and the less you'll need of it.

Another option is when you cook vegetables for dinner, make double or triple the amount you need. Take the extra, put it in individual serving containers and freeze. Then grab one of those containers and heat it up when it's time for lunch.

Whole Grain

For the whole grain, use whole wheat bread for sandwiches, a slice to accompany soup or to eat with your salad. When you're deciding which one is best, don't worry about how many grains are advertised on the front. Pick bread made with whole wheat, not just wheat flour and one that has at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.

Keep the wet stuff separate from the dry stuff until you're ready to eat it. For example, if you have a sandwich with tomatoes, put the tomatoes in a separate bag or container. If you put them on the bread beforehand, the sandwich will be soggy by the time you take it out to eat.

Protein

When choosing protein, lean meats are most people's first idea. Look for ones that are lower in sodium. I like to go to the deli counter and have them slice it fresh because they usually have fewer preservatives than the pre-packaged versions.

You can also get protein from lots of other sources including beans, low-fat cheeses and nuts. A natural peanut butter with sugar free jelly on whole wheat bread is an extremely filling and satisfying option. You might enjoy a three-bean salad, creamy cauliflower soup or a chilled gazpacho when the weather is hot.

I'm also a fan of bringing leftovers from dinner. Make a low-fat meatloaf or healthy lasagna, freeze those extra servings and indulge by eating them heated up for lunch.

I've put hundreds of "freezer friendly" meals online here.

It takes less time to pack your own lunch than to drive somewhere, order and wait for something that's often less healthy. Plus you'll save money and get food you're sure to enjoy.

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7/24/2011

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  • This is what's in Oscar Mayer Lunchables - Cracker Stackers - Bologna & American Cheese.

    You want this in your body?

    INGREDIENTS: BOLOGNA MADE WITH CHICKEN & PORK - MECHANICALLY SEPARATED CHICKEN, WATER, PORK, CORN SYRUP, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, POTASSIUM LACTATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, SODIUM DIACETATE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, FLAVOR, SODIUM NITRITE, EXTRACTIVES OF PAPRIKA, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, SUGAR, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE. PASTEURIZED PREPARED AMERICAN CHEESE PRODUCT - MILK, WHEY, MILK PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MILKFAT, SODIUM CITRATE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SALT, LACTIC ACID, SORBIC ACID AS A PRESERVATIVE, OLEORESIN PAPRIKA (COLOR), ANNATTO (COLOR), ENZYMES, CHEESE CULTURE, WITH STARCH ADDED FOR SLICE SEPARATION. CONTAINS: MILK. CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE - ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, COCOA BUTTER, DEXTROSE, SOY LECITHIN - AN EMULSIFIER), SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA, AMMONIUM PHOSPHATE), SALT, WHEY (FROM MILK), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, CARAMEL COLOR. CONTAINS: WHEAT, MILK, SOY. CRACKERS - UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR, SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED COTTONSEED OIL, SALT, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), WHEY (FROM MILK), SOY LECITHIN, NATURAL FLAVOR. CONTAINS: WHEAT, MILK, SOY.