A Healthy Lunch? It's in the Bag!

By Emily Gresham Wherle, Public Information Administrator 

Monica Smith and Cathy Winston healthy lunchesWhat if you could achieve your New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, eat better and save money with just a simple, reusable lunch bag? If you pack your lunch in the bag, then you may be able to do all three.

“The key to packing a healthy lunch is planning ahead,” said Monica Smith, Community Registered Dietitian.

“Pack your lunch when you’re cleaning up from dinner the night before. The food is already out, and bringing last night’s leftovers makes planning ahead easier. In the morning, you can just grab your leftover container and go.”

If you don’t have leftovers from dinner, frozen meals could be a healthy option. Monica recommends keeping entrees on hand like Lean Cuisine or Smart Ones, which tend to be lower in calories, fat and sodium. You can also keep a bag of frozen vegetables in the freezer, if space allows, to easily add to your frozen entrée.

For an easy lunch, pack a salad each day in a salad shaker cup or 16-ounce Mason Jar. You can add chopped veggies, fruit and any variety of 1/4 cup protein toppings or more satiety such as beans, chickpeas, nuts, chopped egg, feta or Parmesan cheese. Limit salad dressing to 1-2 Tbsp and shake it up in the cup/jar when ready to eat.

A healthy lunch should include a variety of foods— half should be fruits and vegetables, with servings of lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy. To get a variety of foods while watching portion sizes, use small containers—1/2 to 1 cup in size.

“If you have space in the refrigerator at work, store some low-fat yogurt, 1 ounce cheese sticks, fruits and vegetables, salad dressing, hummus and a bag of lettuce there,” Monica said. “This gives you some options for healthy snacks or a light lunch on days when time is tight.”

Healthy options that don’t require refrigeration include nuts or nut butters, dried or whole fruits, low-fat granola or protein bars and cans of low-fat or low-sodium soup.

Keep food at a safe temperature, too, by storing in your office refrigerator or freezer, or in insulted coolers with ice packs. Be sure to heat foods safely, making sure they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Salad at workThink about your drink, too. Choose sugar-free soft drinks or tea, water or low-fat milk to round out the meal and avoid extra calories.

The benefits of a nutritious lunch extend beyond your waistline.

Healthy lunch choices can improve productivity.

“A lot of sugar or carbohydrates at lunch can make you tired,” said Monica. “It may be difficult to concentrate during your afternoon meetings. By the middle or late afternoon, your energy levels will plummet, and you might find yourself craving sugary snacks to balance things out. If this happens, have a healthy snack handy to gain some energy back or take a brief walk.”

Bringing your lunch from home can save money also. A 2015 survey conducted by Visa found that American workers spend an average of $11 per meal to eat lunch out, compared to $6.30 per lunch brought from home. Switching from a meal out to a packed lunch just four days a week and eating out once could save you $977 over the course of the year.

“To improve your health in the long-term, start with small changes,” Monica said. “So whether your initial goal is to bring your lunch from home one day per week or swap out a sugary drink, think of each change as a step on a journey to a healthier lifestyle.”

Going out to eat?

If your lunch plans involve a restaurant meal, Monica also recommends the following tips from Choosemyplate.gov: