Decisions, decisions. Should you take your lunch to school or should you buy it? Brown-bagging is a good way to create a nutritious, inexpensive lunch. But who wants to get up earlier to pack it?
Buying lunch is much more convenient; however, it also can get expensive. And it may not always be healthy. How can you know?
Armed with some nutrition basics and a little planning know-how, you can take control of your lunchtime choices-even when you’re on the run.
Make It Your Way
If you’re a last-minute sleeper, prepack foods and store them until needed. When you’re packing your lunch, keep the environment in mind. Use reusable paper and plastic bags. Try plastic ware that can be cleaned and used again and again. Also think about buying an insulated lunch box.
Some foods lend themselves to being stored in the freezer. For example:
- prepared sandwiches (without the “extras” such as fresh vegetables or condiments)
- single-serving boxes of fruit juice and containers of yogurt (When frozen, these can help keep other foods in your bag cool until it’s time to eat.)
- single-serving portions of quick breads and muffins in small plastic bags
- leftovers from dinner, such as lasagna, soups, and burgers – if you have access to a microwave oven at lunch.
These items can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator:
- assorted cut-up fresh veggies in plastic bags (When you pack the veggies in your lunch the next day, toss an ice cube or two in the plastic bag to keep them cool until lunch.)
- portioned pasta, potato, or rice salad in reusable plastic ware
- prebaked potatoes or leftover vegetable pizza – if you can get to a microwave oven (or you like to eat them cold)
- mini-containers of condiments and salad dressings.
Many foods can come straight from the cupboard, such as:
- ready-to-serve soups (Several brands are now lower in salt and fat. Either bring soup in a thermos or heat it in a microwave at lunchtime.)
- single-serving boxes of raisins and other dried fruits
- portioned bags of pretzels, mini-rice cakes, breadsticks, baked tortilla chips, or other low-fat crunchies
- portioned bags of fig bars, vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, graham crackers, or other lower-fat cookies.
Mix and Match Sandwiches
Even a plain ole’ turkey sandwich can become a gourmet treat when you add fresh spinach and cucumbers and onions and chutney and…It’s time to get out of your sandwich rut and start cross training your palate. Mix and match the types of breads, protein foods, fruits and veggies, and condiments you use. Choose one item from both the bread and protein columns and one or more from the vegetable/fruit and condiment columns.
They Do It Their Way
With a quick zap of the microwave oven, you can have prepared macaroni and cheese, burritos, pizza, tacos, and more. They’re fast and convenient, but are these foods healthy?
Some of these meals can provide up to 60 percent of their calories from fat and more than two-thirds of your sodium requirement for the entire day. Before you put a packaged meal in your grocery basket, read the label to make sure it meets the following criteria:
- No more than 3 grams of fat for every 100 calories
- No more than 800 mg sodium
- No more than 100 mg cholesterol
Let Someone Else Do It Your Way
If making your own lunch is not your bag, let someone else do the work. But don’t sacrifice good nutrition for convenience.
While yesterday the phrase “fast food” typically conjured up images of grease, many convenience food stops have now expanded their menus to include additional selections for the health-conscious consumer. If you’re not sure how an item is prepared, ask. The chart above can show you how hidden extras can add up to a lot of calories and fat.
However you decide to do lunch, be sure that you put nutrition in the bag.
Guidelines for Ordering
- Choose roast beef or the new 91 percent fat-free hamburger sandwiches over regular hamburgers. 4-ounce 91 percent fat-free hamburger = 320 calories, 10 grams fat 1 roast beef sandwich = 340 calories, 10 grams fat 4-ounce regular hamburger = 410 calories, 21 grams fat
- If ordering regular hamburgers, ask for plain, smaller ones, and top them with your favorites among mustard, ketchup, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles. * Choose a plain grilled or BBQ chicken sandwich instead of a fried chicken sandwich. 1 grilled chicken sandwich = 289 calories, 8 grams fat
(without mayo or sauce) 1 fried chicken sandwich = 685 calories, 40 grams fat
(with mayo or sauce)
- Request a plain cheese pizza with vegetable toppings rather than with extra fat-filled cheeses and meats. 2 slices cheese pizza = 375 calories, 10 grams fat 2 slices of double cheese = 545 calories, 25 grams fat
- Choose low-fat frozen yogurt instead of a shake. 1 frozen yogurt with cone = 140 calories, 5 grams fat 1 vanilla shake = 350 calories, 10 grams fat
- Order a baked potato instead of french fries. 1 plain baked potato = 290 calories, 0 grams fat fries (equal weight) = 840 calories, 40 grams fat
- Choose a vegetable salad. Ask for oil-based instead of cream-based dressings. Request it on the side, and use it sparingly. 1 small salad = 25 calories, 0 grams fat 2 ounces ranch dressing = 350 calories, 37 grams fat