Bringing your own lunch or meals “to go” can help to cut costs and keep you and your family healthy. Though it’s easy to run and grab takeout or go to a drive thru, the portion sizes and extras (like French fries) are incredibly fattening. Eating this kind of food routinely can be unhealthy and expensive. Lunch can cost upwards of $10 per day, while that morning coffee can be $4 or more, and it adds up quickly. Packing your own food gives you control over ingredients, portions, and your budget. One of the most daunting aspects of packing your own food is deciding what to make.
The best lunch would consist of equal portions of lean protein, whole grain, veggies, and fruit, with a single serving of low-fat dairy. Low-fat protein and fiber from whole grains, beans, nuts, fruits, and vegetables will help to give you the energy you need to get through the day and keep you full until dinner. As you shop, try to buy foods that are as close to their original form and have as few ingredients as possible.
Here are some options to get you started:
Leftovers are a great choice for lunch or when you are on the go because they require almost no prep and you still have control over the ingredients and portion sizes. When you cook dinner, make a little extra to pack into a microwave-safe container. Just add a fresh fruit and vegetable, and you have an easy and nutritious meal. Make sure to check the advised expiration dates for your leftovers as well.
A classic lunch staple, a sandwich can range from basic to gourmet. For variety, try different whole-grain breads, wraps, and pitas, and fill with low-fat proteins like tuna, lean meats, cheese, or sliced eggs. “Start slowly by using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals like switching from white bread to honey wheat bread as a stepping stone to using all whole wheat bread,” says the Clinical Nutrition team at Forrest General Hospital.
Have fun trying different greens and vegetables in your sandwiches, like onion, cucumber, carrots, peppers, sprouts, and tomatoes. For something different, add sunflower or sesame seeds or some fresh hummus.
Make a salad into a meal by adding lean meats, feta, beans, nuts, or seeds. Add some dried cranberries or thin slices of apple, pear, or mandarin for a sweet or tart flavor, depending on your tastes. Olive oil and vinegar, light sesame dressings, and light or balsamic vinaigrettes are a great alternative to higher-fat dressings. “On the side” isn’t just for restaurants! Packing your dressing separately allows you to control your serving size and reduce your caloric intake.
Chili or soup
Try cooking up a large pot of chili or soup on the weekend, then freeze individual-sized portions for an easy lunch to grab on your way out in the morning. Just grab some carrots and a piece of fruit to round out your meal.
Rice and beans
Rice and beans are a satisfying, filling, and cost efficient staple. Try adding different seasonings and ingredients for everything from Mexican to Italian flavors. You can even add some lettuce and wrap the ingredients in a whole-wheat tortilla for a healthier taco.
Are you ready to break out of your worst eating habits? Talk to your doctor about creating a nutrition plan, or get a referral for a nutrition specialist to begin planning healthy meals for the whole family!