Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

Never give yourself an excuse to stop at Wendy's again! Here are my tips for packing a delicious, healthy lunch.

Standard equipment: a lunchbox, preferably insulated; a reusable ice pack; good plastic containers that won't leak; sandwich and snack size ziplock bags; a thermos; reusable or plastic utensils

Important tips
- Prep things at the end of the weekend for the upcoming week.
- Consider a balance between carbs, protein and fat. Aim for a mix of each. Adding a small amount of healthy fat to a snack (for example, having a handful of nuts with your nonfat yogurt) supposedly keeps you fuller for longer.


: They come in their own edible package, so you only have to wash and go if you want to bite right in. If you want slices for dipping, just toss with lemon juice or take a lemon wedge, squeeze a bit of juice on the slice, and rub it in with the wedge.

Oranges: Peel and divide and put in a ziplock if you will be able to refrigerate. If not, take a knife and slice all the way around the circumference, then do the same thing again perpendicular to your first line.

Avocados: Be careful that you don't bump and bruise your avocado, but otherwise they are great to-go foods. You can cut them with a credit card if you don't have a knife, and they can be eaten with a spoon right out of the shell.

Bananas: A prepackaged fruit that is easy to eat and not messy and doubles as really good for you! Although they may develop brown spots on the outside, they can withstand being carried back and forth from home, so always pack one. If you end up not eating it, it will still be fine tomorrow.

Dried fruit: Fresh fruits contain a lot of water, which fills you up faster, so watch your portions when eating dried fruit. I don't often eat dried fruit out of hand, but apricots are my favorite for that. Dried cherries and dried figs are great for baking.


Carrots: A great snack with many kinds of dip - buy them by the bunch on the weekend. They will definitely keep all week, so you may want to save them for mid-week when you start running low on healthy snacks. You can also cut them into sticks on Sunday to have for the whole week - just peel, slice and store in a plastic container full of water. Carrots with the green tops still attached will be fresher (and that's the only way to tell). In terms of dips, I like to make my own hummus using Mark Bittman's recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and I also like the ginger-miso dressing sold in bottles at the sushi counter at Whole Foods.

Peppers: Some people eat plain peppers cut into strips as a snack. (I don't, but some do.) This could be a nice way to switch up your carrot/dip snack and add some color to your diet.


"Regular" salads: keep all of the components for salads on hand, chopped, washed and ready to go - but keep them separate. You can easily throw together a salad in the morning or even the night before. Keep salad dressings in small separate containers and mix together just before you eat to avoid sogginess. If "regular" salad bores you, find a recipe or combination that you like and keep those ingredients ready to go, enough to have it as a side salad for a few days. One unusual salad I like is this broccoli salad.

Grain salads: A lot of grain salads are intended to be served at room temperature, which makes them an easy choice for lunch when you have no refrigeration or reheating capabilities. They are also easy to mix up in a big container for you to scoop some out when packing each lunch. This could also be your solution to "boring" salads - just add a scoop of grain salad to a nice pile of spinach leaves, and you won't even remember the standard "lettuce, tomato, cucumber" combo. This wheat berry salad is one of my favorites, and so is the Ottolenghi Red Rice & Quinoa featured on 101 Cookbooks.


Muffins: Freeze muffins as soon as they cool and they will retain their quality. A regular-size muffin should defrost entirely in a little over 2 hours, though it may still be cold. If you have access to a microwave, 20 seconds should do it, depending on how frozen it is. Tiny muffins are also great for a bite of flavor with far less calories. I like this sour cream muffin recipe, which goes great with blueberries. (Swap the sour cream for nonfat yogurt for a slightly healthier muffin.) Also, banana bran and fig bran (from Ellie Krieger's book So Easy) are some of my favorites.

Scones: In general, these are not healthy, but when you are tempted to stop at Starbucks, you will be glad you made a batch of these scones with whole wheat flour and oatmeal and stuck them in the freezer for a time of need! To keep the calories in check, cut them into mini-scones before baking (just be sure to watch them carefully in the oven). I also successfully (and accidentally) used half the amount of butter in the linked recipe.
Granola/Breakfast Bars: Homemade, of course. If you can't make your own for whatever reason, very carefully examine the nutrition label before you buy. Be careful of the sugar content in particular. I like to make my own granola bars using Alton Brown's recipe. My all-time favorite breakfast bars are the Walnut and Dried Cherry bars from Ellie Krieger's book So Easy. (I freeze those as well, but take them out the night before rather than trying to defrost them in the microwave.)


Yogurt: Stick with plain and flavor it yourself. Avoid any brands with added sugars! You can purchase larger containers and portion them out yourself to save money. Yogurt was featured in a recent issue of Self magazine as the #1 weight loss food! Plus, it is just plain good for you. I like to have plain greek-style yogurt with a little honey or a handful of nuts. I have also heard of mixing in a spoonful of 100% fruit preserves rather than purchasing flavored yogurt with added sugar, but I haven't tried this yet.

Main Courses

Soups: It's easy to make lots of soup at a time, so freeze it in leftover Chinese takeout containers since those are made for soup anyway.

Casseroles: Who really wants to eat baked ziti for lunch AND dinner 3 days in a row? Freeze portions in plastic wrap in a ziplock bag. I use plastic containers as a mold by lining them with plastic wrap, filling it with ziti, and wrapping it up. Then I take it out and put it in the labeled ziplock.


Water: Stick with a refillable water bottle. Not only is it zero calories and good for you, there is a good chance you will find a water fountain somewhere during your day so that you can refill. I like to fill mine with ice cubes, then water so it stays colder for longer, but in warm weather this produces a lot of condensation so wrap it in a paper towel too (or small reusable towel).

Spritzers: If you need a little more flavor in your day, consider making juice "spritzers" with seltzer and juice. This way you get the flavor of the juice with less calories. I like to use pineapple juice. Always make sure you use 100% juice - anything less than 100% and you know the rest is added sweeteners. As a multipurpose alternative to an icepack, buy small 100% juice boxes and freeze them. By lunchtime, it should be defrosted but still cold, and will have kept your lunch cool too. You can mix this with the seltzer you brought along with you to make your spritzer!

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