Nutrition Articles

Beat the Brown Bag Blues

Put the Fun Back in Lunch

305SHARES
They’re not glamorous, breath-taking or even mildly exciting. Instead, brown bag lunches are convenient, economical and all too often boring. But are your packed lunches becoming too mundane, unappealing and dull? If you have the brown bag blues, you may be in need of a brown bag makeover.

Years ago, Britain's Earl of the Sandwich, John Montague, couldn't be bothered wasting time at lengthy meals. Meals took too much time away from his passion for gambling. So, he asked for his meat to be brought between two slices of bread for a quick and easy meal that could be eaten while playing cards. The Earl was so proud of his discovery that he named it after himself. And thus, the sandwich was born.

Today, quick lunches are still in demand. To save time, try packing your lunch as you are making or cleaning up dinner the night before. The 10 minutes you might spend packing a lunch is often faster than the time it would take to hit the drive-thru. Lunch doesn’t just have to be the limp ham and cheese your mom used to pack. Bored with bread? There are plenty of other options. Planning healthy lunches is a snap when you use this handy guide. Choose at least one item from each of the four groups.
 
  1. Breads and starches for energy all day long
    • whole wheat bread
    • oatmeal bread
    • pita bread
    • raisin bread
    • english muffins
    • low-fat crackers
    • tortillas
    • bagels
    • whole grain buns
    • pasta salad
  2. Protein for muscle building
    • water-packed tuna
    • cottage cheese
    • flavored or baked tofu
    • lean deli ham
    • deli chicken or turkey
    • peanut butter
    • nut butters
    • cheese
    • string cheese
    • deli roast beef
    • tuna salad
    • vegetarian "meats"
    • egg salad
    • boiled eggs
    • chicken salad
    • bean dip
  3. Fruits and vegetables for vital nutrients
    • Fresh fruit - apples, grapes, bananas, plums, peaches, cherries, oranges, berries, melon balls
    • Fresh vegetables - baby carrots, cucumber slices, broccoli and cauliflower florettes, pepper rings…
    • 100% fruit or vegetable juice
    • Salads - tossed salad, coleslaw, spinach salad, fruit mixtures
    • Individual applesauce or fruit cups
    • Dried fruit
  4. Dairy foods for strong bones and teeth
    • low-fat or skim milk
    • yogurt
    • cheese
    • string cheese
    • pudding cups
Finally, try something that SparkPeople has become fond of around the office: plan healthy lunches with co-workers. Start a “lunch club,” where every person prepares enough healthy food for the other participants once a week. This will add variety into your lunchtime and takes the pressure off being forced to come up with something healthy to eat every day.
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305SHARES

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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Tupperware is your friend. I found some "meal packs" (they looked like TV dinners) at the Grocery outlet. Do a batch of cooking Friday night. Cram your protein into one section. Cram the other section with frozen vegetables. Fill 4 or 5 of them and freeze the lot, then take them in a cooler Monday and stow in the break room. Reheat as needed. Take cooler and tupperware home Friday. I do have to be mindful about my "brown bags" - fish is usually a no-no, as the smell's strong, and always clean your trays right after you're finished eating. - 3/31/2011 11:15:02 PM
  • If you love variety and having a multi-"course" lunch, tupperware is your friend. Little portions of things. Today, I have turkey salad (from leftover turkey) with nofat mayo, couscous tabouli (parsley was going bad) with lots of cukes and tomatoes) and a low-carb tortilla. Often it will be a chef salad (no cheese but tuna or lean meat) with crackers or low carb tortilla and Laughing Cow lite, and 1 cup of low cal soup, sometimes fruit. Lean Cuisine TV dinner with leftover steamed veggies. The more containers I can bring within the calorie limit, the less boring! - 11/1/2010 10:16:45 AM
  • I pack lunches almost every day, but rarely settle for a sandwich. If you have a mircowave, make a meal you would eat at home or at a restaraunt and heat it up. I had a stir-fry today. Monday I had steak with green beans. I did chili last week. Mix it up so that it isn't the same old rut. - 10/14/2010 6:56:08 PM
  • I always try to mix it up so it's not boring - sandwich one day, salad the next and leftovers the day after. The biggest help for me is to plan what I will bring the night before. That way I make sure I will actually bring something and not need to hit the drive thru. - 7/15/2010 1:20:53 PM
  • I always take my lunch to work but instead I take it in an insulted bag so it doesn't get stale sitting there at work waiting for me to eat it. Also, I take healthy choice meals that need to be kept cold. I think brown bag lunches are fine, but I used to use them more when I was my son's age and he is 10. He even has his own insulted lunch bag. - 5/6/2010 9:17:43 AM
  • I try to pack a lunch. It saves time, money and I can eat exactly what I like and know how it's prepared. I will usually splurge and go out with coworkers once a week. But in this economy, packing lunches is in style. - 3/25/2010 11:34:52 PM
  • I always pack my lunch the night before and it is usually leftovers from dinner. Since I've been a member of SP, my meals are more exciting than ever. I love the recipies and trying them out. No more brown bags for me, instead I make a presentation on a regular plate. Now my co-workers marvel at my lunch wondering if I've got a personal chef at home. I just smile and pass the Spark! - 3/25/2010 5:17:21 PM
  • Also something that motivates me to actually EAT my lunches that I bring is putting my lunch in a gift bag. If you are like me, I save the bags that I get from people from christmas and birthdays. Grab one that isnt in the greatest shape (because hey its probably been used for a couple years anyways!) whether its bright yellow, lime green with polka dots, or a brown paper bag with handles (with a picture that your little one or significant other drew on it). You will be more likely to pull that bag out (and use it over again) rather than having a plastic or plain bag that will be used once and tossed. - 1/25/2010 5:28:47 PM
  • 1TEAROSE
    It has become a joke at my house...cicken or fish. That is my choice for lunch and dinner.
    tuna or chicken salad for lunch and chicken breast or fish for dinner with a vegetable. Talk about boredom! Oh and add to that pbj sandwich every morning for breakfast - 1/25/2010 6:28:56 AM
  • 1TEAROSE
    It has become a joke at my house...cicken or fish. That is my choice for lunch and dinner.
    tuna or chicken salad for lunch and chicken breast or fish for dinner with a vegetable. Talk about boredom! Oh and add to that pbj sandwich every morning for breakfast - 1/25/2010 6:20:53 AM
  • A friend and I did the "lunch club" thing a few years ago. It worked out really great for a while and then it just fizzled out. The good part is that I found I would make the extra effort to pack a good lunch for the two of us when I wouldn't have done it just for me. Knowing that someone else is counting on you to bring their lunch that day will give the extra push to take it even when you don't really feel into it. We also put more thought and effort into it since it was technically "for someone else." She introduced me to Orange Roughy and I showed her how to puree fruit and have it as a frozen dessert. It got to be too much to keep up with, but with the right people it would work out for awhile! - 1/24/2010 10:00:37 PM
  • DAZHEEN69
    Because taking my lunch has always been challenging, I put in about 10 extra minutes in the evening to prepare something. For instance, if I bake chicken for Sunday dinner, I cut some up and maybe one day put it on a salad (which I cut up and leave in a spinner in the refrig for easy access and it doesn't get soggy), another day, add it to a can of soup with crackers, make a sandwich of course, or buy some "steamers" and add it to them. I do the same with fresh deli meats or tuna.
    I understand your frustration.....h
    ope this helps - 1/24/2010 8:12:07 PM
  • Nice start, but... There aren't really any ideas for expanding my brown bag repertoire here. Most of the carb and protein ideas are still geared toward sandwiches--bread
    s and lunch meats or protein-based "salads" spell "sandwich", at least to me. As well, I was hoping for some suggestions that were a little more specific than "choose one from each category"--perhap
    s links to recipes that travel well, or more specific suggestions of combination of foods that work well together. I already know what food groups I need to pack, and what's in those groups. What I really need is some help with the inspiration, and this article just didn't do that for me. - 1/24/2010 7:50:33 PM
  • Good article. I get soooo bored with the same lunch everyday. Have found the Orowheat whole grain sandwich bread--100 calories, tasty, and don't get soggy. - 1/24/2010 12:47:27 PM
  • You know I keep looking for that magic peanut butter too. I would love some feed back on this from people. What is the best one to eat? - 1/24/2010 12:28:50 PM

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