Nutrition Articles

Fun and Filling Lunches To-Go

Brown Bags Don't Have to be Boring

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It’s Sunday night and, like millions of workers and students across the land, you’re once again rummaging through a cluttered refrigerator looking for something appetizing to pack for tomorrow’s lunch. Or worse, it’s Monday morning, and you’re grabbing whatever you can find—often predictable and boring, and not necessarily nutritious. 

If this sounds like you, perk up! With just a bit of planning, you can pack a lunch with both nutrition and pizzazz. Try these tips to make your lunch-to-go filling and fun: 

Pick a variety of foods. Include items with fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and crackers. Try to incorporate foods from at least three of the four major food groups: dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables, and bread and grains. 

Choose healthier alternatives as much as possible. Go for less processed foods, which are lower in sodium, fat, and sugar. For example, a fresh apple is better than apple juice or apple pie; a turkey sandwich is leaner than a high-fat, bologna sandwich. When choosing chips or other salty snacks, go for baked rather than fried. 

Convert leftovers into healthy lunch items. Last night’s pork roast can be cut up into chunks, then mixed with rice and vegetables for a satisfying midday meal. Access to a refrigerator and a microwave mean even more choices: you can have soup (look for low-fat, low-sodium brands or bring your own healthy homemade) or a salad with such touches as apples, raisins, sunflowers, nuts, jalapeño peppers, chickpeas, beans, cauliflower, corn or other vegetables. 

Think both thirst and nutrition when it comes to beverages. Low fat or skim milk boasts protein, calcium, and riboflavin; fruit juices (look for 100 percent juice) have various vitamins and minerals as do vegetable juices, but beware—they’re often saturated with sodium. Likewise, beware of sugary fruit drinks (whose vitamins comes from fortification). But try not to forget that old standby, water—the healthiest drink of all. You can even boost your hydration by packing a low-calorie, broth-based soup as part of your lunch.

Break out of predictable patterns. The old sandwich, chips, and cookie combo is a hard routine to break. Instead, vary the items you pack from each food group. Instead of basic white bread, for example, try bagels, rolls, tortillas, pitas, English muffins, or multigrain bread. For meat, swap a veggie sandwich made with green onions, carrots, artichokes, or cucumber slices. Vary condiments and spreads too—try yogurt or hummus spreads, which not only have high nutritional value but are also a tasty change of pace. 
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About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Member Comments

  • Pointless article. Where are 7 lunch "meal" ideas? - 1/27/2014 9:53:42 AM
  • NEARLYNINA
    I found this article to be incredibly boring and useless. Maybe if I were completely clueless at eating healthily and/or at life I would find these tips useful, but honestly? Don't eat chips and a cookie at lunch? Who does that?

    The tips in this article pretty much consisted of eat/drink good things not bad things... Yeah no duh... - 12/5/2013 2:40:56 AM
  • Great info. Sandwich look good. - 7/14/2013 1:31:34 PM
  • Yes...me too...want to know what is the makings of that sandwich and how many calories is in it??? - 9/14/2012 7:44:37 PM
  • What Sandwich is in the picture? it looks so yummy but i cant find the recipe. - 9/14/2012 1:27:41 PM
  • LILYOFVALEE
    I'm lucky that my workplace has refrigerators and microwaves in the lunch room, so I always bring leftovers. I haven't had a sandwich for lunch in ages. When I cook out on the grill, I put on extra fish and steak. For lunches, I bring the grilled meat, frozen vegetables, fresh fruit and a salad (the only thing that really requires any preparation). I've had a lot of envious comments about my lunches but I let everyone know how easy it is. - 9/14/2012 10:48:10 AM
  • Some great ideas! - 9/14/2012 10:43:20 AM
  • Thanks for the helpful tips, its always good to hear some fresh ideas to help me out of my work-lunch rut..looking forward to trying out some of your tips! - 2/19/2012 1:57:45 AM
  • I saved this article because it's awesome! I didn't even think about spreading hummus on my sandwiches and now I'm excited to go grocery shopping! - 6/3/2011 3:40:15 AM
  • T001264
    I pack cheese sandwiches (try pepper jack) with lettuce, tomato and italian oil. Add some veggie chips instead of potato chips. - 6/12/2009 9:38:37 AM
  • This was very helpful, I am excited to hit the Grocery with these ideas. It will save money in the long run and hopefully get me on the right track for weight loss! - 10/13/2008 7:56:41 AM
  • LOOKATME110
    Good ideas. The best thing that I can do to stay on track is PLAN AHEAD. Every night before I go to bed, I plan what I will be eating for breakfast and lunch the next day and get it ready. If I don't, I end up at the Chinese buffet with the gals I work with. - 6/25/2008 12:03:03 PM
  • Love wraps or pita pockets - make my own, easy. shove some spinach, red bell peppers, alvacado, maybe cut up some sun dried tomatos...little cheese- I like a bit of crumbled feta - maybe some dark red kidney beans?? whatever is on hand...some brown or white rice. If you eat meat throw some on there. Wrap it up - and go. I use the cold bags from Trader Joe or somewhere ($1.99) and put my frozen water bottles in there to keep it cool. Throw in some apples, bag of almonds, walnuts, you get the picture and I'm happy for the 10 - 14 or longer hours I'm away from home during the school year. Now, I love oranges, grapes and all kinds of fruit and lots of veggies, so when I have energy, I put alot more together because in school pepole just shower us with suger stuff that I just can't eat!! donna - 6/25/2008 11:56:43 AM
  • I bring a sandwich with thinly sliced leftover meatloaf on extra thin bread with light Miracle whip along with some snow peas or radishes instead of chips. My workplace isn't strict, so I can eat half my sandwich around 11am and the other around 3pm. It keeps me from hitting the vending machine! - 6/12/2008 10:28:26 AM
  • Peanut butter and bananas spread on a whole wheat tortilla; hummus or any beans you can tolerate (love the Beano!) mashed up, mixed with a little mustard, yogurt or mayo, and finely minced veggies (think celery, peppers, carrots, etc) spread on a piece of rye bread; cold rice salad with chopped veggies (add a little curry to spice it up); a nice gazpacho or other cold soup; hard boiled eggs with a dip; or some whole grain crackers with cheese - maybe try a little of a different kind of cheese with your favorite. A smoothie might be a nice change of pace. - 3/12/2008 5:10:12 PM