Beat the Brown Bag Blues

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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Member Comments

thanks good ideas Report
My lunches take a lot of work Report
Great tips! Report
thanks Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Thanks for this great info! Report
I prefer to brown bag it instead of eating out as I have more control of what goes in my body. These are definitely things I can use as I do have my favorite go-to meals. Always a pleasure to have other alternatives and to have other suggestions. Report
Great ideas Report
These are great idea's for lunch! Report
I like the grid. The only thing I'd like to mention that bothers me just a tad is the dairy component. Not everyone can eat dairy. It's not just here - I see it everywhere. Yes, there are other types of yogurt and fake cheese (which really, just scares me), but those aren't the same (and they are pricey).

It still amazes me how very prevalent dairy is. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report


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.