Tips for Packing a Healthier Lunch

Brown-bagging it during the work week is a great way to save time and money. It can also help you stay on track to meet your health goals—if you focus on fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients. Follow the guidelines below to build meals that are both tasty and good for you.

Get colorful. Brightly colored vegetables are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and other essential nutrients. Keep a variety of vegetables on hand so you have a mix to work with. A good assortment to start with might include carrots, cherry tomatoes, yellow and red bell peppers, green onions, avocados, baby spinach, and mixed salad greens. Make-ahead meal idea: Pack them in a whole-grain pita with diced chicken breast and hummus. Or try our Avocado Chicken Salad in Pita Pockets.

Think beyond sandwich bread. Unwrapping the same sandwich every day can get boring. Mix things up by rotating in whole-grain pitas and wraps. Make-ahead meal idea: Fill the pocket of a whole-wheat pita (or the center of a high-fiber tortilla) with tuna or another lean meat, diced vegetables, hummus, and shredded lettuce. Or try our Veggie Wrap with Tomato-Cucumber Salad.

Make use of pantry staples. Stock up on whole-grain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and other quick-prep grains, and an assortment of beans and nut butters. These simple ingredients can be the base of a number of lunches—everything from rice-and-beans with salsa to a pasta salad with veggies. Make-ahead meal idea: Mix whole-grain pasta with lean meat or low-fat cheese and vegetables. At lunchtime, drizzle a light vinaigrette over it. Or try our Vegetable Pasta Salad.

Modify your favorite dishes. Let’s say you’re a fan of roasted chicken. This week, try roasting one for Sunday dinner and saving a few slices to toss into a salad or sandwich later in the week. Love baked mac and cheese? Make a healthier version using nonfat Greek yogurt in place of whole milk or cream—divvy the dish into single-serve containers so you can heat them up at work. Make-ahead meal idea: Build your own mini burritos using brown rice, chopped vegetables like peppers or zucchini, and black or pinto beans. Or try our Vegetable and Bean Burritos.

Include an afternoon snack. Plan ahead for that midday slump by including some snack duos to enjoy after lunch. The best combos include ingredients that fill you up and give you an energy burst. In other words, not chips. Make-ahead meal idea: Gather up some small containers and fill them with fruit and/or vegetable slices with nut butter. Have low-fat plain Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of granola and a few dark chocolate chips. Combine air-popped popcorn with dried fruit. Or try our Strawberry-Banana Smoothie. Pour it into a plastic bottle and keep it on ice or in the office fridge.

Keep an eye on your calorie counts. As you’re prepping the ingredients, tally up the calories and any other nutritional information your health care professional has asked you to track. That way you don’t have to stop work to do math.

Need more lunch options? Browse our recipe base by clicking here.

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