Tips for Packing Healthy Lunches
A typical "brown bag" lunch is often loaded with sodium, unhealthy fats, calories and sugars – not one your doctor would recommend.
Imagine several slices of salami and one slice of provolone cheese between two pieces of white bread, dressed with mayo and mustard, complimented by a lunch-sized bag of chips, two small chocolate chip cookies, and 12 ounces of regular soda.
This lunch, though a taste-bud sensation, gives you about 1,050 calories, over 100 grams of carbohydrate, 1,700 milligrams of sodium, 17 grams of saturated fat, and only a measly 4 grams of fiber.
By applying some simple nutrition tips to this blood-sugar-elevating, waist-expanding lunch, it is easy to create a healthy version you will enjoy sinking your teeth into.
Six Healthy Brown Bag Tips
- Forget white bread and purchase whole grain breads that provide more nutrients and fiber. Breads with sprouted grains are especially good for us. To reduce calories and carbs, look for low-carb breads or prepare open-faced sandwiches.
- Use meats that are less processed and more lean such as grilled chicken breast, roast beef or roasted turkey. You might also look for low-sodium deli meats. Occasionally, skip the meat and make a veggie sandwich with whatever produce is in season.
- Purchasing reduced-fat cheese will lower saturated fat intake and still provide you with needed calcium. Another option is adding extra veggies to a sandwich instead of cheese. Cool cucumbers, shredded carrots, tomatoes and crisp bell peppers are great ways to perk up sandwich meats. Get some heart-healthy fats by adding avocado slices to your sandwich.
- Either use a light mayonnaise or replace mayo with mustard that is flavor-packed and low in calories. You can also check out vegan mayonnaise alternatives such as Vegenaise, which is made with another heart-healthy oil: grapeseed.
- Choose healthier sides to compliment your sandwich. A small bean salad, carrots with hummus for dipping, or a small handful of unsalted nuts are nutritionally superior to a bag of chips. Replace cookies with fruit that is in season.
- Forget about drinking soda and other sweetened beverages. Carry a reusable bottle and drink water most of the day, or have unsweetened iced tea with a squeeze of lemon. Another option is to add a bit of natural stevia extract or powder (an herbal sweetener) to your water or iced tea. If you must have a soda, purchase brands sweetened with stevia.
The Re-imagined Lunch
Let’s say you have replaced the salami, chips and cookie lunch with a couple ounces of roasted chicken breast, three avocado slices, and two slices of tomato on one piece of whole-wheat bread, decorated with mustard and lettuce. On the side, you have about 10 baby carrots with hummus dip and a fresh peach.
This chicken, carrots and peach lunch has about 650 fewer calories, 59 fewer grams of carbohydrate, 15 fewer grams of saturated fat, and over 1,000 fewer milligrams of sodium than the salami lunch, and it provides 8 more grams of fiber – a lunch your doctor can approve of.