As a Fort Collins nutritionist, I often work with clients who ask the question “what should I pack for lunch?” Good question!
As the new school year is beginning, packing lunch for you or your kids can get tricky due to having more activities on the calendar and a lack of time to prepare meals. The key is to keep it simple. Packing lunch will ensure that you are eating a healthy meal mid-day to fuel your afternoon. This not only saves your food budget, it also provides energy for a productive afternoon.
Here are 6 quick tips for a better packed lunch:
1. Take last night’s leftovers for lunch. For the majority of my clients, dinner is the healthiest meal of the day so it’s easy to start here. When you’re packing up dinner, grab a container to pack some of the leftovers for lunch. If you don’t like leftovers, try mixing it up. Here’s an example: if you cook up chicken breasts for dinner, take a leftover chicken breast, slice it, and put it atop a mixed green salad and add extra fresh vegetables. In order to make this strategy work, be sure to plan for leftovers!
2. Think outside the sandwich. If you’re used to packing a sandwich for lunch, try using leafy greens as a wrap– Swiss chard and lettuce both work great. You could also try making wraps with tortillas (whole grain or corn) to mix it up. Salmon, chicken salad, tuna salad, quinoa salad, hummus, beans, or any other protein-rich sandwich filling will also work well in a wrap.
3. Create a balanced meal. When you plan out what you’re going to make for dinner, you probably try to include protein-rich foods, whole grains, and fresh vegetables, right? When you’re planning for or packing lunch, you should be thinking about the same kind of things. Try to include protein-rich foods like meat, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, nuts or seeds; carb-rich foods like whole grains or sweet potatoes; fresh vegetables like a salad, coleslaw, steamed veggies, or fresh cut veggies; and also some fruit like cut melon, an apple or other piece of fruit.
4. Pack extra snacks with your lunch. If you find yourself raiding your lunch for a mid-morning snack, start packing extra healthy snacks along with your lunch for mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Here are 16 Back to Work Snack Ideas that also work great as healthy add-ins with your packed lunch. Homemade Chocolate Chip Granola Bars also make a great snack or dessert-like addition to your lunch.
5. Chips and cookies are okay. Wait, what?? If you like to pack salty chips or sweet cookies with your lunch, try making these yourself or choose healthier options. For example, you could make air-popped popcorn and put it in small bags to take with lunch or a snack, or make and bring kale chips for a salty and crispy alternative. Nuts and seeds also make a great lunch add-in. Want something sweet in your lunch? Try making Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies or Homemade Chocolate Chip Granola Bars. Both of these are fairly healthy and provide some extra protein in your lunch to get you through the afternoon.
6. Mix it up. Eating the same few items for lunch everyday is not only monotonous, it’s not very good for you. Food sensitivities tend to develop when you eat the same foods over and over and over again. Bread is a good example; eating wheat bread everyday for lunch can provoke your body to become “sensitive” to it due to overexpose (see tip #2 for alternatives). Add in lots of variety. Mix up your lunches with different colors and flavors to keep them interesting. Packing lunch CAN be fun. . . enjoy your delicious creations!