Pack your lunch for a healthy new you

August 02, 2010|By BECKI WEIR / Special to The Herald-Mail

In today's tough economy, packing and taking your lunch with you to work daily can significantly impact your wallet.

But did you know it can also impact your health?

Lunch should be roughly one-third of your daily nutritional intake each day, so it's important not to skip lunch and to make it a healthful meal.

In fact, the right nutrition can give you the energy you need to get through the work day. A combination of proteins and fiber will make you feel fuller longer, which could reduce your overall calorie intake, and will fuel your body with energy. Complex carbohydrates and whole grains such as whole grain pasta can stay with you longer because your body has to work harder to break down and metabolize fiber.

To make sure your lunch is providing you the nutrition your body needs and is filled with variety, follow these simple tips:


Go back to the basics. Refer back to the basic food guide pyramid when planning your lunches. Include a combination of meats and beans, whole grains, fruits and veggies and milk or other dairy products.

Rethink main dishes and sides. When most people prepare a meal, the meat is the focus with fruits and veggies on the side. But if you flip it and fill the majority of your meals with fruits and veggies with the meat on the side, you'll have a much more healthful meal and be on your way to get the recommended 20 to 35 grams of fiber adults need each day, per the American Dietetic Association.

Remember, you're in control. When you eat at a restaurant or fast food establishment, you have limited control over the ingredients in your meal. When you prepare you lunch, you can customize things to include something from each food group in a way that works for you. You'll also have better knowledge of what you're actually eating and be able to better control things such as sodium intake and calories.

Food safety. Especially in the summer heat, it's important to make sure you are properly storing your food before you eat it. If you don't have access to a refrigerator at work, use an insulated bag with ice packs. Or, you can freeze bottled water in lieu of the ice packs that can thaw during the morning and double as your lunch beverage.

Drink smart. Avoid sugar sweetened beverages both to limit your sugar intake and those hidden liquid calories. Your best choices are water or low-fat milk to round out your healthful meal.

Get creative. Use whole-grain breads, pitas or bagels, and lean deli meats or tuna with low-fat mayo. Add cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, pickles, spinach leaves, zucchini slices and grated carrots for nutrition as well as great flavor. Instead of processed American cheese, try Swiss, provolone or pepper jack. If you can make your meals both healthful and enticing, you'll look forward to your self-made lunch.

Becki Weir is a community health outreach coordinator at Washington County Hospital and the program coordinator of KidShape, a healthy lifestyle program for families.

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