Create a 'brown bag special' for lunch

September 15, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE

Make your lunchtime "special" by brown bagging your midday meal.

A packed lunch can be a great way to trim your waist and your budget. Restaurant meals are usually large portions and lots of calories that can really pack on the extra pounds. Plus, they can easily cost $10 or more. Over the course of a month, the extra calories and dollars really add up.

How do you make the lunch you pack at home just as exciting as a restaurant meal? First, stay away from the same dull sandwich. Build your sandwich with an assortment of whole-grain breads, pitas and wraps. Then choose lean fillings like sliced eggs, tuna, low-fat cheese or lean meats. Finally, jazz up your sandwiches with cool, crisp greens, sliced cucumbers, onions and tomatoes.

There are other easy options to keep your lunch exciting. Soups and frozen meals can be healthy, inexpensive choices, especially if you stock up when they are on sale. Choose the healthful versions of these foods to keep the calories, fat and sodium low. Don't feel limited to what is pre-packaged in the can or box. Add a side salad or a piece of fruit to make sure you have a full, healthful and inviting meal.


Leftovers can enhance your lunchtime experience. Take the leftover idea a bit further and plan for lunchtime portions when you cook family meals.

Cook in bulk, making a big pot of chili, soup or rice and beans when you have the time, perhaps over the weekend. These foods can then be divided into individualized portions that are ready to quickly pack in your work time lunch. Add some fresh carrots, celery and pepper strips for some cool crunch in your lunch.

Fill your brown bag with variety. Some ideas for tasty, inexpensive brown bag lunches include:

oTurkey or ham sandwich on whole-wheat bread, one small piece of fruit, cucumbers and broccoli with low-fat dip.

o Green salad with tuna or chicken breast, light salad dressing, 10 whole-wheat crackers, 6 ounces light yogurt.

o Low-fat chicken salad in a whole-wheat pita pocket, 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese with 1 cup strawberries.

o 1 cup bean soup, a side salad with low-fat dressing, five whole-wheat crackers, 1 cup melon chunks.

o Turkey wrap made with a whole-wheat tortilla, lettuce, light mayo, tomato, and other veggies, 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding.

o 1 cup tuna macaroni salad made with tuna packed in water, whole-wheat pasta and light mayo, a side salad with light salad dressing, and a small piece of fresh fruit.

o Spinach salad with grilled chicken breast, light salad dressing, 1 cup berries, 6 ounces light yogurt, a slice whole-wheat bread.

o Healthful frozen dinner, one small piece of fresh fruit and a side salad with light dressing.

o 1 cup whole-wheat pasta salad with chickpeas and veggies with light Italian dressing, and a small piece of fresh fruit.

o Asian chicken salad (grilled chicken breast, lettuce, peapods, carrots, 1/2 cup drained mandarin orange slices, packed in juice), low-fat sesame dressing and a medium whole-wheat roll.

Your lunchtime is a time for you to relax and replenish your body, so make sure your food is attractive. If you are preparing a frozen meal, take the food out of the plastic container and place it on a real plate along with the extra side item(s) you packed.

Creating a meal that looks great, will help make the meal feel homemade and will make your meal more satisfying. Don't just stop with a nice looking plate, make sure to move away from your desk or work area for a pleasant change of scenery and time to recharge.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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