Whether an adult or a child, brown bagging a meal for lunch is more of an adventure than ever before.
Taking your own lunch to work or sending a lunch to school with your child gives you more choice in meal selections, the knowledge that you have prepared a nutritious meal, the cost savings of preparing a meal at home, and saves time and gas in going out to eat lunch. Lunch does not have to be hot — a cold meal at noon is often more nutritious, refreshing, and can be an adventure for your culinary skills.
Keep It Safe
Follow these food safety tips to keep your lunch a healthy one:
- Freeze 100% juice to make a cold pack for the rest of your lunch. Pack your own juice or milk in a plastic container and freeze.
- Wrap frozen juices in a bag or foil to prevent "weeping" of moisture on other foods.
- Freeze bread beforehand for a cold sandwich. It's easier to spread toppings on frozen bread.
- Chill food thoroughly before packing.
- Pack meals in an insulated bag.
- Pack foods with the items used first on top.
- Fill a thermos with ice before storing cold foods in it, or with boiling water before storing hot foods.
- Include napkins or wipes for hand washing.
What Do I Eat?
Try to make at least three choices from the following groups:
- Milk or milk substitute like non-fat yogurt, yogurt drink, cheese, skim milk, non-fat cottage cheese
- A grain or bread product, like bread, bagel, muffin, roll, tortilla, pasta, crackers.
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, beans, hummus, or cheese.
- At least one fruit or vegetable, or both — aim for at least one raw/fresh item each meal. Take extra fruits and veggies for snack times. More matters: fruits and vegetables make for better nutrition and health.
Keep It Easy and Nutritious
- Use a variety of different breads in your sandwiches, such as wheat, rye, or cinnamon swirl with PB&J. Try crackers, tortillas, bread sticks, and croutons.
- Make it a weekend event with the kids to cut carrot sticks, broccoli florets, pepper slices, cauliflower, squash, grape tomatoes. Package these for the week in resealable bags, and don't forget low-calorie dressings for dipping.
- Wash and package servings of blueberries, grapes, and cherries. Have apples, oranges, bananas, melons, and strawberries available for sending. Keep portions of canned fruit on hand. Try putting frozen fruit in a container for the noon meal — it will be crisp and cold by lunch! Try fruit salads.
- Use only 100% fruit juice in brown bag lunches. Avoid fruit drinks and blends, which often contain less than 10% real fruit. Send water for a beverage.
- Buy a good selection of flavors of non-fat or low-fat yogurt every week, and let everyone choose his or her favorite flavor every day.
- Keep individually wrapped cheese sticks in the fridge.
- Pack a variety of dried fruit in your family's brown bag lunches.
- Let the family be involved with planning and packing the meals. Keep the lunch foods on one shelf in the fridge and cabinets for easy access.
- Keep bags for snacks, plastic cutlery, colored napkins, and straws out for easy packing. Purchase small packages of peanut butter, dressings, any extras.
- Adults can keep cutlery, napkins, dressings and other items handy in your desk or refrigerator at work. Keep an emergency frozen dinner at the office, and a bowl of fruit on the desk.
What Else Can I Do?
- Consider using wide-mouth thermos containers to keep food hot or cold.
- Raw alfalfa sprouts and bean sprouts should be avoided, since they can be salmonella carriers.
- Instead of chips, try pretzels or dry cereal; less fat, fewer calories, and lower cost.
- Make one batch of chicken salad for the family and then add dried cranberries, grapes, sun-dried tomatoes to salads or sandwiches.
- Stuff a tomato with a meat salad for variety.
- Hummus can be used as a dip or a spread at lunch.
- Allow a small treat — a mini bag of cookies, pudding cup or a bite-sized candy.
- Put a mint in the bag to freshen the breath.
- Try forming a lunch club at work and let everyone take turns bringing lunch for the group, and sharing recipes.