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Packing a Healthy Lunch

Packing A Healthy Lunch

Making the Most of your Mid-day Meal

Your mid-day meal doesn’t have to cost you your health—or cost you a fortune. And brown bagging doesn’t have to be boring, either. Find out how you can brown bag with ease, avoiding the consequences of too many calories, and too much fat.

Mid-Day Made Easy

Brown Bag for the Health of It

Mid-day meals are a pricey proposition for the quarter of our population who eats out for lunch everyday during the workweek. And not only is eating out hard on the pocket book, it’s hard on our health as well. But by brown-bagging your weekday lunches, you can save yourself hundreds of calories and dollars in a single year.

To a lot of people, brown-bagging sounds like too much work for a run-of-the-mill-meal. But believe it nor not, it’s not that much work, and, because you have more control over the menu, brown-bagging allows you to kick your mid-day meal up a notch. This brochure is power-packed with information that will help you brown-bag for the health of it.

Brown Bagging Benefits

Lunch on the Run

  • Almost 60 percent of individuals consume a commercially prepared lunch at least once a week. Close to one-quarter consume a commercially prepared lunch five or more times per week.
  • The typical person (age 8 and older) consumes an average of 4.2 meals prepared away from home per week, or 218 meals per year. Dinner is the meal most likely to be privately prepared and the meal least likely to be skipped.
  • Males age 55 to 64 and females age 45 to 54 skip lunch the most often, skipping almost one lunch per week. Individuals under age 13 are least likely to skip lunch.
  • Businessmen and women represent an important customer group for fast food restaurants, as well as teenagers and senior citizens. More than eight out of 10 operators reported that businessmen and women are important to their business.

Source: National Restaurant Association

The Benefits of Brown Bagging

To some, bringing a brown bag lunch to work may not seem like the most exciting thing to do. Just the term “brown bag” can sound a little boring. But when you consider the benefits brown bagging brings, the prospect of packing your own lunch quickly becomes more appetizing. Check out these benefits of brown bagging and get to packin’.

Benefit #1: Brown Bagging is Healthier

Have you ever wondered what’s actually in a typical fast food burger and fries? The answer is a lot—a lot of calories, and tons of fat. Consider this. A double Whopper with cheese, king size fry and king size coke at Burger King rings in at almost 2,100 calories and 100 grams of fat. That’s all your calories and more than your share of fat for the day in just one meal! Conversely, a home packed turkey sandwich on wheat bread with baked potato chips and a diet soda totals about 500 calories and about six grams of fat.

Anyway you slice it, packing a moderately healthy lunch from home will almost always beat the fast food competition hands down when it comes to nutrition.

Benefit #2: Brown Bag And Get More Done

When you consider travel time—and the time it takes to get your food once you get seated—going out to lunch each day can take too much time. By packing your lunch and eating at your desk, you’ll be able to catch up on email, return voice mail messages, and sew up all the loose ends that accumulate during the week. Don’t feel like working through lunch? Take some time for yourself by reading a book, surfing the day’s headlines, or just daydreaming at your desk.Plain and simple, if you’re not rushing to make it to a restaurant during your lunch hour, you’ll have much more time to concentrate on more important things.

Benefit #3: You’ll Save Big Bucks

Here’s a newsflash, eating out is expensive! Have you ever really considered how much you spend on eating out for lunch? The calculation is pretty simple. Take an average meal price of seven dollars and multiply it by 20 (the approximate number of working days in a month). That’s $140 a month, and almost $1,700 per year. That’s enough money to buy two round trip plane tickets to Europe or lease a brand new economy car. When you sit back and consider it, that’s a lot of money to save just by packing a lunch to work.

Maximizing Your Mid-Day Meal

Brown Bagging with Ease

There’s no doubt that brown-bagging your lunch requires a little more effort than hitting a local drive through, or standing in line at the company cafeteria. But as we’ve seen, brown bagging—because it’s cheaper and healthier—pays big dividends in the long run. Given the extra effort required, the following tips can help you brown bag it better.

  • Plan a weekly lunch menu in advance.
  • Pack your lunch the night before.
  • Remind yourself to take your lunch.
  • Be sure to keep cold foods cold.
  • Read the Food Facts labels on items you pack.
  • Try using frozen bread to make your sandwich—this can help keep your lunch cool and at a safe temperature.

Kick Your Mid-Day Meal Up a Notch!

Tired of the same old Turkey on Rye with baked chips and water? Well, if you’ve been brown bagging like this for any length and time, it’s easy to see why. Not only does brown bagging allow you to eat healthier and save money, but it also allows you to get a lot more creative with your mid-day meal. Check out these ideas to kick your brown bag up a notch

Lovely Leftovers

Leftovers, especially if they’re healthy, can make your midday meal—literally. When preparing your dinners in the evening, try planning ahead and making an extra chicken breast or serving of seafood that you can pack for lunch sometime that week. There’s no reason you should have to settle for the typical sandwich when it comes to your brown bag lunch. Have fun and be creative.

Think Outside the Bun

Especially if you’ve settled on wonder bread, trying thinking outside the bun. Choose lower-fat, high-fiber breads such as whole wheat, or a tasty multi-grain or whole-wheat pita. Not only will you find a whole new world of taste with these breads, you’ll be getting a whole host of nutrients important to a nutritious diet.

See the Green

Most people forget about salads when it comes to brown bagging. And by being creative with your greens, you can create a healthy masterpiece that’ll make your colleague envious. One thing to watch out for, however, is those creamy salad dressings that add fat and calories along with their flavor. Try using reduced fat dressings or take some of the fat out of your current dressings by using mild vinegar such as balsamic or rice wine, or combine wine vinegar with fruit juice or stock.

Super Soups

Soups can make for a tantalizing lunch with low calories, but plenty of punch. There are literally thousands of soup ideas floating around, and they’re a great way to use your leftovers. Don’t have access to a microwave? Don’t worry. Heat your soups before heading off to work and use a thermos instead of your brown bag.

Trash the Brown Bag

Using and tossing those brown bags is just another expense you can do with out. Invest in a thermal lined lunch bag. Using it with a small ice pack at the bottom of your bag will keep your food colder and safer, for longer period of time.

Brown Bag Ideas Made Easy

The suggestions here are included to help take some of the work out of packing a healthy, yet exciting lunch each day. Each of the lunches shown here contains 500 to 700 calories and less than 15 grams of fat. Use them to plan your menu in the days ahead and give your favorites a regular rotation on your lunch schedule.

Menu # 1

  • Turkey (three ounces), mustard, and lettuce on whole wheat bread
  • One small bag of baked potato or nacho chips
  • One medium banana
  • One, 12-ounce diet soda

Menu # 2

  • Whole wheat pita stuffed with tuna, low-fat dressing, celery, sprouts, and diced tomato
  • One small can of bean soup with six saltine crackers
  • One medium orange
  • One Large glass of water

Menu # 3

  • Two slices of vegetarian pizza (toppings include mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and pineapples)
  • Two graham crackers
  • Six ounces skim milk
  • One handful of grapes

Menu #4

  • One medium bowl of lean meat chili (prepared the night before). Drain fat!
  • Four saltine crackers
  • One half-cup low-fat cottage cheese with pineapple slices
  • One medium apple
  • One large glass of iced tea

Menu # 5

  • Roast beef (three ounces), horseradish, and tomato on rye bread
  • A small tossed salad with carrots and low-calorie dressing
  • One medium pear
  • One six-ounce glass of skim milk

Menu # 6

  • One medium chicken breast steamed with garlic, and 1/2 cup wild rice (Prepared the night before)
  • One medium peach
  • Walnut and orange salad made with low-fat mayonnaise
  • One Large glass of apple juice

Menu # 7

  • One chicken and lettuce stuffed tortilla with 1/8 cup Colby cheese and salsa
  • One small bag of baked tortilla chips
  • One cup of non-buttered corn (prepared in microwave at work)
  • One large glass of water

Menu #8

  • A small plate of penne pasta with red sauce (prepared the night before).  Watch the fat and calories in the sauce
  • One slice whole wheat garlic bread
  • One medium apple
  • One large glass of 100% grape juice

Lunchtime Match-Up

Fast Food vs. Brown Bag

Take a look at how these fast food challengers match up against healthier, brown bag champions.

Bout One

Fast Food Challenger

Double Whopper with cheese
King size fries
King size soda
Calories 2,090, Fat: 100 grams

Healthy Brown Bag Champ

Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
Small bag baked potato chips
One, 12-ounce diet soda
Calories 550, Fat: 10 grams

Bout Two

Fast Food Challenger

KFC “Twister” sandwich
Mashed potatoes with gravy
Slice of apple pie
Calories 1,250, Fat: 61 grams

Healthy Brown Bag Champ

Steamed chicken breast on a bed of lettuce (low-fat dressing)
One medium apple
Small chocolate chip cookie
Large glass of iced tea
Calories 570, Fat: 9 grams

It’s a knock out every time—the healthy brown-bag champ is always the winner.

For More Information

US Department of Agriculture

American Dietetic Association

National Institutes of Health

Wellness Councils of America
9802 Nicholas Street, Suite 315
Omaha, NE 68114-2106
Phone: (402) 827-3590
Fax: (402) 827-3594

©2006 Wellness Councils of America
The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.