How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

Our busy lives often result in excessive reliance on unhealthy convenience foods. Plus, if you are going out for lunch or visiting the vending machine every day, the costs and calories can add up! You can save time and money and improve your health by packing a nutritious lunch. It may take time, but once you get in the habit, packing a lunch will be as routine as brushing your teeth. Follow these four easy steps to learn how to pack a healthy lunch.

1. Plan ahead to save time.

  • healthy lunchPlan your meals and snacks ahead of time so you know all the ingredients that you need to get when you're at the grocery store. When you're shopping, make sure to stick to buying only the items on your list. Then, when you get home, divide your food up and start packing your lunches for the week. 
  • Do prep work ahead of time. Chop up fruit and veggies or portion out snacks as soon as you bring them home from the grocery store. Keep them in individual portion containers for easy grab and go options.
  • Plan for leftovers. If you are cooking chicken for dinner, go ahead and plan to make extra for your lunch the next day. It doesn’t take any extra time or effort.
  • Keep it simple. Sometimes you just need something quick and easy. In these cases, a healthy frozen dinner might be the perfect option. Add in a piece of fruit and a cup of yogurt, and you’ve got a healthy lunch.

2. Invest in yourself to save money.

  •  Invest in a good container. Choose an insulated bag and freezer packs to keep food at a safe temperature. This is especially important if you don’t have access to a refrigerator at work.
  • Use washable and reusable containers. Avoid using plastic sandwich baggies. Buy containers in a variety of sizes to fit your lunchbox needs.
  • Buy in bulk. Avoid single-serve packaging. You save money when you buy food in bulk and pack it yourself into single servings. For example, you could buy a large container of yogurt or pudding and use 4-ounce containers to pack your own. Similarly, you can buy a block of cheese and cut it into cubes. 
  • Make your own. Look beyond lunch meat. Slice your own meat or grilled chicken breast and cut it into strips or cubes. Avoid prepackaged lunches since they are high-priced and often high in sodium. Make your own protein packs with cheese cubes, nuts, and chopped chicken.
  • Use up leftovers. As soon as dinner is done, pack whatever is left over into individual lunch containers that you can easily grab for lunch the next day.
  • Buy what is on sale and use coupons. Get whatever is on sale each week and work it into a menu. Use fruits and vegetables that are in season and buy whole to save money. Pre-cut fruits and veggies may be convenient, but they are typically much more expensive.

3. Make it nutritious.

  • Pack a rainbow! When it comes to fruits and vegetables, variety is not only the spice of life, it’s also healthier. The more color in your food, the more nutrients you're eating.
  • A healthy lunch should contain foods from each of the five food groups: grains, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Try to opt for whole grains over refined. Whole grains are more nutritious; have more fiber, vitamins and minerals; and keep blood sugar steady for lasting energy.
  • Select protein foods wisely. Choose lean protein such as chicken or turkey breast, hard-boiled eggs, tuna packed in water, beans, or peanut butter. Protein in every meal helps keep blood sugar steady.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season and serve them creatively. Examples include baby carrots with yogurt dip or other cut vegetables with low-fat dip or hummus.
  • Don’t forget dairy products like Greek yogurt, milk, and cheese. These are great sources of calcium and protein.
  • For side items, rethink that bag of chips. Instead, choose carrots sticks, celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins, apple slices with peanut butter, fruit salad, whole fruit, raisins, or whole grain crackers.
  • Don’t forget a snack. To keep afternoon cravings at bay, pack yourself a small treat. Fruit, yogurt, a small bag of dry cereal, or a bit of dark chocolate are good options for a sweet tooth. A serving of nuts or popcorn are great options for salt lovers.
  • Don’t forget a beverage. Water is, of course, the best choice here, but other low calorie drinks like unsweetened tea, or sugar-free flavored waters are great too.

4. Try new foods.

  • Don’t get stuck in a rut. If your food gets boring, you’re more likely to look elsewhere. So don’t fall into the same old sandwich every day routine. Mix it up, and keep it interesting. Look for new recipes online. Check out my favorite go-to recipe site, www.yummly.com.
  • Think beyond bread when making sandwiches. Try whole-grain bagels, whole-grain pita wraps, and whole-wheat tortillas. A whole-wheat pita pocket with hummus, shredded vegetables, and grilled chicken strips can be a great alternative to a boring sandwich.

A nutritious lunch does not have to be boring or cost you a fortune. Making small changes can save you money. Try one or two tips each week and soon you should see some relief in your grocery bills. Remember that a healthy lunchbox should promote well-being, provide fuel and lasting energy to get through the day, and it should taste good!

What are your tips to pack a healthy lunch? Let us know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoy the information supplied, please consider supporting this website!

Sign up for my newsletter to get more tips for health and happiness! Also, you can find me on FacebookYouTube and Pinterest as Custom Pilates and Yoga.

Sharing is caring!

About Sarah Wood

Sarah Wood is a registered dietitian with a Master's Degree in Applied Health Sciences. Currently, she is a Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. When taking time for herself, she runs, travels, and creates art.

shares