It's that time of year again: it's time to say goodbye to summer and switch to back-to-school mode. The beginning of a school year is a great time to start thinking about healthy lunches, and not just for your kids. Packing your lunch for school or work will save you time and money, and help you be more healthful, if done right.
According to the National Restaurant Association, the average American age 8 and older eats out at least four times a week. Half of those meals are eaten at lunch. Including coffees, teas and snacks, young adults under the age of 27 eat out as many as 30 times a week.
In 2009, one study looked at the factors influencing lunchtime food choices among working Americans. About one half of the study participants purchased lunch greater than or equal to two times/week. The typical source for purchasing lunch was a fast-food restaurant, followed by an on-site cafeteria/snack shop, full-service restaurant, supermarket, vending machine and convenience store.
When making your lunch, you have more control over what you're eating. It gives you a better opportunity to eat more nutritious food and monitor portion sizes. Lunch choices affect overall daily consumption of calories, fat, saturated fat, fiber, sugar and sodium.
When packing your lunch, aim to include a serving from the five food groups: fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and low-fat or non-fat dairy. There are many delicious options you can prepare at home to take to school or work. Keep it simple with leftovers from the night before, a salad or a sandwich.
For the latter, use these tips to build a more nutritious version of this midday-meal favorite:
1. Choose your bread/wrap: Any whole-wheat option will do: bread, wrap, English muffin or tortilla. The key is to choose one with whole wheat as the first ingredient.
2. Choose your spread: Be creative here! Try hummus (there are various flavors to choose from), avocado, pesto, nut butters (peanut, almond and cashew), mustard or non-fat, plain yogurt.
3. Choose your protein: Any lean protein will do: mashed beans or lentils, turkey, chicken, tofu, eggs (scrambled or hard boiled), tuna or salmon (fresh or canned), veggie burgers and nut butters.
4. Add lots of vegetables: Go crazy here; you want a rainbow of color. Fill your sandwich with raw or roasted vegetables. Add leafy greens like spinach, kale or arugula. Try carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber or zucchini. Any favorite vegetable of yours will work.
More: Eat the Rainbow