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Sharp Health News

4 tips for packing a healthy lunch

Jan. 14, 2016

4 tips for packing a healthy lunch

The alarm goes off late, you have back-to-back meetings and before you know it, your stomach is growling and you don’t have anything to eat. Don’t fall into the trap of grabbing takeout or heading to the vending machine in your office snack room — likely not-so-healthy options. With a little bit of planning, you can have a healthy and delicious homemade lunch waiting for you.

“Start by thinking of healthy foods that you enjoy, and begin your meal planning from there,” says Tracey Grant, RDN, wellness education specialist with Sharp Rees-Stealy’s Center for Health Management. “Having a general sense of the types of foods your body needs and the nutrients you get from these foods will make it simpler to prepare healthier lunches at home that are easy to take with you to work or on the go.”

Grant offers these four tips to help you prepare and pack a healthy lunch for work:

Choose foods you enjoy — You are more likely to eat a lunch brought from home if it includes some of your favorite foods. Grant suggests mixing up colors, textures, temperatures and flavors for a dynamic eating experience at every meal. “Variety keeps things fun and interesting,” says Grant. “We tend to gravitate more toward fresher dishes like salads in the warmer months and soup and stews when it gets cooler, but pay attention to what you’re in the mood for on any given day.”

Be practical — Consider time-saving methods when preparing your meals, which can be as simple as cooking extra at dinner to have for lunch the next day. “Alternatively, prepare something  to have for lunches all week long, like a large batch of veggie, bean and chicken soup in a slow-cooker, or roasted veggies and meatballs — these ingredients can be easy to cook in large quantities and divided into daily portions,” says Grant. “You can pre-portion your food on a Sunday so that all you have to do is grab-and-go on weekday mornings.”

Balance your plate — There’s no question that vegetables are a healthy choice, but don’t forget to also add protein, carbohydrates and some healthy fat to fuel you through the rest of your day. “The goal is to compose half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables  such as greens, peppers, broccoli, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower or cabbage, and split the other half of the plate with one-quarter carbohydrates and one-quarter proteins and healthy fats, “ says Grant. “Choose unrefined carbohydrates such as sweet potato, wild rice, beans or whole fruit, which help to prevent a mid-afternoon energy slump.”

Get inspired — Leave the sandwich and chips behind and go gourmet. Grant offers a few suggestions:

  • Fresh green salad with beans, nuts, chicken and a vinaigrette dressing — make it more fun by layering ingredients in a jar
  • Butternut squash soup, with arugula pesto and seasoned ground pork
  • Tapas-style spread, with veggies, fresh fruit, olives, hummus, sliced ham, cheese and whole-grain crackers
  • Smoked salmon wrap with avocado, radish and greens in a lettuce or tortilla wrap, and fruit on the side
  • Tuna salad with cucumber, olives, carrots, chives, celery and a drizzle of olive oil, and plantain chips on the side
  • Protein bowl with a base of quinoa, brown rice or roasted winter squash; plenty of non-starchy veggies; and chicken seasoned with soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil

“Planning for a healthy lunch rooted in nutrient-dense foods can be easy and motivating,” says Grant. “It will set you up for day-to-day success and can support any overall health goals you want to achieve.”

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