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How to Pack a Healthy Lunch

Fitday Editor

According to the National Restaurant Association, close to 60% of all Americans eat lunch out at least once a week and for a quarter of those, the number jumps to five or more times. We pack lunches for our kids, so why not for ourselves?

Brown Bag Bonuses

There are several benefits to packing your lunch:


  • You have control over calories, fat grams, sodium amounts and added sugar.
  • You have control over portion sizes.
  • You have control over where your food comes from.


  • Eating out takes a chunk out of your wallet. The average restaurant meal is between $5 and $7.
  • Eating out takes a chunk out of your health. Even if you go with "healthy" option, you are most likely getting, at a minimum, additional sodium.
  • Eating out takes a chunk out the environment. Think about the containers, wrappers and bottles that are all part of the "to-go" meal.


  • When you eat out, you have to get in the car and drive.
  • When you eat out, you are away from the office.
  • When you eat out, you are rushed so you eat too quickly.
  • When you eat out, you have no time to decompress.

A Balanced Bag

So what exactly makes a healthy lunch? Lunches that include some lean or low-fat protein along with carbohydrates will keep your body fueled for the afternoon. Choosing whole grains, vegetables and fruits will give you fiber, while protein will be the most satisfying and keep your blood sugar levels the most consistent. Add some water and a piece of fruit (or even a cookie) and you are all set.

Here are some suggestions to help you build your bag:


  • Sandwich Wrappers -- Choose whole grain breads, pitas, wraps and even lettuce.
  • Sandwich Fillers -- Your best bets are turkey, chicken, tuna, lower fat cheeses, sliced eggs and even mashed black beans.
  • Sandwich Extras -- The darker the greens, the more nutrients. Pile on spinach, kale and romaine. In addition, add tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots and sliced peppers. And don't fresh herbs like basil.
  • Sandwich Toppers -- Don't settle for plain old mayo, but instead smear some mashed avocado or make a Greek yogurt spread.


  • A dark green salad loaded with chunk light tuna, carrot strips, pepper slices, tomato wedges, red beans, and dried cranberries topped with balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Take some quinoa, add some baby spinach leaves, some crumbled goat cheese and top with a few toasted almonds for protein packed and filling salad.
  • Mix some canned black beans (drained), canned corn, diced tomatoes and chopped avocado. Toss with a little oil, lime juice and chopped cilantro.
  • Pasta & diced chicken with chopped vegetables. Top with some shredded part-skim mozzarella and a little Italian dressing.

Other Options

  • Leftovers -- Make extra and pack up the leftovers for your lunch. Many items can be eaten cold and microwaves are a standard in most office break rooms.
  • Hummus with a broccoli, carrots and pepper strips.
  • Breakfast for lunch -- The night before, mix equal amounts of oats and liquid (milk, almond milk, water) in a glass jar and store overnight. In the morning add, fruit and nuts or swirl in some peanut butter and sliced banana.

Brown Bag Success

There are several things you can do to make it easy and fun to brown bag.

  • Think outside the box and be inventive with your lunches.
  • Write out your lunches for the whole week on Sunday.
  • Make your lunch the night before. Many items you can even make on Sunday, like pasta, quinoa, and baked chicken.
  • Leave a note with your keys reminding you to grab your lunch, or put your keys in your lunch bag.
  • Find an insulated lunch bag that you love and use reusable containers.
  • Be patient. Like most things, it will take time to make it an unconscious part of your daily routine. Start by committing to bring your lunch 2 - 3 times a week and gradually add days.

And finally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating out once in a while. Designate one day every other week to eat out and try to enjoy every bite. Chances are you will find that you miss your brown bag.


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Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD is a Savannah-based dietitian who, after 20 years of food service and clinical dietetics, made the switch to nutrition communications and all things tech. She doesn't believe in diets and thinks that life is too short to be anything but happy and healthy at any weight. Read her blog, Real Bite Nutrition, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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