Whether you have kids that have just headed back to school or you are tired of eating out at the office, brown bagging it is not only cost-effective, it is also a way to control your calories (if you're trying to lose weight), eat healthier, and take charge of what you and your kids eat during the noon hour.
When doing so, keep these four tips in mind:
Include more whole foods and less processed foods
Choose lunch items that are high in fiber and nutrients, and low in sodium and sugar.
Take, for example, deli meats.
Most deli meats are pumped full of sodium and nitrates.
While sodium nitrite does help prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which can cause botulism in humans, it is also used alone or in conjunction as a colour fixative in cured meat and poultry products (bologna, hot dogs, bacon).
During the cooking process, nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat to form carcinogenic compounds. It is also suspected that nitrites can combine with amines in the human stomach to form N-nitroso compounds. These compounds are known carcinogens and have been associated with cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain.
Research in Sweden found that Swedes who ate on average three ounces of processed meat each day had a 15 per cent greater chance of developing stomach cancer than those who consumed two ounces or less.
Opt instead for nitrate-free deli meats (ask your deli counter person to point out which brands are nitrate-free and low in sodium), or better yet, roast a whole chicken or roast beef on Sunday and use that meat throughout the week for sandwiches, wraps and to toss into salads.
Your kids will appreciate it if you think outside the brown bag for their lunches, and if you're packing for yourself, so will you.
I mean, do you really want another boring old sandwich to look forward to at lunch?
Instead, why don't you try a fruit and cheese plate, or a pita pocket stuffed with falafel balls and some hummus?
Or, how about using last night's pasta and pack a cold pasta salad with chopped chicken.
Then there's always bean and cheese tortillas, sushi, homemade soup (or try a lowsodium brand such as Amy's, Imagine or Wolfgang Puck), or my favourite quick lunch meal of almond butter, topped with no-sugar added jam on Squirrelly bread with some raisins sprinkled on top.
Use Sunday to plan your meals for the week and buy all the groceries you need so you have everything on hand when you need them.
I plan all our lunches and dinners on the weekend and prepare as much as I can to give me a head start for the week. For instance, plan to make a stir-fry on Monday night and then use the leftovers in a wrap the next day.
Or make a large salad that will carry you for the week and just add different toppings and dressings throughout the week to give you a variety of different tastes.
Don't actually use a brown bag
I know I keep referencing a brown bag, but they rip easily and won't keep your hot foods warm and your cold foods cool.
Invest in a lunch box with insulation and with different compartments so foods and beverages can be kept separately.
Also, purchase some small plastic containers (avoiding containers with the numbers 3 or 7 on the bottom - these have been proven to leach chemicals into our foods - yuck!), or glass containers to store each item and a freezer pack to keep the cold foods cold. This will keep your foods both fresh and safe for lunchtime consumption.
P.J. Wren is a personal trainer and writer in the Delta area. www.fitnesswithpj.com. Follow her blog at www.gofitgals. wordpress.com.
FIVE-DAY SAMPLE LUNCH MENU
3 oz. thinly sliced low-sodium nitrate-free turkey breast on 3 Wasa High-Fibre breads, a large carrot stick and Â½ a red bell pepper sliced and dipped in a Â¼ cup of hummus. And Â¾ cup of 0% vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert.
Tuna salad sandwich: 3 oz. of tuna mixed with Â½ cup 0% fat Greek yogurt, 1 chopped hard boiled egg, 1 tbsp. green relish, spread on a whole-wheat tortilla shell and whatever veggies you want to add. 1 cup blueberries for dessert.
(if you prefer lower calories and 0 carbs wrap the tuna in butter lettuce instead of a wrap.
2 cups lentil soup (such as "Imagine" or "Amy's" brand) and carrot and celery sticks, and an apple dipped in 1 tbsp. of almond butter for dessert.
Baked sweet potato with 0% Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon and a side spinach salad. Chocolate Coconut "Lara" bar for dessert
Pizza roll-ups: take 1 8-inch whole wheat tortilla shell, spread with 2 tbsp. low sodium pizza sauce, 12 spinach leaves and 3 tbsp. part skim mozza cheese (note: you can also add veggies too). Roll and cut tortilla into 6 pieces. Caesar salad tossed in a home made dressing (I use 0% Greek yogurt for my Caesar dressing) and instead of croutons try roasted chickpeas, hemp hearts, or salad crunchies (a mixed nut blend you can buy at Thrifty Foods).
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