Brown Bag Lunches

Brown Bag Lunches
Busy people eat out. A lot. But restaurant meals, especially fast food, tend to have larger portions, higher fat, higher salt, and many more calories than food prepared at home. Lunch is a great place to start taking back control of our diets.

Lunch toted from home will save you money, calories, and time. You'll make good choices, even as you run the lunchroom gauntlet of pizza, French fries, and Boston cream pie, because you planned, prepared, and packed a nutritious lunch with your own needs in mind.

Make a lunch plan. “What should I have for lunch?” is the last thing anyone wants to worry about as she rushes to get ready for work.

First, remember to keep a good supply of lunch items in the larder. Pick up a few frozen entrees, obviously, but also stock up on canned soup, foil packs of tuna and salmon, lean lunch meats, cheese sticks, fruit, and frozen and raw vegetables.

Note the serving sizes of the prepared foods you buy. The “soup-in-hand” style cans are one serving, however, soups that come in a large bowl-shaped container tend to be two servings. Maybe you want to eat two servings of soup for lunch, but then again, maybe you'd rather have half a sandwich with those extra calories! The single-serve packs of tuna and salmon are great tossed in a salad or a cup of whole-wheat pasta, either brought from home or purchased from the cafeteria.

Second, prepare in advance. Whenever you are working with food, think about lunches. If you are making a salad, cut up extra celery and green peppers. Along with baby carrots and grape tomatoes, those left-over veggies will be great alone or with dip. The key is to bag them in individual servings well before you need them. Pack up a week's worth at once. Salad dressing in small packets is available at some grocery stories, or pack your own in a snack sized plastic bag or tiny container. (These home-made packages sometimes leak. I put the dip in my container of vegetables or salad, so that it doesn't make a mess).

Your evening meals can feed you at work all week. Make enough for leftovers and pack them into multi-compartment storage containers. I'm still using one featured by Tupperware 20 years ago, but many modern styles are available in stores and on the internet. You can fill one section with turkey, another with roasted sweet potatoes, and the third with frozen broccoli right out of the freezer. Tomorrow's lunch, ready to go.

Third, make your lunch appealing. Sandwiches are time-honored packable food, but often unappetizing by lunch time. Take a tip from the tea party hostess: spread a thin layer of soft butter, margarine, or vegetable oil spread on each slice of bread. This prevents the moisture in the sandwich filling from soaking through the bread. After assembling the sandwich, cut off the crusts. This step will help keep the bread from drying out. Of course, packing the components and assembling your masterpiece right before you eat is best!

Most packed lunches will benefit from being kept cold until serving time. If you're lucky, you have access to a refrigerator at work or school. If not, invest in an insulated lunch bag and refreezable cold pack to keep you meal appetizing and safe from spoilage.

Here's a couple of vegetarian sandwich spreads. Enjoy half a sandwich with salad or soup to cut calories.

Black Olive Spread on Sourdough
1 15-16 oz Can of pitted black olives, drained
1 8 oz Package lower fat cream cheese at room temperature, cut in chunks
Milk, cream, or half and half

Chop the can of drained olives in the food processor. Add the cream cheese, process, adding a little cream as needed to achieve a smooth, spreadable consistency. Spread on slices of sourdough bread.

Cheddar Cheese and Sun dried Tomato on Dark Herb Bread
1 Cup sun dried tomatoes (soften in hot water if they are not packed as "ready to serve")
1 and 3/4 Cups sharp cheddar cheese (regular or reduced fat), shredded
1/4 Cup lower fat cream cheese, room temp
Milk, cream. or half and half

Process the tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and cream cheese in the food processor, adding cream as needed to achieve a smooth, spreadable consistency. Spread on slices of any dense, flavorful whole wheat bread.

Take your lunch to work most days, and the occasional restaurant meal will be a real treat again, something special to be savored and enjoyed.

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This content was written by Kathy L. Brown. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Megan Mignot for details.