Fresh Ideas for Packed Lunch

Local fitness guru Gavin McKay shares why smart eaters pack lunch, along with ideas and tips on what to put in that brown bag

Turkey sandwich w/ red peppers and spinach with a side of fat-free cottage cheese & salsa

Not so many years ago, almost all meals were prepared at home. In 1960, the average American ate out twice a week. Now, the average American eats out more than four times per week. In our fast-paced, consumer-driven culture, the art of brown baggin’ seems as though it’s nearly vanished. Many people don’t prepare lunch ahead of time and run out to the closest place to grab something quick. Repeat this fast-food eating several times a week, and you have a pattern that could very easily lead to weight gain and related health problems, not to mention it feels so rushed and stressful.

If this sounds like you, don’t delude yourself into thinking you have no choice. No matter how busy you are, you can learn to create your own convenience. But before I even get to that, let’s weigh the pros and cons of packing your lunch vs. buying.

If you don’t pack … you wait until you are hungry to run out to grab something, so you’re more likely to order more food than needed and make some unhealthy choices.

If you pack … you open your bagged lunch as soon as you start to get hungry, satisfying hunger immediately without the temptation of the big fat cookies at checkout.

If you don’t pack … you are limiting lunch choices to whatever is close to your work, and aren’t able to truly choose food based on the healthiest, freshest options.

If you pack … you are never limited to unhealthy options. As long as you hit the grocery store once a week, you control everything you eat without all the processing, added oils, sugars, etc.

If you don’t pack … you end up rushing, waiting in lines to order, eating too fast, and cutting your break short to get back in time, all of which increases stress.

If you pack … you simply walk to the cafeteria or appointed lunch area, already into a leisurely lunch chatting with co-workers, or, if you are on a deadline, you bring it back to your cube and eat slowly as you work.

Here are some ideas for a better brown bag experience:

– Load your sandwiches up with veggies that don’t make your bread soggy, such as bell peppers, cucumbers, sprouts, spinach, etc.

– Throw tons of salad ingredients into Tupperware and add some beans, olives, and chicken or fish (the easy way is to use canned or packaged, but cooking extra a few nights before works too).

– For a new twist on cottage cheese, mix it with salsa. It might not look too good, but it tastes amazing and is so good for you. Trust me on this one.

– Mix plain, non-fat greek yogurt (flavored yogurts actually have a lot of added sugar) with your own fresh fruit like pineapple, grapes, or apples.

– Grab and go fruits (apples, pears, oranges) or portioned nuts are the perfect lunch desert or mid-afternoon snack.

– Cook for an army: Healthy dinner leftovers can be the perfect midday meal the next day.

Gavin McKay is the owner and creator of Fusion Cross-training with locations in Center City, Philadelphia and Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. He’ll be sharing his fitness tips and advice weekly on Be Well Philly. Read more about Gavin and his role at Be Well Philly here.