When you bring your lunch to work, you want to pack tasty, nutritious meals that will give you a midday energy boost. But it's not always easy to choose foods that will keep you full and that you can prepare quickly.
"A lot of people pack way too light when they bring their lunch to work," says Carolyn Brown, RD, a nutritionist at Foodtrainers in New York City. "Don't skimp out. Make it a solid meal and bring along a mid-afternoon snack that can tide you over until dinner."
To make sure your lunch is balanced, Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet, recommends including a whole grain, lean protein like beans or chicken, and fruits or vegetables.
"Add a little healthy fat -- for instance, from nuts, avocado, or low-fat cheese -- to make it taste great," she says.
You'll be more likely to stay motivated to pack a lunch if you avoid boredom and choose foods you'll look forward to eating. Here are some simple ways to add a little variety to your lunchtime routine.
Experiment With Ethnic Cuisines
To break out of the rut of bringing the same old turkey sandwich for lunch every day, Jackson Blatner suggests thinking in terms of dishes you would order in a restaurant and ethnic cuisines you like.
For example, she recommends the following brown-bag meals that are big on taste:
Greek Salad Pita. Fill a whole wheat pita with leftover chicken or canned chickpeas, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green bell peppers, feta cheese, and Kalamata olives. Squeeze half a lemon over the chicken and veggies right before you're ready to eat.
Asian Salad Bowl. Toss together shelled edamame (from the frozen food section, thawed according to package instructions), mixed greens, shredded carrots, green onions, and red bell pepper. Add crushed brown rice crackers for a crouton-like crunch. Bring store-bought peanut dressing in a separate container and add it right before you're ready to eat.
Italian Bruschetta Chicken Salad. Combine chopped chicken or white beans, arugula, tomatoes, olives, raw zucchini, and red onion. Marinate this salad in balsamic vinegar in a plastic container and then put it on slices of whole wheat baguette when you're ready to eat.
Mexican Burrito Bowl. Combine sliced chicken breast or black beans, cooked brown rice (which you can buy frozen and heat up), sauteed onions and green and red peppers, and romaine lettuce. Bring along a 100-calorie pack of guacamole and add it just before you eat.