You have plenty of good reasons to pack a lunch, whether you're heading to work or school, or just planning to be out of the house for a long stretch of the day.
For one thing, packing lunch can be a mega money saver. Why waste dollars on an overpriced salad when you can make one at home using better ingredients? Veggies and healthy proteins, in particular, can be more expensive and harder to find when you're out. Including these foods can prevent a daylong carb-fest. You'll also build a pause into your day. When you've taken the time to prepare a lunch, you may be more likely to take a break to sit and eat it.
Become a lunch-packing pro with these tips from New York City-based registered dietitian Lauren Slayton, founder of Foodtrainers nutrition counseling center in New York City and author of The Little Book of Thin.
Invest in the Right To-Go Containers
Bento-style lunchboxes keep items separate and sealed and are perfect for at-work "picnic" lunches. Mason jars are also great -- keep them in all sizes and you can use them for yogurt, berries, cut-up vegetables, or salads. If you like a hot lunch, either bring a container that heats up in the microwave or use thermos-style containers.
Pack Enough Food
"Don't be cutesy -- if they're good ingredients, be generous so that the snack monster doesn't descend on you in an hour," Slayton says.
Most dinners make excellent lunch the next day. Either wrap up a portion of your dinner as is, or repurpose individual items. For instance, you can top a salad with roasted chicken or veggies from a previous meal.
Don't Reinvent the Wheel
Repetition is not a bad thing. Find a lunch plan that works, then stick with it. Slayton recommends a formula of "green-protein-treat" to her clients. The "treat" is a good fat, such as avocado, pepitas, hemp hearts, and walnut oil.
Collard Green Curried Salmon Salad Wrap
Subbing collard greens for flour wraps is a great way to sneak some dark green vegetables into your lunch. A wrap is low-calorie, making it a perfect stand-alone snack or addition to other lunch items.
Makes 2 servings
1 5-oz can wild salmon, drained
1/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp lemon juice
2 collard green leaves, stems removed
In a medium bowl, mix salmon, yogurt, curry powder, and lemon juice. Lay each collard green leaf flat and divide the salmon salad equally between them in the center of each leaf. Roll up the wrap burrito-style.
Avocado Egg Salad
This is a perfect salad to include in a "bento box" lunch. Pack extra veggies and crispy rye crackers to round it out.
Makes 1 serving
1/2 medium avocado
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
fresh basil, torn or minced
dash of salt
Scoop avocado from its peel into a medium bowl and mash with a fork until fairly smooth. Add eggs, lemon juice, basil, and salt, and mix until combined. If you prefer a smoother egg salad, you can continue to mash the egg and avocado together with a fork.
Mason Jar Asian Chicken Salad
Mason jars are handy for packed salads. This recipe calls for rotisserie chicken and bagged broccoli slaw, making assembly a snap.
Makes 1 serving
2 tbsp Japanese-style carrot ginger salad dressing
1/2 cup chopped roasted chicken (you can use leftover rotisserie chicken, skin removed)
1 cup broccoli slaw
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Layer ingredients in a Mason jar in the order listed and seal with a lid. When it's time for lunch, shake it up and dig in.
300 calories, 26 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 17 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 63 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 281 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 49%