Pritikin-style healthy brown bag lunches are much better for you in other ways. A Quizno’s Tuna Melt has 31 grams of artery-busting saturated fat. That’s the equivalent of eating three Big Macs. By contrast, your homemade Pritikin tuna sandwich has less than 1 gram of saturated fat. Oh, how your heart’s gonna love you!
Read on for more tips on making your midday meal scrumptious, money-saving, and healthy. Chances are, you’ll discover some ideas for healthy brown bag lunches for kids, too.
7 Things You Should Pack For A Healthy Lunch1
Simple, Sensational Sandwiches
Put together a sandwich of tuna (canned – preferably low-sodium, light, and packed in water) with 1 tablespoon nonfat mayo or nonfat plain yogurt, chopped celery, and onions, topped with baby spinach or peppery arugula, on 100% whole-wheat bread.
Or get a great dose of heart-healthy omega 3s by combining salmon (canned, low-sodium) or strips of fresh grilled salmon from last night’s dinner with cucumber, onion, and fresh dill. Stuff into a 100% whole-wheat pita.
Go juicy hamburger-style (and very healthy) with a veggie burger (choose lower-sodium varieties) topped with lettuce, slices of fresh tomato, and mustard in a whole-wheat bun.2
Veggies, Veggies, Veggies
A veggie-packed lunch gives you lots of food, lots of nutrients, and zippo for calories compared to many other lunch choices. Here are healthy brown bag lunch ideas brimming with crunchy, colorful vegetables.
Fill a big bag of cut-up varieties that you can munch on all day long – baby carrots, celery, radishes, cherry tomatoes, and more. Spice them up, if you want, with a little bean dip. Make your own zesty, low-cal, and inexpensive Mexican-style dip by combining pinto beans, chopped red onion, fresh cilantro leaves, and lime juice in a food processor and blend.
For more veggie goodness, trade your brown bag for a small icebox, like an Igloo, and pack a HUGE salad, like Pritikin Longevity Center alums David and Kathy Heetland of Skokie, Illinois. The couple goes through a bag of greens for lunch a day PLUS, in their salads, diced sweet potatoes, yellow squash, red bell peppers, cucumbers, red cabbage, red onions, and more. Says David: “Pritikin showed us that all kinds of food can go into salads.”
Three heaping cups of salad full of fresh veggies add up to a mere 100 calories.
But boy-oh-boy, don’t let the word “salad” delude you into thinking that all salads are healthy. Three cups of salad with cheese, full-fat dressings, and bacon bits tally up 600 calories and more. The Taco Bell Fiesta Taco Salad packs 860 calories, 46 grams of total fat, 14 grams of which are saturated fat.
For salad dressings that are slimming, use vinegars, lemon juice, fresh salsas, or your own homemade combinations, like wasabi and rice vinegar, Dijon mustard and balsamic vinegar, or fat-free plain yogurt sassed up with a little horseradish.3
Like vegetables, fruits are fabulous weight-loss foods because they’re “big” foods, that is, foods that are bulked up by lots of fiber and water. With “big” foods, you’ll be eating a lot of food (which will satisfy your hunger) but not a lot of calories.
Here’s a great example: For the same number of calories that are in a handful of peanuts (about two ounces), you can eat 2½pounds of strawberries (about five of those green boxes that strawberries come in.) Eating “big” foods like strawberries, salads, and other fruits and vegetables can prevent hunger from taking over and taking you places you don’t want to go.
You can even turn fruit into a delicious sandwich. Combine fresh pineapple chunks with nonfat ricotta cheese. Smooth over a slice of whole-wheat toast. Delish!4
Wrap It All Up
For “on the go” lunches, keep several types of greens and chopped veggies like carrots, onions, celery, and tomatoes in the fridge.
When you’re ready to leave the house, just spread out a large whole-grain wrap. Lavash bread is a good choice too. Top with greens, veggies, and a little balsamic vinegar or low-cal, low-sodium salad dressing. If you have leftovers like roasted chicken, crabmeat, or turkey breast, add them. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Roll the wrap up, and you’re out the door with a big, tasty lunch the size of a small football.5
Soup or vegetarian/bean chili made the night before often tastes even better the next day. To keep hot entrees hot, use an insulated wide-mouth thermos.
In several studies at Penn State University, scientists found that people who ate veggie- and grain-rich soups and stews tended to eat significantly fewer calories overall by day’s end than people who didn’t.6
South of the Border
It’s scary how much belt-busting trouble you can get into at many Mexican restaurants. One cheese enchilada at On the Border Restaurant, Nutrition Action newsletter recently reported, tallies up 1,600 calories and 53 grams of saturated fat. Yes, 53 grams! Think of it as 20 pats of butter.
Take in a fraction of calories (only about 200) and absolutely no sat fat by making your own Mexican-style bowl of corn, black beans, and salsa. Simply combine 1 can of black beans (rinsed and drained), 2 cups of frozen no-salt-added corn kernels (thawed), and 1 cup of fresh salsa.7
Baked Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Corn – Warm, Yummy, and Very Filling
Think outside the sandwich. A big baked potato topped with a calorie-light dressing like nonfat plain yogurt, mustard, salsa, or nonfat sour cream weighs in at just 300 to 350 calories.
Enjoy the rich flavor of sweet potatoes? While home on Sundays, cook up a batch. Wrap each one in foil and bake for about an hour at 425 degrees F, or until their luscious, sweet juices start to ooze out into the foil. At work the following week, just pop one in the microwave for a quick warm-up. They’re loaded with taste, and they don’t need any extra toppings. Best of all, they REALLY fill you up.
Craving corn on the cob? Easy! Just microwave it, husk and all, for three to five minutes.
More Healthy Brown Bag Lunch Ideas | Video
Join Pritikin Nutrition Director Kimberly Gomer and Chef Vincenzo Della Polla as they share a bunch of healthy brown bag lunch ideas. Watch the Video
Things You Should NOT Pack…
The Dry Stuff
Rid your pantry of all those chips, crackers, goldfish, Cheetos, cookies, trail mix, and other dry snacks that the food industry has packaged of late into petite 100-calorie serving-size bags. What good are they if you’ve got to rip open three or four before you’re feeling full?
All dry foods, even healthier options like pretzels, dried cereals, fat-free chips, and dried fruit, pack a whole lot of calories into very small packages.
Instead, fill up on water-rich, fiber-filled foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, hot cereals, potatoes, corn, yams, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice. Foods with a lot of water usually provide a lot of stomach-filling volume, but not a lot of calories.
A whole pound of veggies, for example, adds up to a mere 65 to 195 calories. By contrast, a pound of dried cereal or fat-free chips is packed with 1,600 to 1,725 calories.
The Cheesy Stuff
Since 1970, Americans’ consumption of cheese has risen 350%. That’s a huge problem because there’s nothing worse for your heart than cheese because it’s full of artery-injuring saturated fat. “If you want to die early,” Nathan Pritikin said, “eat a lot of cheese.”
Adding just one ounce of American cheese to a sandwich adds six grams of saturated fat (that’s more than you’d get in a McDonald’s Sausage Patty.)
We’ve become a nation of beverage bloat, and it’s bloating our bodies. The average American drinks 28 ounces of sugary soft drinks a day (nearly 300 calories), which is nearly six ounces more than a decade or two ago, recently reported the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Liquid calories are especially troublesome if you’re trying to lose weight because they do not quell appetite as much as solid foods do.
The good news: If you replace calorie-laden drinks with no-calorie drinks like water, the pounds will melt off. Studying more than 3,000 children and teenagers, researchers at Columbia School of Public Health recently reported that when the kids drank water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, their total calorie intake dropped an average of 235 calories each day.(Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, April 2009)
Eliminating 235 calories each day could help most people drop about 23 pounds within one year. 23 pounds! And all it took was one simple change: switching to water.
Turn your water into lemonade (and do it very cheaply) by squeezing several slices of lemon into a glass of icy water. Stir in a packet of Splenda, and voila! Tasty lemonade. Great for your wallet. And GREAT for your waistline.