There are many things to consider when packing healthy lunches during the work week. Though getting in the habit of putting together a nutritious lunch may take some getting used to, once you get in the habit of making your own midday meal, you'll never want to settle for fast food and vending machine fare again.
1. Invest in the Right Tools
Depending on what type of meal you choose to take, you may need ice packs or some type of container that holds heat to keep your lunch at its best. The more options you have for transporting foods at different temperatures, the more variety you will be able to include in your healthy lunches.
2. Plan in Advance
Spend an hour of your weekend putting together meal plans for healthy lunches. Start by checking your cabinets, and then head to the store to find any missing ingredients. By scheduling your healthy lunches in advance, you won't face a morning time crunch deciding what to pack. In addition, you'll be more committed to sticking to your menu, which lessens the probability of you heading to the nearest drive through.
3. Pack Foods You Actually Want to Eat
This means to find a balance between the items you know are good for you, but don't enjoy eating, and the ones you actually find palatable. If you hate rice cakes, don't put them in your lunchbox. Otherwise you'll skip eating them, feel ravenous later, and end up at the vending machine scavenging for candy and cookies.
4. Aim for Fullness
The most healthy lunches will help keep your body fueled until dinnertime, so try to include foods that have lots of fiber. Foods with high amounts of fiber are complex carbohydrates that will provide your body with a slow release of energy. However, the fiber will digest slowly, which will prevent intense hunger pangs mid-afternoon. Look for whole grain breads and pitas, as well as fresh vegetables or fruits with high fiber content.
5. Don't be Afraid to Pack a Treat
Healthy lunches don't have to be spartan. You can include a small treat, such as a piece of dark chocolate or a small cookie or two. These little 'treats' are an indulgence that will keep stress eating in check for the rest of the afternoon when you may feel tempted to inhale a giant cookie. The key for these treats is to exercise portion control.
6. Use Your Leftovers
You can save time and money by actually eating your leftovers from the night before. As you put away food after dinner, set aside a small, lunch sized portion of the entree, mix up a side salad and pack the next day's lunch while you clean the kitchen at night. A ritual of eating a home cooked meal for lunch will become a bright spot in your workday.
7. Don't Forget Protein and Healthy Fats
Sometimes, when trying to choose healthy lunches, we can tend to lean too heavily on healthy carbohydrates. Fruits and veggies are a necessary component of a smart lunch, but don't be afraid to include hearty sources of lean protein and moderate servings of good fats, such as low fat cheeses, nuts and nut butters.
8. Don't Get Stuck in a Rut
Variety is what will keep you committed to your healthy lunch. It's easy to get stuck in a pattern of eating the same lunch day after day after day, but variety decreases the likelihood that you'll catch a whiff of the bacon double cheeseburger and chili fries wafting from the cubicle next to yours and want to toss your turkey sandwich right out the window.