Better Health and Bigger Savings – The Power of the Brown-bag Lunch

April 05, 2011

Man shopping in the produce section

Better Health and Bigger Savings - The Power of the Brown-bag Lunch

Packing your lunch every day also packs along a few other important and surprising benefits. First, you save money compared to eating at a restaurant. Second, if you pack your lunch wisely, your lunch will be much healthier.

The purpose of this article is not to make eating out seem evil. Going to a restaurant can sometimes be more convenient. Dining out can provide a break from work. And sometimes, you just do not have the option of brown bagging it.

But try bringing your lunch just a few days a week. You'll be surprised at how you save money and improve your health.

You need a big wallet to eat out every day.

Let's start with all the extra money you spend eating out. According to MSN Money, an average restaurant lunch will cost you about $9. So, if you buy your lunch all week, you'll spend about $2,340 a year. That kind of money could be spent on a big-screen TV or a vacation.

The money you spend is even more if you buy your lunch using the drive-through. A normal wait time in your car is five minutes in the drive-through. Now, what happens when you wait five minutes every workday? The Consumer Energy Center estimates that you'll waste $300 per year in additional gasoline.

You also need bigger clothes if you eat out every day.

When you eat lunch out, it not only makes you poorer, but it also makes you fatter. The New York City Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control conducted a survey. They discovered that a restaurant lunch averages about 827 calories. And 34 percent of the people surveyed ordered meals that averaged 1,000 calories or more. Over a year, those calories mean more weight and more potential health problems.

Get bigger benefits when you bring your lunch.

The good news is that today there are more options for your lunchbox than ever. Many of those choices are very healthy and very cost-conscious.

The saving money part is easy. According to bankrate.com, the cost of packing your lunch is about $3. So, unless you bring caviar, you'll spend 30 to 50 percent less than at a restaurant.

We hope you've learned that you save money and calories by bringing your lunch. Now the question is, "What do you pack?" The answer is just about anything you want; just make sure your lunch is balanced.

Find the perfect balance.

Connie Diekman, president of the American Dietetic Association, has several recommendations for a healthy lunch. She says your lunch should include lean or low-fat protein along with carbohydrates. This combination will keep your body fueled for the afternoon.

She also suggests combining protein with fiber. Fiber comes from whole grains, beans, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Adding these items to your lunch will keep you feeling full until dinner.

If you make a sandwich, start with whole grain breads, pitas, or wraps. Then, fill your sandwich with items like sliced eggs, tuna fish, cheese, or lean meats.

But do not stop there. Give your sandwiches a personal touch. You can add assorted greens, fresh basil, sprouts, sliced cucumbers, onions, or tomatoes. These little extras fill you up, plus provide a dash of variety to your lunch.

There's more to brown bagging than just a sandwich.

As we mentioned before, today's lunch options are practically endless. Many people make extra food for dinner so they have leftovers to bring for lunch.

"Leftovers are the perfect food to pack and take for lunch," said Diekman. With leftovers, you can control the portions and calories. You also ensure your lunch will be nutritious, filling, and delicious.

You can put new twists on yesterday's leftovers when you pack them for lunch. For example, stuff leftover chili in a pita. Then add some vegetables or avocado and you have an exciting and delicious new meal.

Pack leftovers into reusable containers that you can microwave at the office. This method makes your lunch easy to pack, heat, and eat.

There are other ways to help make packing your lunch even more convenient. You can make your lunches the weekend before your workweek. For example, you can prepare a big pot of chili, soup, or rice and beans. Then, pack and freeze your meals into individual portions. Then every morning, you've got a ready-made meal that's ready for your lunchbox.

Of course, there are many lunch options that do most of the cooking for you. Canned soups are a nutritious and inexpensive meal. Soups can also be used to start a meal. Try eating soup before you eat your main lunch course. You're likely to eat 20 percent fewer calories at lunch if you start with soup.

Frozen meals are frequently on sale, so stock up whenever the price drops. There's a frozen lunch meal to meet every diet and every budget. Frozen meals are also great because the calories and portion size have already been calculated. You can pair these meals with a side salad or piece of fruit. These meals provide enough calories to keep you full throughout the rest of the day.

Brown bag throughout the day.

Lunch is not the only time of the workday when we are hungry. Many of us enjoy mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks. But you shouldn't head to the vending machine for high-calorie snacks. You can pack your own 100-calorie snacks to get you through the day. You may need to do some careful measuring. You may also need to do some research. But you'll save money compared to buying the 100-calorie snacks you find in stores.

There are plenty of healthy and cost-saving benefits packed into your lunchbox. So find the mix of eating out and eating at work that works for you. With a little research and practice, it will become easier to pack healthier lunches. Then sit back and enjoy your brown-bag lunch. After a few weeks, you'll see your savings go up and maybe even your weight go down.

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