Brown Bags Are Cool Again!

Since the recession began, television and print ads have been singing the praises of carrying your lunch. What was once too much trouble and boring has become the "thing to do," especially in today's economy!

Dollars and sense

Dollars and Sense

How would you like to have one less car payment a year? Brown bag it one or two days a week, and you'll save enough for a car payment.

Do the math. Just how often do you buy lunch? Have you given any thought to how much you really spend? A "bargain" fast food lunch costs at least $6. That's $30 a work week, $120 a month... you see where I'm going with this? Double or triple that amount for a sit-down restaurant. I don't know about you, but I can think of lots of things to do with that extra money!

What your wallet loses, your waist gains. An average fast food meal can have three times the calories and fat of a home packed lunch. If you're watching your weight, then packing is a no-brainer for calorie-cutting. Think about this:

A fast food "extra value meal" sounds like a bargain, right? Wrong! That grilled chicken sandwich, medium fry, and soda will "cost" you 1010 calories and 29 grams of fat! Packing the same type of meal from home – grilled chicken sandwich on roll with light mayo, lettuce and tomato, baked potato chips, apple, and calorie-free drink – is less than 500 calories and 10 grams of fat! More food, less calories, what a concept!

Restaurants of all types use more fat than we use at home. More fat means more calories. Add that to the bigger portions and you'll be supersizing your wardrobe in no time. Your lunches out just got even more costly.

All this talk about making lunches healthier has health experts cheering! You don't have to go out to have a tasty meal, and the money and calories saved making it yourself is worth the little extra effort.

Make the Switch

Are you ready to make the swap from purchase to pack? Get ready by planning your lunches ahead of time and doing your shopping on the weekend. Make sure you add in a little variety so you don't get tired of the 'same old thing'.

What does this dietitian do to save money and calories? Here are some of my favorite tips to make brown bagging easy, healthy, and delicious.

  • Healthy frozen meals. My personal favorites are Kashi and Lean Cuisine, although most brands have a few that are reasonable in fat and calories. Keep a couple in your freezer for days when time is tight. They're often on sale at up to half off, so check your store's weekly ads.
  • Tortilla roll-ups. Lean lunch meat rolled in a tortilla with cheese, lettuce, and tomato slices. Try any whole grain bread, bagel, pita, or wrap.. My favorite is hummus and cucumber on a whole wheat wrap.
  • Salad-daze. Chopped veggie salad with a small package of tuna or chicken on top and light dressing. If you're vegetarian, use a small can of garbanzo beans. To save time, start with pre-washed, bagged greens. I use flavored balsamic vinegars instead of dressings, and sprinkle with a little shaved parmesan. The strong flavors add pizzazz to my salads
  • Soup-er choice. Keep a couple of cans of soup in your desk in case you forget your lunch and don't have time to go out. These with a few whole grain crackers make a great lunch! Bean or lentil soups are really filling
  • Leftover anything! Pizza, casseroles, whatever you had for dinner the night before. Just pack it up and reheat when it's time for lunch. Plan ahead and make an extra serving or two when you cook dinner. As you clean up, you can pack your lunch at the same time.
  • Grab and go. If you want convenience, there's a lot to choose from. Pre-portioned fruit cups, 100-calorie snack packs, fat-free puddings, granola bars, cans of veggie juice, cheese sticks ... they take the work out of packing.
  • Do it yourself. Don't want the added cost of pre-portioned products? Buy some zipper sandwich bags and small reusable containers to make your own. Buy large packages of crackers, pretzels, etc and divide them into zipper bags as soon as you bring them home. Do the same with canned fruit (in plastic containers), cheese, cut-up veggies... or any other lunch items. Making lunch is a snap when you can just grab and go with these.

Bringing lunch doesn't have to be boring. Be as creative as you like. In a time when returns on investments are down, isn't it good to know that the small time you invest in packing your lunch can have such great returns for your health and your wallet?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go find my Scooby-Doo lunch box.

Easy Beany Salad

1 (15 oz) can Black beans 1 (15 oz) can Kidney beans 1 (15 oz) can Whole kernel corn 1 med Roma tomato, diced 1 med Chopped green pepper 3/4 cup Chopped mild onion (purple or Vidalia) 2-3 Tbsp Finely chopped jalapeno pepper (optional) 3-4 Tbsp Chopped cilantro (fresh) 3 Tbsp Lime juice 3 cloves Minced garlic 3 Tbsp Olive oil 1/2 tsp Salt 1/8 tsp Pepper (for more spice use cayenne pepper or cumin)

Rinse and drain beans and corn. In a medium bowl mix first 8 ingredients.

In a separate bowl mix lime juice, garlic, oil and seasonings; whisk together with a fork. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss well. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight for flavors to meld.

This recipe can be eaten on its own as a main or side dish; or mix some into a tossed salad or eat as a chunky 'dip' with low fat tortilla chips. Try this instead of salsa on your favorite Mexican dish. Get creative and try it with your favorite beans.

Per serving:

Calories: 207 Fat: 6 grams Fiber: 8 grams

blank Calories Fat Sat Fat Fiber Protein Sodium
1 (15 oz) can Black beans 440 2 0 28 32 1800
1 (15 oz) can Kidney beans 420 3.1 0.4 22 26.7 1516
1 (15 oz) can Whole kernel corn 336 2 0 8 10 1156
1 med Roma tomato, diced 11 0 0 1 1 3
1 med Chopped green pepper 24 0 0 2 1 4
3/4 cup Chopped mild onion 48 0 0 0.75 0.5 1.5
2-3 Tbsp jalapeno pepper 2 0 0 0 0 0
3-4 Tbsp Chopped cilantro 1 0 0 0 0 2
3 Tbsp Lime juice 9 0 0 0 0 0
3 Cloves Garlic 13 0 0 0 1 2
3 Tbsp Olive Oil 13 42 6 0 0 0
1/4 tsp Salt 0 0 0 0 0 0
1/8 tsp Pepper 0 0 0 0 0 0
TOTALS 1661 49.1 6.4 61.75 72.2 4484.5
per serving 207.625 6.1375 0.8 7.71875 9.025 560.5625

About the Author:

Renee Melton

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