Almost everyone has heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but did you know that eating a healthy lunch is beneficial too? Lunch is a great time to take a little break from the hustle and bustle of a busy day. It can be not only a time to take a breath and relax a few minutes, but it can also be a great time to get in some vital nutrients.
Lunch break can be a stress reliever. It’s a great time to take a walk around the block, touch base with friends or even take a short power nap. However, don’t skip the chance to fuel your body with the energy it needs to get through the afternoon. Since time available at lunch can be short, it can be tempting to visit the vending machine or the nearest fast-food restaurant. If you pack your meal, you also have to watch out for pre-packaged items like chips, cookies and even mini-meals. They may be easy to take on-the-go, but they often contain high amounts of fat and sodium with poor nutritional value. On the other hand, with a little planning, lunch can be both relaxing and nourishing.
Following the USDA MyPlate guidelines is a great way to balance your lunch. Even if it goes in a brown bag, you can visualize the items as if they were being served on a plate. You should include a large enough serving of fruits and vegetables to cover half of a 7-9 inch dinner plate. This would require a total of about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fruits and veggies. Set yourself up for success by keeping ready-to-use cut, peeled and washed items stocked in your refrigerator. If you have a microwave at work, keep small bags of frozen vegetables on hand to go in the lunch pack.
The protein portion at lunch should cover about ¼ of your plate. Usually this would be about a 3-ounce serving of lean meat. Remember items like eggs, peanut butter, nuts, dried beans or Tofu can be utilized as a protein source and can be a great alternative to meat. Cook a little extra of your favorite healthy dinner entrees and pack leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
The midday meal is also a great time to add some dairy. Put a slice of cheese on your sandwich or shredded cheese on a salad or wrap. A couple of tablespoons of cottage cheese can be a great alternative to salad dressing. If you have a sweet tooth, you could have a small, four-ounce, serving of yogurt, pudding or ice cream. Always look for low-fat dairy items.
Grains should make up the final ¼ of the lunch plate. This can include items like two 40-calorie slices of bread, ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta, unsalted pretzels, a tortilla wrap or low-fat tortilla chips. Choose 100% whole wheat or whole grain items whenever possible. Remember to limit regular chips.
Pay attention to your beverage choices as well. Don’t waste your calories on sugar-sweetened drinks like regular soft drinks or sweet tea. Instead, choose flavored water or other drinks that do not contain empty calories. An 8-ounce glass of skim milk could also be suitable if you count that as the dairy with your meal.
Planning and packing a healthy lunch can be a great way to save calories and improve your nutrient intake. However, don’t neglect food safety. Remember to use insulated containers and cold packs to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. The USDA also warns against consuming perishable food items that have been in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. No one wants to top off an otherwise healthy lunch with a case of food poisoning.
For recipes and more ideas for packing a healthy and safe lunch, visit the following links: