By Taesha Butler, The Natural Nurturer
I love eating out. It is just part of being a foodie for me. I love the ideas other people have for flavor combinations, or being whimsical with what I feel like eating in the moment. I also really love that I have no dishes to clean after I am done my meal (actually, my husband, Ken, probably loves that fact more since he is the Master Dishwasher in our household). With all of my reasons for loving restaurant food, there is one important thing that I don’t love…the fact that I have no control (or sometimes knowledge) over what really goes into my commercially prepared food. Are the ingredients organic? Is the meat free range? How much oil (and what kind) was used when sautéing my vegetables? What kind of additives are in the ingredients they are using?
When my family transitioned to a whole foods approach to eating, one of the first things my husband and I implemented was packing lunches on work/school days. Actually, I got that task (he washes the dishes and I dirty them). At first, this daily task of filling our family of three’s lunch boxes with portable, delicious, and nourishing foods was a total headache and I found myself struggling to be creative in what I packed daily. But, as with all things in life, the more practice and experience I had, the easier it became. My family also started reaping the health (and financial) benefits of “brown bagging it”. Ken and I both noticed we had more energy and snacked less, since our midday meals were more balanced and nutrient dense then the carb-heavy sandwiches or burritos we used to grab on our lunch hour. Weight naturally fell off of both of us, since we were filling up on whole foods that I had prepared and doled out in appropriate serving sizes instead of us unknowingly consuming extra calories from commercially prepared foods with enormous serving sizes. And our bank account happily stayed fuller longer too, since it almost indisputably costs less to buy higher quality ingredients and prepare your own food than it does to buy food out on the regular.
On top of the physical and financial benefits, our lunch hours became exactly what lunch hours were designed to be, a break. I go to the quiet and beauty of a local park to eat lunch and listen to music or read a book, rather than stand in line at a hectic deli. So now when I return to work after my lunch break, I feel refreshed and renewed for the second half of my work day.
When packing lunches for my family (or preparing any meal), I have a few guidelines I try to follow when considering what (and how much) to include:
- At least ¼ of the meal is fresh fruit and ¼ is a vegetable.
- When packing breads, pastas, rice, or crackers, I always ensure they are whole grain.
- I use as much organic/seasonal/local foods as possible.
- I only pack water and the occasional fruit & vegetable smoothie to drink.
- I use as little processed food as possible.
Packing your lunches may seem like a small step in the direction towards leading a healthier lifestyle, but it is one of the simplest and best steps you could take in making new, healthier you in the new year.
Need some inspiration for packing healthy lunches that is beyond the sandwich? Here is a week’s worth of ideas from my own lunch bag:
Kale and White Bean Soup, whole wheat baguette, and pomegranate seeds.
This lunch was made entirely of leftovers from dinner the night before. Leftovers are my favorite lunch box inspirations, as it means less work! I often cook a double batch of what we are having for dinner just so that we can have enough for lunches the following day (or to freeze for future meals). I will even portion out lunches while I am plating dinner up so that everything is neatly packed up when it’s time to fill those lunch bags!
Spinach salad with cucumbers, seasonal fruits, and sesame poppy seed dressing , an orange, and two hard boiled eggs.
I meal prep foods that my family typically eats throughout the week on Sunday afternoons. This helps make throwing lunches (or dinners or breakfasts) together in a hurry a breeze. During my weekly meal prep, I almost always boil half a dozen eggs to keep on hand and grab as needed. When packing this particular meal, I wasn’t feeling terribly inspired, so I reached for whatever was in my fridge. Luckily, those hard boiled eggs were waiting for me. Paired with a simple salad of produce picked up at the local farmer’s market and a simple homemade dressing I keep on hand, my lunch bag was packed and ready to go in under 5 minutes.
Veggie burgers in lettuce wraps, cherry tomatoes, and a blueberry/red grape/raspberry fruit salad.
When I first moved to California, I was introduced to a little joint that gave me a great idea for serving burgers at home. Thanks to In-N-Out, I now prefer to eat my veggies burgers “protein style” with lettuce instead of a bun. To reheat these, I simply warm the burgers and wrap in lettuce leaves I have packed separately and top with my favorite healthy condiments.
“Power Jar” of Cuban Black Beans, brown rice, avocado, and cherry tomatoes, an Asian pear, and persimmon.
A “power jar” is basically a mason jar filled with a whole grain, clean protein, lots of vegetables, and (sometimes) a simple dressing. I love making power jars, as they are easy to throw together, portable, very open ended in what can be included in them, and full of lots of nutrients to get you through the remainder of your day until dinner time. Other foods I often make in my meal prep are a big batch of brown rice or quinoa, both excellent in the construction of a power jar. I love to top the grain with beans or roasted seeds for a protein source, and then finish the whole shebang with whatever vegetables I fancy (and can fit in the jar). If you opt to include a dressing, put that in first, as you can turn your power jar upside down right before eating to coat all the ingredients with the dressing.
Some people don’t like drinking smoothies unless they are super fresh. I have found that, if you store them in a fridge or chilled lunch bag and give them a good shake before enjoying, that they are just as tasty as they are fresh out of the blender. Plus, they make a great “out of the lunch box” option that allows you to sneak in lots of nutrient dense foods that can really enhance your energy levels for the afternoon. This particular smoothie recipe could honestly be a meal in itself, but I’m a big believer in coming prepared, especially when it comes to food. I added the muffin and avocado to my lunch bag because some days I find myself needing a small mid-afternoon snack and I would rather have something healthy on-hand rather than allow myself to get hungrier and possibly be tempted to make a less than ideal food choice in a low blood sugar craze.