At one time, brown bagging was popular just among school children and construction workers – but not anymore! Carrying meals to be eaten away from home has become a way of life for more and more people.
There are a number of reasons why individuals choose to carry their lunch. Whether it’s because they are weight-conscious, economic-minded, a nature lover (lunch is a picnic everyday), or a busy office worker who doesn’t want to wait in line at the local deli, people are “brown bagging it” and enjoying it.
When planning any “brown bag” meal, it’s important to make it nutritious, interesting and food safe. Here are some tips to help take the boring out of your packed lunch while keeping it safe and nutritious.
- White bread isn’t the only sandwich loaf – Try whole wheat, banana – nut, cranberry-nut, rye, sun-dried tomato, pumpernickel, pesto, multi-grain, bran, dill, pita (pocket) bread, herb bread, bagels, muffins, biscuits or tortilla wraps. Choose low-fat, low-cholesterol sandwich fillers like turkey breast, lean ham, or roast beef. They come in a variety of flavors – Cajun, smoked, honey-roasted, or peppered.
- Serve hummus on toasted pita bread or crackers.
- Make your chicken salad or tuna salads with low-fat mayonnaise.
- Add vegetables to your sandwich whenever possible – spinach, tomatoes, peppers, shredded cabbage or carrots. Pack in a separate container. Add just before eating for a fresh taste.
- Soup and crackers make an excellent option.
- Pack a salad; choose a salad with pasta and vegetables.
- Add vegetables to your lunch for crunch and nutrition such as cucumber coins, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, pea pods, radishes, peppers, spinach or romaine lettuce or zucchini sticks.
- Pack fresh fruits including, but not limited to a banana, orange, plum, nectarine, pear, peach, apple, clementine, kiwi, grapes or grapefruit. Canned fruit packed in juice or very light syrup is great for lunch too.
- Pack applesauce; sprinkle with cinnamon for a change.
- Pack last night’s leftovers.
- Balance out your lunch with a dairy option of skim milk, low-fat yogurt, pudding, or string cheese.
- Top your favorite luncheon meat with well-drained coleslaw instead of lettuce for a new taste and texture sensation.
- Add zest to a cold roast beef or pork sandwich by combining a little horse radish and chopped green onion with plain, low-fat mayonnaise before spreading it on your bread.
- Add character to your “brown bag” sandwiches by punching out various shapes (hearts, animals, etc.) in bread with cookie cutters.
- Pack halves of two different kinds of sandwiches for variety.
- Try a variety of peanut butter sandwiches. What about peanut butter and tomato? (It’s one of my husband’s favorite summertime sandwiches.) Use peanut-butter mix-ins. Try finely chopped apple and shredded mild cheese; applesauce, raisins and a dash of cinnamon; or drained crushed pineapple and shredded coconut.
- Be innovative. Who says you have to take a sandwich? What about leftover pizza or casserole that can be reheated?, soups or stews?, a large garden salad with lots of vegetables?, or a couple of mini muffins, skim milk and a piece of fruit?
- Treat yourself to a low-fat cookie or sweet for dessert. Try oatmeal-applesauce cookies, fig bars, or pumpkin cupcakes. Choose baked goods that contain less sugar, fat and sodium.
- Use clean utensils when preparing food.
- Remember the golden rule . . . Keep hot foods HOT (with a high-quality thermos) and cold food COLD (use an insulated carrier).
- When there’s no refrigeration to store lunch, keep lunches safe and cool by freezing overnight, or include an ice-or-freeze pack insert in the bag, add a box of frozen fruit juice or freeze the sandwich bread and filling.
- Clean your food carrier often.
With a little imagination you can take the “boring” out of brown bag lunches. An interesting, satisfying lunch goes a long way!
Writer: Cindy Shuster, CFLE, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Perry County or http://perry.osu.edu.
Reviewed by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, OSU Extension, Ross & Vinton Counties, http://ross.osu.edu.
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