Brown Bag It for Your Health (and Wallet)


Eating a healthy lunch at work can sometimes be the hardest task of the day. Between the cafeteria and endless amounts of takeout and restaurant options, trying to make a sound choice can be a bit overwhelming. So what can you do to guarantee you are eating a balanced, healthy and—most importantly—delicious meal? Brown bag it!

Why Brown Bag It?

1. Portion Control: When you pack your own lunch, YOU are in charge of how much you eat. Restaurant portions are typically 2 to 3 times normal portion sizes and can cause you to overeat and gain weight over time.

2. Savings: According to Forbes Magazine, Americans go out for lunch an average of two days per week, spending $10 each time. That’s $1000 per year! Go out to eat 5 days per week? That is over $2500 dollars on lunch alone. Spend your hard earned money more wisely by skipping takeout and start packing meals from home.

3. Nutrition: Let’s take a closer look at the calorie and fat content of some popular lunch choices.

A “healthy” Chicken Waldorf Salad from California Pizza Kitchen?
1,230 calories and 87g of fat (over 130% of your recommended fat for the day)

An Original Chicken Buffalo Burrito from Boloco?
1,200 calories and 64g of fat

How about the Chipotle Chicken on Artisan French Bread from Panera?
840 calories and 38 grams of fat

Don’t fall victim to these calorie culprits, eat healthy and balanced by packing your own lunch.

Tips for Successful Brown Bagging

• Make your goals measurable: Set yourself up well with measurable goals each week.  If you buy your lunch every workday – make it your goal to brown bag your lunch 3 days a week.

 Invest in a few supplies: Start out with a reusable lunch bag, 1 medium (~2 cups) plastic container, 1 small (~1 cup) plastic container. These will be physical reminders of your goals and make packing lunch easier.

 Cook extra portions at dinner: Leftovers make great lunches. It is just as simple to cook 2 cups of rice as it is 4, so be mindful of making bigger batches at dinner time. Batch cooking works especially well for proteins: grilled or baked chicken, steak, tofu, or fish make excellent salad toppers.

• Dedicate a specific time of the day: After dinner (when you are already in the kitchen) is a great time to pack for the next day.

• Eat a balanced lunch: Strive to include one protein, one starch, one fruit and one vegetable for every meal. This will fill you up and carry you until your mid-afternoon snack or dinner.

• Cook in bulk: Have some free time on the weekend? Cook a big batch of hearty soup to take with you for the week. Pair with some whole grain crackers and a piece of fruit and you are good to go!

Easy and Nutritious Brown Bag Lunch Ideas

(all options are less than 500 calories)

1. Turkey and Cucumber Sandwich: 3 slices of lean deli turkey with sliced tomatoes and cucumber on 2 slices of rye bread with 1 tablespoon mayo. Throw in a crispy fresh pear to have alongside your sandwich.

2. Veggie Pita Wrap: Lettuce, tomato, cucumber, shredded carrots, sprouts, and hummus stuffed in a whole-wheat pita. Pair some apple slices alongside 2 tbsp peanut butter for a protein boost.

3. Low on time and groceries? Make an assortment of pickies: Try a hardboiled egg; a piece of cheese or string cheese; a fruit (fruit cup or applesauce will work here too); a handful of whole wheat crackers, pita chips, tortilla chips; and some baby carrots.

About the author:

Jackie Barreto is completing her year-long dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital. She has a B.A. in Psychology from St. Anselm College and a D.P.D. from Simmons College. She likes to spend her free time going on walks, cooking, and baking healthy treats for her dog, Hooch.

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Our Be Fit Nutritionists are comprised of dietetic interns studying at Massachusetts General Hospital. During their internship, they receive training on acute care nutrition, ambulatory and community nutrition, food service systems management, and research. Their comprehensive work is done in collaboration with registered dietitians.

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