Packing healthy lunches and snacks to take to work or school offers many benefits. Healthy brown-bag meals can reduce fat, calories, and sodium in our diet, improving overall health. Smart choices can help us maintain a healthy weight. And brown-bag lunches just may improve your child’s IQ.
According to research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a diet high in fat, sugar, and processed food starting at age 3 may lower IQ in later childhood, while a diet packed with whole foods and important nutrients may do the opposite.
To move lunch and snack time into a healthful direction:
Choose foods with higher amounts of the nutrients we need: fiber, protein, calcium, potassium, and vitamin C.
Avoid foods loaded with things we need to eat less of: saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
An easy way to accomplish both goals is to include more whole foods -- and less processed foods, junk food, and fast food at meals and snacks.
10-Minute Lunch and Snack Picks
Cold Cheese and Fruit Kit: Make your own “lunchables” by filling a reusable container with assorted cheese slices, easy-to-eat fruit like apple slices and grapes, and whole wheat crackers.
Falafel Pita Pleaser: Purchase ready-to-bake falafels in the vegetarian refrigerator section of some supermarkets. Bake them up ahead of time, then insert them in a whole wheat pita pocket spread with some hummus (homemade or store-bought).
Fish in a Pinch: Work a fish serving into your week by adding tuna or salmon to your green salad, pasta salad, or sandwich. For a satisfying snack, toss some tuna or salmon with balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy with whole grain crackers.
Love Your Leftovers: One of the easiest ways that corporate nutritionist Maggie Moon, MS, RD, makes sure she has a healthy lunch tomorrow is to start with dinner tonight. Before serving dinner, she packs some of it away in portable containers, stores them in the refrigerator, and then takes one to work the next day.
Pasta Salad Prep: Make cold pasta salad with leftover pasta shapes from last night. Toss chilled whole grain pasta with cheese cubes, lots of bite-size vegetables, and a homemade or bottled vinaigrette dressing made with olive oil or canola oil.
Pizza Bagels or Pizza Calzones: Bake a mini pizza in 5 minutes by spreading pizza sauce or pesto on whole wheat bagel halves or a whole wheat pita pocket (use the whole pita as a crust). Top with shredded cheese and your favorite veggie toppings (green onions, tomatoes, chopped red peppers, onions, olives, minced garlic, sliced mushrooms), then broil in a toaster oven until the cheese is bubbling. If using a pita, fold one half over to make a calzone! Wrap it up for your bag lunch or, if your office has a toaster oven, bring it to work unbaked and bake it there.