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How To Pack Lunches for Work & School: An RD’s Guide

Many of us recognize the cost savings and the calorie control that comes with choosing our own ingredients. 

But sometimes, despite our best intentions, we stumble when it comes to lunch. It’s easy to swing around the drive-thru a few times a week. Especially when the average cost of a hamburger meal is $6 and the food is in our hands in minutes.

But we know there is a better, healthier and more affordable way to tackle this critical meal.

So we asked our team of registered dietitians to create a “Power Lunch Blueprint.”

The 10 tips they’ve compiled can be used whether you are brown bagging it to the office or packing school lunches:

Lunch Tip 1: Keep it simple

Salads, sandwiches/wraps and soups are lunch classics because they are easy to prepare and have limitless variation.

If your personalized food list recommends high protein, toss leftover roast chicken into your salad or make it the base of your sandwich. If your genes call for more fiber, add a can of beans to your soup or spread hummus onto your sandwich.

Lunch Tip 2: Focus on food groups

Eating a variety of foods at lunch will give you enough energy to power through the afternoon. Based on your food list, pack a protein such as a hardboiled egg or slices of turkey; a grain such as a scoop of brown rice; and fruit or sliced vegetables.

Lunch Tip 3: Lean on leftovers

Protein from last night’s dinner, such as a grilled hamburger patty or piece of roasted salmon, will reheat beautifully in the microwave (just be sure to press “reheat” and not the “cook” button!)

Uneaten fruit that is just on the cusp of over-ripening can be added to yogurt or tossed on top of a salad, and that small portion of leftover roasted vegetables can be mixed with beans and rice.

Lunch Tip 4: Snack

Our brains burn calories during the day. Packing a zip top bag with nuts or a piece of fruit won’t break the calorie bank.

A snack will help you resist the mid-afternoon temptation of a candy bar or soda from the vending machine. It will also help you avoid overeating when you sit down to eat dinner.

Lunch Tip 5: Plan ahead

When you’re sitting down to plan your meals and to make your grocery list for the week, don’t overlook what you’ll need for lunch.

For example, if you’re planning to make steak fajitas for dinner one night, pick up an extra portion of steak and add another pepper and onion to your list. That way you’ll have a leftover portion for lunch.

Lunch Tip 6: Grab and go

Fruit, pre-cut vegetables, yogurt, nuts and string cheese are easy to throw in your lunch box when you’re light on leftovers—or time—in the morning.  

Lunch Tip 7: Ditch the junk

Avoid chips and crackers. They provide little nutrition or satiety and they are typically loaded with sodium.

Limit condiments that are high in added fats like sour cream or creamy salad dressings. Using these may add unwanted empty calories to otherwise healthy choices.

If you find yourself craving sugar during the day, a piece of fruit will do the trick!

Lunch Tip 8: Go frozen

Frozen vegetables and fruits provide just as much, if not more, nutrient value as their fresh counterparts—and they cost less!

Another value-add is that there is no prep needed. Simply toss them in a zip top bag and let them thaw in the refrigerator.

Lunch Tip 9: Stock up on packaging

Having a set of designated lunch “boxes” can be a real time saver—especially when the dishwasher needs to be run or you can’t find the matching lid to your plastic container!

A portable Bento box, which consists of a number of compartments, is a fun way to transport a lunch consisting of sliced chicken, cooked spinach, quinoa, almonds and blueberries. Being able to place a complete meal into one container can be a huge time saver in the morning.

A glass mason jar is another great way to pack lunch, especially if you’re concerned about plastic leaching into your food. Use a mason jar to layer a salad (just be sure to place the dressing on the bottom of the jar so your salad doesn’t get soggy!) A mason jar is also an easy way to eat leftover grains and vegetables or yogurt layered with nuts and berries.

Lunch Tip 10: Hydrate

When we don’t eat the right foods to fuel our body, we can start to feel sluggish as we move through the day. But another cause of mid-day fatigue is dehydration. While it can be tempting to turn to a caffeinated beverage when the 3pm yawns set in, try increasing your water intake instead.

In addition to having enough food packaging to get you through the week, be sure to stock up on water bottles. Reusable water bottles make is easy to get enough water throughout the day, and they’re also better for the environment!

What do your genes want for lunch?

As you begin to implement these tips into your daily routine, don’t forget to use your personalized shopping list as a guide.

Each personalized list includes all of the major food groups broken down into 16 subcategories and over 85 foods that are the best fit for your body.

Your list will show you the way to better lunching based on how your body will respond, and it will help you feel great as your move through your day.

Don’t have your personalized food list yet? Order yours here.


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