I have a list of easy to fix, low-calorie brown bag lunch suggestions for you. This is a follow-up to my earlier article on this topic: Preparing Healthy Low Calorie Brown Bag Meals in which I shared basic strategies to minimize time and effort when preparing sack lunches.
These meal ideas can be easily adjusted to include the ingredients you like best. However, having said that, do be open to new combinations of foods. You may be surprised at the range of delicious possibilities!
Remember to make your brown bag lunches appealing by including a variety of tastes and textures. Include protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, or beans) and dairy (yogurt or low-fat cheese) or dairy alternatives (such as soy milk or soy yogurt). Add fruit and/or veggies for a healthy crunch and color along with lots of good nutrition.
A combination of protein, dietary fiber, and foods with high water content is your ticket to successful low calorie eating with brown bag lunches. These meals can be very satisfying and will keep you feeling full till your next meal or snack.
1. Black bean salad
Toss together a cup of black beans, salsa, shredded greens, diced tomato, a little crushed tortilla chips and low fat cheese.
TIP: Rinse canned beans to reduce the presence of natural sugars that cause gas. Also, the canned liquid with black beans is dark and will add an unattractive color to your salad if not well rinsed.
2. Chicken/turkey wrap
Fill a small whole grain tortilla with grilled chicken or turkey slices, 2-3 slices of avocado, diced tomatoes, a little low cal dressing.
3. Veggie Sandwich
1 whole-wheat pita pocket with 1 cup fresh or cooked/grilled veggies and 1 oz of low fat cheese or other low calorie spread.
Low Calorie Spreads or Condiments:
For nutritious, low calorie, high fiber veggie ideas (to fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied read part one of this article.
4. Nut butter sandwich (peanut, almond, cashew, or other nut butter)
Add 1 Tbsp. nut butter to 2 slices light whole wheat bread. Top with thinly sliced apple, peach, or pear for a little sweetness and fresh flavor (slice fruit just before adding to your sandwich or treat with a little lemon juice to keep from browning too much before you eat).
5. Bagel, low fat yogurt, and a piece of fruit
*Shop carefully! Bagels can be loaded with calories depending on the size and ingredients. Look for bagels with fewer than 200 calories.
6. Quinoa and Bean Salad
Mix pre-cooked quinoa with the beans of your choice (black beans, black-eyed peas, white beans, garbanzo beans also known as chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, etc.) Add diced onions plus diced red bell pepper and/or green bell pepper. Drizzle with a little low calorie Italian dressing or a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Season to taste.
To learn more about quinoa read:
7. Pasta salad
Cook up some whole wheat pasta in the beginning of the week. Toss it with a little olive oil and store in the refrigerator. Now you have a base to which you can add tuna fish or some leftover chicken or turkey pieces. Next add some diced veggies, olives, or pickles. Start with 1 cup of pasta, add meat or other protein food (egg, fish, tofu, tempeh, etc.), and veggies.
8. Hard-boiled egg, small salad, and whole grain crackers
9. Hummus and tomato sandwich
1 small whole wheat pita, 2 tbsp. hummus, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup feta cheese, and 1/2 cup fresh spinach (Spread the hummus on the tortilla, add the other ingredients and roll up).
10. Tuna, chicken, or turkey salad
Mix the tuna or diced poultry with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil instead of mayonnaise. Eat on whole grain crackers along with some seedless grapes or other fruit.
11. Low fat cottage cheese mixed with diced tomatoes and green bell peppers, season to taste. Eat with a healthy low fat muffin and a piece of fruit.
12. Planned Overs
Homemade soup, chili, casseroles, quiche, leftover low fat veggie pizzas, etc. make great planned overs. Portion out an appropriate amount into a microwave safe container and zap at the office. Or bring hot soup or casserole in a wide mouth thermos.
NOTE: Keep your food safe. Meals and snacks with meat, fish, poultry, and dairy need refrigeration. If you do not have access to a refrigerator invest in what you may need to keep your food safe. A lunchbox or bag with ice packs works well or you might use a wide-mouth thermos.
Additional Brown Bag Lunch Tips
Convenience foods are fine in a pinch; however, I encourage you to make your own meals as often as possible because you have more control over the nutrition and calories. Something particularly important to keep in mind is the amount of sodium (salt) in commercially prepared foods. Look for low sodium canned soups and frozen entrees that are also low calorie and nutritious. Buy ahead at a grocery store while doing your grocery shopping for the week and you’ll save money and time.
Sides to keep on hand for healthy low calorie additions to your lunch:
Single servings of yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit cups, applesauce
Baby carrots, slices of red or green bell pepper, cucumbers; raw broccoli, cauliflower, jicama, white mushrooms, or zucchini
Seedless grapes, apples, clementines, blueberries, apricots, cherries, figs, kiwi, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, tangerines, mandarin oranges (canned),
Healthy additions for lunch or snacks:
I hope some of the ideas I’ve shared will inspire you to prepare healthy low cal brown bag lunches more often. Taking control of the meals you eat by making them yourself is the single best way to eat healthy and keep your calorie intake in check! Plus you can save money!
Till next time watch those calories and eat healthy food!