Most of us know that packing a lunch instead of eating in the cafeteria at work or a restaurant every day a good way to save a few dollars. But packing a lunch also can make it easier for you to eat healthier.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
For one thing, packing your lunch also lets you control exactly what goes into the food you eat. Bringing your own lunch to work also means you can enjoy some healthy, homemade versions of dishes laden with trans fats or sugars typically available in the cafeteria or a restaurant.
Packing is a snap
Does the thought of having to prepare one more meal each day sound like a chore? Packing a healthy lunch actually is pretty easy, says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, LD.
“Preparing a sandwich is one simple approach. Or think about eating leftovers from last night’s dinner. When you’re cleaning up the meal the evening before, simply package up those leftovers for lunch the next day,” Ms. Patton says.
You also can squeeze in prep time by cutting up fruits and vegetables and storing them in portion-sized containers or sandwich bags while you’re fixing dinner the night before for easy grab-and-go snacks.
The Plate Method
Ms. Patton suggests using the Plate Method as a guide to packing your lunch. This is an easy way to make sure that you’re getting the right foods in the right proportions.
Load your plate in this way:
- One half of plate filled with non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cucumber or spinach
- One quarter of the plate filled with lean meat such as chicken, turkey or fish
- One quarter of the plate tilled with whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice or barley
Add a snack for after lunch that includes fruit and either low-fat milk or yogurt. This method is a good way to get all of the necessary nutrients of a balanced meal, Ms. Patton says.
Don’t wait too long to eat
One trick that can help you eat healthy at work is to avoid waiting too long to eat, Ms. Patton says.
“When we’re really hungry, we tend to make poorer food choices by opting for what’s quick and available,” she says. That can mean an unintended trip to the vending machine for a little something to tide you over — and sabotage all the good intentions of your healthy, packed lunch.
If you can’t eat a meal within about four hours of eating breakfast, be sure to pack healthy snacks when you pack your lunch. That could include whole fruit such as an apple, orange or banana paired with a source of protein like a handful of nuts or low-fat cheese stick or cottage cheese. Or try bringing a sandwich bag with baby carrots, celery sticks or sliced cucumber. The fiber in these whole foods can help to tide you over until it’s time for a meal.
“It’s a good idea to really try to plan ahead and pack snacks if you know lunch is going to be delayed,” Ms. Patton says. “If you don’t have time to cut up veggies, try something portable and filling like a ready-to-drink protein shake or protein bar.”