Committing to take your lunch to school or work every day is just one step in the right direction. Once lunch time arrives, the meal needs to be appealing so that you won’t pass on it in favor of going out, and it should also be balanced in nutrients to keep your energy up throughout the afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you pack a healthy lunch that you will enjoy eating.
Pack a filling meal.
Taking a small lunch in an effort to save calories is a plan that can backfire. Your hunger may overwhelm you soon after the meal. Take enough food so that you feel comfortably full after eating. Choose foods that supply protein, fiber, and healthy fat. They will take longer to digest, keeping you full and satisfied. They will also help to sustain energy levels longer than a meal filled with simple carbohydrates.
Include something new in your lunch at least once per week. Try an exotic fruit or splurge on a infused-olive oil for your salad. Eating healthy food should be something you look forward to. Adding variety to your meals makes you less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
Keep it balanced.
As you pack your lunch, keep a mental list of all of the components of food that benefit your health -- protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and plant phytochemicals. Select combinations of foods that will supply all of these beneficial nutrients. The more balanced your meals, the greater your food variety and the more nourished your body will be.
Include some foods that will help satisfy cravings and keep you from mindlessly snacking throughout the afternoon. Include a small square of dark chocolate or a mixed fruit salad for dessert. Instead of chips, satisfy your craving for something crunchy and salty with lightly salted air-popped popcorn or roasted chickpeas.
Make it interesting.
Most importantly, pack a lunch that you want to eat. A bland salad may make you feel like you are being good, but if you don’t enjoy it, a coworker’s offer to split her high-calorie take-out may be difficult to pass up. Pack food that is interesting and appealing. If you want to stick with a salad, dress it up with shredded cabbage, bok choy, fresh fruit, beans, colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. If you feel like you are in a lunch rut, try some of these ideas.
Sodas and other high calorie drinks increase the calories of your meal without giving you the enjoyment of eating food. A 20-ounce soda contains about 260 calories and a large sweetened iced tea contains 220. If you get refills, those numbers will climb. What’s worse is that they are consumed mindlessly while eating so it is easy to lose track of how many calories you have consumed. Focus on your food during meals and drink water. If you really enjoy sodas or sweetened iced tea, enjoy them in moderation as a treat and not as something to wash down food.
Choose an appetizer or dessert, not both.
It’s tempting to go all out at your favorite restaurant, but ordering three or four courses leads to too much food and calorie overload. Decide which is more important to you and choose one or the other. Doing so will save you at least 100 calories and more likely 300 to 500.
Pick the salad bar.
While buffets are usually frowned upon for portion control, a salad bar can help you enjoy a healthier meal. Make your own salad and add extra vegetables and protein sources like beans. Having control over the dressing is also a good way to save calories. The ladles on the bar usually hold from two to six tablespoons with the average ladle holding four. Stick to half a ladle and you’ll save at least 100 calories for most dressings.
Steer clear of casseroles.
Restaurants provide a variety of side dishes and often at least one plain vegetable. Choose these steamed veggies instead of vegetables that have been added to an au gratin or casserole. Pick the steamed broccoli over broccoli casserole as a side, and you can save over 150 calories.
Substitute your sides.
Even if it costs you an extra dollar or two, substituting a healthier side is always a good option. Ordering a plain baked sweet potato instead of sweet potato fries saves as much as 460 calories depending on the restaurant. Swap a side salad for those fries and you’ll save that much too, assuming you go easy on the dressing.
Leave off the sauce.
A sandwich can be a healthy option, but it’s not uncommon for a large sandwich to be topped with ¼ cup of sauce or dressing. Ask for thousand island dressing, cheese sauce, barbecue sauce, or ranch on the side. This way you can add just a little for flavor and not drown your dinner. A ¼-cup serving of thousand island dressing has 220 calories. If you add just a tablespoon, you will save 165 calories.
Take off the top bun.
Specialty rolls like croissants, bagels, ciabatta, and hoagie buns can be loaded with calories. For example, a ciabatta sandwich roll contains 340 calories. Take off the top bun, eat your sandwich open-faced, and you will cut your meal by 170 calories.
Choose vegetarian versions carefully.
Some veggie sandwiches, burgers, and pasta dishes provide healthier choices, but don’t assume that just because it is vegetarian that it is healthy. These foods can contain the same sauces, cheeses, and buns as those with meat. For example, a grilled portobello burger contains 540 calories. Order the sauce on the side, leave off the cheese and take off the top bun and you can save well over 100 calories.
Mentally portion your meal.
Restaurant portions are large, and while choosing a half order or a lunch portion will help, when this isn’t an option you are left to control portions yourself. Get familiar with what one ounce of meat or one serving of pasta looks like. Use this to mentally portion your meal so you know how much food is too much. If the so-called individual pizza you order contains 1000 calories and you divide it into quarters, you’ll save 250 calories by only eating three quarters of it and saving the rest for leftovers.
Preparing more of your own food at home gives you control over ingredients to reduce unhealthy additives and increase beneficial nutrients. It can feel overwhelming at first, but by making small, gradual changes you can learn to be a better cook and improve your health in the process.
Take it one week at a time.
Cooking does take time and it’s helpful to set time aside over the weekend to plan for the week ahead. First, be realistic about how many meals you can cook at home. There will always be planned nights out or lunch meetings that will eliminate your need to cook. The goal is to make the choice to cook when you can. You might plan to take lunch to work every day or cook dinner three nights a week. Pick an achievable starting point and add more homemade meals over time.
Browse, plan, and shop.
Food blogs, cookbooks, and magazines are helpful resources for finding simple, healthy recipes. Keep a log of the recipes or snack ideas you’d like to try and pick a few new ones each week. Use this as a guide for your weekly shopping list to ensure you have everything you need to stay on a healthy eating plan.
Accept some help.
Cooking at home doesn’t always mean that you have to make everything. When you are crunched for time, consider buying a rotisserie chicken or prepared veggie burgers at the deli. Take it home and pair it with a fresh green salad and a quick homemade dressing. Buying part of the meal prepared and adding some healthy ingredients at home is still better than swinging through the fast food drive-thru.
Find ways to save time.
It’s unrealistic to think that you will have the opportunity to prepare a big meal every single night. Set aside time to prep your food for meals that you want to squeeze in during a busy day. Cut up vegetables for a stir-fry or slice fruit for a smoothie as soon as you get back from the supermarket. Store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to make your meal. Make no-cook oatmeal or salad in a jar at the start of your week so you’ll have a quick homemade breakfast or lunch when you need it. Also, try doubling recipes that reheat well like soups, stews, beans, and vegetables so you have the leftovers to enjoy for lunch or to use as an addition for later meals.
Enjoy the process.
Cooking more isn’t without frustrations. You will likely have to overcome a learning curve for some recipes, or limit time for another activity to commit to cooking. Focus on the positives of the experience. Cooking empowers you to improve your diet and increase your nutrition. It develops the same kind of self-discipline that is necessary for successful weight loss. Cooking is also an activity that brings people together. Grab your family or a friend and gather in the kitchen to cook, learn, improve your health, and nurture your relationships.
Understanding proper food portions allows you to develop a healthier relationship with food and decrease your calorie intake. For at least a few weeks, grab the measuring cups, spoons, and kitchen scale. Measure your food so that you know what a four ounce chicken breast, a half cup of rice, and eight ounces of milk look like. Over time you will be able to eyeball a healthy portion. This will help you better control the amount you eat when you are served too much food -- like when dining out.
Leave serving dishes in the kitchen.
Serve your meals buffet style in the kitchen. Fill your plate with healthy portions and take it to the dining room table. Save family-style meals where the serving dishes sit on the table for special occasions. It makes it much easier to mindlessly scoop out a second or third helping when the food is within reach.
Eat more often.
Research results are mixed as to whether it is more beneficial to eat three larger meals a day or to incorporate smaller meals with snacks. If you find you can’t control your appetite between meals, consider spreading your calorie intake more evenly throughout the day. This makes it easier to listen to hunger signals and have a snack when you are truly hungry without consuming too many calories that could prevent weight loss. Everyone is different. Experiment a little to find what combination of healthy meals and snacks work best to keep you satisfied.
Increase your protein intake.
Protein helps to stabilize your blood sugar and prevent spikes and crashes that drain your energy. If your diet is heavy in carbohydrates, like fruit or grains, try increasing your protein intake to better control hunger. Eat a few nuts with your fruit, or try beans with rice or quinoa.
Incorporate your favorite foods.
Deprivation always leads to more cravings. When you deny yourself your favorite foods, you risk overdoing it when you finally indulge. When you know a food is not off limits and that you can have a small amount whenever you truly want it, you will be less likely to become fixated and binge on those foods.
Clear off the countertops.
Simply keeping food out of sight can do wonders for controlling your appetite. Seal up those bags of pretzels and boxes of crackers and put them in the pantry. This will prevent you from wanting to grab a quick handful every time you walk into the kitchen.
Sometimes simply staying busy is enough to keep your mind off unnecessary snacking. Make a running list of things you would like to accomplish or things that will distract you from food. When you find yourself tempted to snack during down time, pull out the list. Send the email you’ve been putting off, organize your pile of magazines, or do a quick set of ab exercises.
Eliminate distracted eating.
Eating when your focus is not on the activity at hand only leads to overeating. Turn off the television, close the laptop, and set down the smartphone. Eat mindfully, enjoy your food, and stop when you begin to feel full.
Developing healthy habits and eating to lose weight takes discipline and that means setting a few boundaries. This might be closing the kitchen after dinner, only eating pre-portioned healthy snacks, or having dessert only twice a week. Identify what makes you stray from your plan and develop some healthy rules that help you stay on track.
Tea leaves are full of phytonutrients that protect against disease. When freshly brewed and sipped regularly, tea is not only a part of a daily ritual that can calm you and reduce stress, it provides unique plant chemicals that can change your health for the better.
Beneficial flavonoids and antioxidants in tea have been found to protect against cancer and heart disease, reduce blood cholesterol levels, and reduce risk of stroke.
Polyphenols in tea may increase insulin activity improving insulin sensitivity, a characteristic that is especially beneficial to those with type 2 diabetes.
Some studies show that drinking tea can boost calories burned contributing to an increased metabolism and weight loss.
The polyphenols in tea may help strengthen bones, reducing risk for fractures.
Research shows that drinking tea can improve mood, alertness, relaxation, and concentration.
Tea provides a healthy alternative to high-calorie, high-sugar beverages.
What to Drink
When choosing a tea, look for green, black, white, oolong, or pu-erh (a pressed black tea) as they are all well recognized for their ability to improve health. Processing tea reduces the content of beneficial plant nutrients like polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids. As a result, bottled teas and instant tea powders will give you very little, if any, nutritional benefit when compared to a cup of freshly brewed hot tea.
Removing the caffeine from tea is also a form of processing and it leaves decaffeinated teas with fewer polyphenols that caffeinated varieties. Freshly brewed tea chilled in the refrigerator does provide some benefit, but because iced tea is often made in larger quantities with fewer tea bags, it’s phytonutrient content is less concentrated. Fermentation slightly reduces the phytochemicals in black and oolong teas to levels below that of green tea, but fermented teas still maintain plenty of health benefit.
Flavored and herbal teas can be a good drink option, but check labels carefully. Be sure that green, black, white, or oolong tea appears in the ingredient list. Some herbal teas contain no actual tea leaves and some flavored teas contain artificial ingredients and added sweeteners.
How to Prepare It
Everyone has their preferred way of brewing tea to bring out what they feel is the best flavor, but studies suggest a few guidelines for obtaining the most health benefit. Researchers have analyzed green tea and found that small, loose leaf tea leaves may be the best for extracting the most phytonutrients. Contrary to tips for brewing tea for flavor, boiling water has been found to help extract more polyphenols than water at cooler temperatures. The tea should also be steeped for two to five minutes. The longer the tea steeps, the higher the polyphenol content of the drink.