Aaaah, sweet September – the month that says “Let’s get down to business”. Time to leave the carefree days of summer behind and get back to school, busier at work, on the soccer field, behind the wheel for your turn at carpool… For most of us, starting in September, life gets a little bit more hectic, and it doesn’t let up until after the holidays. Packing lunches also goes hand-in-hand with September, whether you’re packing for the kids’ lunches, or just trying to make more of an effort to eat healthier yourself. If you’re stuck in the turkey-sandwich-apple-yogurt-in-a-brown-paper-bag rut, here’s a little inspiration to keep it interesting and my 5 rules to keep your lunch box healthy.
Pitch the Paper Bag and invest in a good lunch box. Not only will it make you happy when you look at it, but it will also help keep your lunch contents fresher and more organized. This feeds your creative side, which will make it easier to think outside the lunch box about what will go inside. These bags, bento boxes, and insulated containers are available on The Grommet (love them!), but you can check The Container Store, or any of the big box stores for other options. Look for something insulated to help keep foods fresher and washable because otherwise it’s just gross.
Choose Your Protein. Protein foods are great for filling you up, and holding you until late afternoon snack time (don’t forget to pack those). Think lean, like eggs, Greek yogurt, turkey, leftover grilled chicken or tuna, or for vegan options, tofu or nut butters. Aim for about 3 ounces or at least ½ cup of protein foods.
Add Some Whole Grain. Try to move away from regular bread or bagels and try some whole-wheat naan or wrap bread. A few times a week, skip the sandwich and experiment with grains like quinoa, farro, freekeh, wheat berries, or even plain old whole-wheat pasta as a bed for a whole grain salad. Legumes like lentils or beans aren’t really grains, but they’re another great option for healthy carbs. If you really want to get wild, try some corn for your grain. You don’t need much grain – again just about ½ cup or a piece is a good serving size. Don’t worry – it’ll be fine once you add your protein and vegetables.
Load up on Veggies. Here’s where you can go wild. Hopefully you have some leftover roasted or grilled vegetables from dinner – if not, get on that and start making twice as much. Add them to your grain and protein for a “wanna swap lunches” whole grain salad. Of course raw vegetables are always convenient – but don’t fall into the baby carrot rut. Keep it interesting with zucchini spears, mini peppers, cucumber baguettes, baby greens, or refrigerator picked vegetables. Aim for at least 1 cup of vegetables in your lunch box, and pack some extra for snacks.
Toss it all together in a salad bowl, mason jar or even a ziploc bag, and bring some dressing to add before eating, or a dip to keep it interesting. Check out my Salad Dressings and Spice Mixes board on Pinterest if you need a few ideas.
Top it Off With Some Fruit -it’s the perfect sweet treat and end to your meal, not to mention you’ll power through the rest of your afternoon thanks to the natural sugar and vitamins. All fruit (and vegetables) are good for you, so again, go for variety and stock up on cherries, grapes, peaches and pears – whatever’s in season, rather than just tossing in an apple every day. Try to eat one or two pieces of fruit with lunch or as a snack.
I find it helpful to write out a list for the week so you remember all of those creative lunch ideas you had on Sunday night AND you’re sure to have the fridge stocked with healthy goods. If you follow the rules and include at least 4 different foods in your lunch – and in your snack- you’re guaranteed to keep it healthy! Oh – and just in case you need some how to put it together ideas, I love this column at Food52 for more lunch box inspiration.
What makes you smile when you open your lunch box?