Ditch the Brown Bag Blues

Staying healthy and satisfied during the work week is an essential component in ensuring that you are able to perform at the top of your game! It can be difficult enough coming up with a healthy, but easy menu at home, let alone coming up with ideas for what to bring to work for lunch in a brown bag.

As we all know, what we eat has an immense impact on the way that we feel and function. With our busy lives, it can be tough to set aside time to make a healthy lunch every morning before work. And we’ve all had those days that, come lunchtime, that convenient fast food cheeseburger and french fry combo seems like a great idea, only to find ourselves feeling like crapola almost immediately after eating it. Then again, nothing is worse than opening up your brown bag to see another boring, wilted salad or a sad little PB&J.

Look forward to lunchtime by upgrading your stale brown bag lunches to more exciting fare. Here are some ideas to spruce up your work lunch so you’re not tempted by the greasy food joint next door!


6 Tips To Spice Up Your Brown Bag

  1. Reuse leftovers

It’s easy to re-heat leftovers such as chilli, soup or pasta dishes. Another way to use leftovers like chilli or stir-fry for lunch is to wrap it up in a tortilla. Add some salsa and grated cheese and you have an instant burrito!

  1. Try a finger-food bento-box

Finger-food bento-boxes are visually appealing and fun to eat! Include whole grain crackers, small cheese cubes, veggie sticks and rolled turkey slices, tuna or a boiled egg for protein.

  1. Make salads into full-on meals

First of all, chopping veggies every morning can be way too tedious and time consuming. I suggest making a huge, basic salad on Sunday night that you can portion out for the week. If you make a basic salad, you can also prep some different combinations of other ingredients to toss in each day of the week for variety. Bringing the same old salad every day is the worst; you’ve got to switch it up! One excellent idea is to pack up your salads in mason jars.

Try incorporating some exotic flavors into your salads or dressings. (By the way, dressings are super easy to make; start with olive oil, a little bit of honey or agave nectar and some type of acid or vinegar, ex: lemon juice, lime juice or apple cider, balsamic, or rice wine vinegar…whatever floats your boat! Then, get crazy with spices and herbs.)  Like Mexican food? Add some south-western style flavors such as cumin, chili powder, jalapeños, fresh cilantro, lime, beans, corn and ancho chili (for a smoky flavor). Like Asian food? Add some soy sauce, ginger, lime juice, garlic, lemongrass, sriracha, five-spice, hoisin sauce, peanuts, sesame seeds and sesame oil. If you prefer an Indian flair, try incorporating yogurt, curry, masala, and paneer cheese. Like mediterranean style food? Try adding some lemon juice, mint, oregano, greek-style yogurt, dill, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Not only do these spices add flavor, but many herbs and spices can be considered nature’s medicine. Add some grilled chicken or some other meat leftover from a previous dinner. Vegetarians can add some beans or quinoa for protein. Another great contrast is mixing some grilled or sautéed vegetables (zucchini, summer squash, peppers, asparagus, and green beans) with your raw veggies. You can also add some whole wheat pasta, brown rice or bulgar wheat to bulk up a wimpy salad.

  1. Spice up your sandwich

The first thing you should do, is swap out the refined white bread for whole wheat or whole grain bread or wraps. Let’s get back to basics and kick overly processed foods to the curb! Next, consider the nutritional quality of what you’re putting in that delicious, healthy bread. Avoid highly-processed meats. I would opt for either chicken or turkey (preferably left-overs from that awesome dinner you made earlier in the week?). The key to a great sandwich, in my opinion, is the bread and the spread. Most grocery stores have bakeries where you can get fresh-baked whole grain bread. Next, think about condiments. Try mustards, low-cal salad dressings, salsas, or better yet…make your own spread! Whip up some home-made guacamole or relish that’s packed with flavor and nutrition! Throw some veggies on there (lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, pickles, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, etc.) and you’re good to go! And if you haven’t tried kale chips yet, you’re missing out! See the end of the blog for some spreads you can whip up and store for future use.

  1. Simple Snacks

It’s a great idea to prepare a week’s worth of lunch snacks during the weekend. Bake a batch of fresh whole grain muffins or cookies. Slice up some veggies and pre-bag them in individual servings. Boil eggs. Make a few individual yogurt parfaits with plain yogurt, frozen fruit and granola (add a bit of maple syrup for sweetness, if desired).

  1. Form a lunch co-op

Get in a group with of 4-5 co-workers and take turns bringing in lunch for the co-op. You can set ground rules and make sure everyone has similar tastes. You’ll get a homemade lunch daily and only have to put in the effort once a week!

For some of the sandwich spreads and dressings:

Guacamole- 1 avocado, 1 chopped tomato, 1/4 chopped red onion, salt, pepper, chopped jalapeños, fresh chopped cilantro, and fresh lime juice

Corn relish- 2 cups canned corn, 1/2 chopped red onion, 1 chopped red bell pepper, 1 chopped celery stalk 1 chopped green chili, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tbsp olive oil

Apple-mango salsa- 2 chopped granny smith apples, 1 chopped mango, 1/2 red onion, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne pepper

Pesto- 2 cups basil leaves, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 1/2 cup olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (combine in food processor)

Salsa- 5 chopped Roma tomatoes, 3 minced garlic cloves, 2 minced jalapeños, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1 tbsp olive oil, fresh lime juice, minced scallions, minced cilantro, chili powder, salt and pepper

Cilantro and avocado salad dressing- 1/2 ripe avocado, about 3/4 cup fresh cilantro, 1/2 cup plain non-fat yogurt, 2 chopped scallions, 1 minced clove garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and honey- to taste (combine in blender or food porcessor)

Ginger-soy salad dressing- 2 tbsp minced ginger root, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tsp sesame oil, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 3 tbsp honey or agave nectar, 3 minced cloves of garlic

Curry-yogurt salad dressing- 1 tbsp curry powder, 1/2 cup non-fat yogurt, 1 tsp minced ginger root, 1/2 tsp orange zest, 2 tsp mango puree, salt and pepper

Red wine dijon vinaigrette- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dijon mustard, chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper

Kale chips- Preheat oven to 350. Remove kale leaves from thick, tough stems and tear into bite sized pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. You can experiment with different seasonings as well. Bake about 10-15 minutes or until leaves are crispy.

“Ditch the Brown Bag Blues”, Written for Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio by Ashvini Mashru, RD

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