You probably have at least one co-worker who, day after day, whips out a colorful Mason-jar salad or veggie-packed wrap. She's on to something: If you're hitting up a restaurant for your midday meal Monday through Friday, it's almost certain you're paying too much money and eating too many calories. Plus, researchers at Tufts University found that even "healthier" fast-food options still pack more salt and calories than you think.
Instead, stock up on the best to-go containers for packing a lunch and learn how to become the type of person who actually uses them.
1. Plan out your lunch prep.
You have three choices: Prep and package your midday meals over the weekend so you can just grab-and-go every weekday morning; make your lunch every evening; or get up a little earlier and do it all in the morning. Experiment to find the approach that's right for you. One tip: If you're packing the night before, do it while you're making dinner. It'll help solidify the habit--and will save you from double cleanup.
2. Lunch-makers give leftovers a little extra love.
Eating the same thing for lunch that you had for dinner last night can get really old, really fast. That's why people who bring their lunches to work know how to dress up their leftovers. Some ideas: Tortilla wraps can turn a casserole into a burrito. Cooked pasta can be the base of a vegetarian pasta salad by adding roasted veggies, beans and a sauce, like pesto. Most meals can be chopped and thrown on your choice of lettuce with dressing for an instant tossed salad. Reinventing your leftovers tricks your taste buds into believing you're having a totally new meal, minus all the extra prep.
3. They have basic recipes that go beyond sandwiches.
Try this take on a big salad bowl by tossing together greens, 90-second plain brown rice, canned beans for protein, whatever veggies are lingering in your fridge and a fat like avocado or cheese. Put homemade vinaigrette or salsa in a little container, and toss the salad at lunchtime.
4. They eat away from their desks.
Perhaps the chance to leave your workspace for a break is part of the reason why you're grabbing takeout for lunch every day. You need that break to destress and give yourself a breather. Take a break in the office kitchenette or, on nice days, bring it outside.
5. They set up lunch clubs.
Divide and conquer workday lunch with a co-worker who also brown-bags it. On Monday, bring two servings of lunch to share; then it's her turn on Tuesday. It's half the work, but twice the variety. Just make sure your colleague is reliable and motivated -- you'll be stuck grabbing takeout if your friend forgets your food.
6. Lunch pros plan for a freebie day (or two).
It's a mistake to assume you'll eat a packed lunch 100% of the time. Inevitably, your friend will ask you to meet for sushi, or you'll have to take a client out for food. And that's OK! Aim to bring lunch two to four times per week, depending on what your circumstances are at work. Just like everything else in life, your lunch break requires a little flexibility.
(Health delivers relevant information in clear, jargon-free language that puts health into context in peoples' lives. Online at www.health.com.)
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