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Want a Power Lunch? Try Brown-Bagging It

By Martha Michael

The Best Lunch

If you had the coolest lunchbox in grade school, you probably got positive attention from your classmates. Unfortunately, you can’t expect high fives for bringing your lunch to work as an adult, but you can look for benefits to your health and wealth.

Stretching Your Budget, Not Your Pant Size

A website called Making Sense of Cents encourages “brown-bagging it” to save money. You can potentially save $100 per month or more, depending on the restaurants you frequent. Findings from a survey by Visa shows that Americans spend an average of $53 per week on lunches, totaling $2,746 every year. Bringing your lunch to work costs about $6.30 while eating out is $11 per meal on average.

Citing data from the USDA, the article says that Americans spend 5.5 percent of their disposable income on groceries and 4.3 percent eating out. You can create a wider gap between the two by brown bagging it.

Another tip to put a check on the right side of the ledger is to use lunchtime to work on your side hustle. It’s easier to make calls or create a business strategy while seated somewhere outdoors or in the break room than it is to get some work done in a restaurant, especially if you’re out with coworkers.

Slower, But Healthier

A study of 10 popular fast food restaurants has bad news for people who love to grab a burger and fries, says an article on the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Even though many establishments have added “healthy options” to their menus, research shows that fast food is unhealthier than it was 30 years ago.

“Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high," says lead investigator Megan A. McCrory, PhD, from the Department of Health Sciences at Boston University. "Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the U.S."

While fast food restaurants added 226 percent more entrees, desserts and side dishes, they did not improve their health score. The study found lower iron levels and higher calories in all three categories, in part due to larger portion sizes.

Pack a Punch With a Healthy Lunch

If you need more motivation than a push toward wellness to stay the course and continue preparing your lunch at home, you can always add some creative incentives. An article on Health.com has some suggestions to make it easier to brown bag it.

Prepare - Get to work on weekends planning your lunch menus to minimize the effort involved in getting ready for work each day. One idea is to replicate your favorite fast food packaging so it’s easy to grab-and-go.

Leave your desk - If you’re tempted to eat in restaurants because it gets you out of the office, take your brown bag on the road. You can head to a park or somewhere on your workplace campus.

Share the break - Your brown bag experience can double as a social time when you share it with a coworker. Some businesses establish a lunch club to create a climate that’s conducive to bringing food from home.

If you decide to take your lunch in a healthier direction, the most important aspect is the menu, which can be challenging if you want to maximize the benefits. The My Fitness Pal website has some unique combinations for cooks to put together healthier lunches or introduce new ideas to a tired routine.

  • Sunflower seed butter and banana sandwich
  • Chickpea-based pasta salad
  • Tuna salad with a peach
  • Farro and arugula salad
  • Black bean and fajita veggies Tex-Mex bowl
  • Lentils with Ethiopian berbere spice

Your parents are no longer packing your lunch, which is a good thing considering the healthy alternatives to peanut butter and jelly. But when you decide to eat more responsibly by preparing your own lunches, you reap brown bag benefits that include healthier living and saving money. And if your coworkers like what they see, you may start a trend and be the cool kid again after all.

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