You know that eating out every day is not that healthy for you. And you’d love to save the money and waste less time in line at the deli or takeout counter. Plus, packing a low-sugar lunch is a great way to keep yourself going all day and not fall victim to afternoon energy slumps.
Despite the benefits, packing a lunch every day can be daunting, especially if you’re not used to it. Here are seven tips to help get you started:
- Invest in the right equipment.
Remember that brown paper bag from childhood? That won’t cut it any more. Instead of packing your lunch in disposable plastic bags and paper, invest in reusable supplies that will look great, prevent leaks, and keep you healthier. For example, if you plan to microwave your food at work, opt for covered glass containers rather than plastic (they’re safer in the microwave). Get a variety of sizes so that you’re always able to portion appropriately, and chose an insulated bag or lunchbox that is big enough to fit your containers plus an ice pack.
- Keep essentials in the office.
It’s super-frustrating to sit down to eat and realize that you’re missing utensils, napkins, or other necessary implements. This is especially true if you’re eating on the go or don’t have access to a fully-stocked office kitchen. To avoid this, keep the essentials on hand in your office (or your car if you have a job that requires you to travel). That way, you know you’ll always have a spoon, fork, knife, napkin, and even a plate, bowl, and cup. An added bonus is that you can avoid plastic utensils and cut back on waste.
- Consider the aftermath.
If your office doesn’t have a good kitchen, you might want to stock basic cleaning supplies as well, such as dishwashing liquid and a sponge to wash your utensils for the next day. If it’s not possible to wash everything, keep extra plastic bags on hand to make it easier to transport your used items to bring home.
- Be realistic about what you’ll eat.
The quickest way to lose momentum is to try to force yourself to pack foods that aren’t appealing to you. Sure, eating a salad every day might be the healthiest option, but unless you genuinely enjoy it, this might leave you feeling bored or susceptible to sugary afternoon snacks. When planning your meals, be honest with yourself about what you’ll enjoy eating: do you prefer a hot lunch, or need something that can easily be eaten while driving? If so, be sure to take that into consideration.
- Prep ahead of time.
Finding time to get lunch together, whether it’s in the morning or the night before after dinner, is a real challenge. The best option is to prepare as much as you can on the weekends to make the daily assembly less time consuming. For example, cook large batches of grains (like brown rice or quinoa) ahead of time and store them in the fridge or freezer in individual portions. Roast batches of different vegetables on the weekend so you can assemble them in different ways, say in a grain bowl one day and on a salad another. Make a big batch of homemade dressing that you can pour into an individual reusable container each day.
- Make the freezer work for you.
No matter how well you plan, there will be days when you don’t have time to pack your lunch. That’s when you’ll need a back-up plan in the freezer so that you can just grab and go. Cook a big batch of chili, vegetable soup, or another freezer-friendly dish, and divide it into lunch-friendly portions. On the days when you’re too busy to pack a lunch simple grab a portion from the freezer for an instant healthy option.
- Give yourself a free pass.
Then there are the days where even the freezer fails you. If you run out of options, it’s ok to miss a day here and there. Think of it like school, when teachers would give homework passes for doing extra credit or good behavior. You can award them to yourself for bringing lunch a certain number of days in a row or for packing healthy low-sugar snacks as well as lunch. Then get past the guilt and start the practice again.
The best way to start a habit is to just start it. Why not challenge yourself to pack your lunch for a week? Try it out and see just how delicious (and healthy) homemade lunches can be.