Packing a lunch every day is a great way to start (or keep) healthy eating habits. When you’re stressed at work and pressed for time, or running from one errand to the next, fueling up often ends up being something you do in haste, desperation, or simply on the way to your next appointment. Preparing and packing a lunch ensures that you won’t be taken in by what’s convenient but less than ideal nutrition-wise. But packing lunch is also a lot more complicated than it seems like it should be, because time and planning are essential to making a meal that’s healthy, that satisfies, and that travels.
Maxine Yeung, R.D., C.P.T., and owner of The Wellness Whisk, tells SELF, “I’ve noticed that people tend to have more balanced dinners than lunches, likely because they are home cooking dinners and often eat lunch out or just pack a quick sandwich.” Besides being more expensive, buying lunch every day sets you up to accidentally eat more calories than you meant to (even if the store-bought lunch seems like a healthy option). And a hastily slapped together sammy is unlikely to have all the sustaining nutrients you need, so you’ll probably end up snacking later.
Throwing together a quick sandwich isn’t the only speedy brown bag lunch option, however. And according to Yeung, when it comes to packing a healthy, balanced, sustaining lunch, the secret is in the storage.
Before we get to the details, it’s important to note that healthy eating can look completely different from person to person, and what works for some may not work for others. If you are interested in eating fewer calories, and have a history of disordered eating, you may want to check in with your doctor before making any changes. If you just want to eat healthier in general, these simple tips can help you do that, too.
The key to a properly prepped and packed lunch is containers that do the portion-control for you.
One way to make sure you’re getting the right balance of nutrients, especially at lunchtime, is to actually measure it all out. This can be harder to do when you’re putting things in a storage container compared to dishing it out onto a dinner plate, where it’s easier to visually judge portion size, Yeung notes. To properly measure out your packed lunch, you have two options. Either actually get your measuring cups and spoons out (a tedious task that may further put you off the lunch-packing grind). Or, do as Yeung suggests and invest in containers that will do the portioning for you.
She tells SELF, “While I don’t measure my food, I do have a variety of containers ranging in sizes from a quarter to two cups, which helps keeps my portions in control. For instance, I’ll pack nuts and hummus in my quarter-cup containers and fruit in half-cup containers. For packing entrees, I use the 2 cup size containers.” Bucking the trend of topping a base of grains with veg and protein, she uses what she calls her “reverse plating” method, filling the container halfway with veggies and splitting the remaining space evenly between whole grains and protein.
There are lots of great products for packing up a perfectly portioned lunch, including cute bento boxes and Weck jars. But you don’t need to buy anything special to make the system work. Yeung says that though she is particular about the sizes of her storage units, she isn’t picky about the containers themselves. “I don’t use anything fancy to pack my lunches. It’s usually mason jars and basic Tupperware,” she tells SELF. So if you’re ready to alter your lunch packing habits, there are plenty of affordable, handy, and BPA-free storage options you can buy. A better midday meal is just a new Tupperware container away.