Ten Healthy Packed Lunches

Want to save some money AND eat healthy? Try one of these ideas for your next brown bag lunch.

Most of us have very little time for breakfast, so we grab a cup of coffee as we walk out the door. By the time lunch rolls around, we are close to starving. Very few of us have more than an hour for lunch, so we usually rush out to the closest drive-thru and order a burger, fries and a drink. If we do that five times a week, that adds up. Not only do we feel it in our pocketbook, but we start to feel it around our midsection, as well. Instead of going the fast-food route for lunch, why not try brown bagging a healthy lunch instead? If you pack your lunch the night before, it will save you time and money as well as a few extra pounds.

* Instead of chipping in with some friends to order a greasy pizza, why not make your own mini pizzas instead? On two halves of an English muffin, spread some pasta sauce and sprinkle with shredded mozarella cheese. Top with some sliced bell peppers or mushrooms (or any other favorite topping) and wrap each pizza half tightly with plastic wrap (so the cheese does not spill). Once you get to the office, pull the pizza out of the wrapper and microwave for 30 seconds and you'll have a low-fat cheesy pizza. Pair with a small simple salad.

* Instead of your normal bread sandwich, spread some mustard or mayonnaise on a flour tortilla. Fill the tortilla with thinly sliced ham or turkey, your favorite cheese and lettuce. I would not suggest adding tomatoes at this time, since they will cause the tortilla to get soggy. Roll the tortilla up and pair with a small bag of pretzels.

* Have some leftover plain pasta from dinner? Toss the pasta with some steamed broccoli, parmesan cheese and olive oil and seal tightly for lunch the next day.

* Want a taste of the Mediterranean? In a bowl, mix about a tablespoon of mayonnaise with a couple of teaspoons of some red onion and some oregano, to taste. In a whole wheat pita bread, put in some thinly sliced turkey, cheese, lettuce and the seasoned mayonnaise. Bag this up with some carrot and celery sticks on the side.

* Remember when chicken salad was made with just chicken and mayonnaise? Not anymore! Boil chicken tenders or boneless and skinless chicken breasts and then shred them. Toss with green onions, red grapes cut into quarters, celery, chopped pecans, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. All of these ingredients are to taste, depending on how much chicken you have cooked. Put a scoop over an ordinary salad or make into a sandwich with wheat bread for a packed lunch that is out of this world.

* If you are a vegetarian, do not fear. Take a bagel and cut it in half. Spread both bagel halves with some hummus and top with your favorite veggies like crisp lettuce, red onions, bell peppers and roma tomatoes. Add some cheddar or provolone cheese and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

* If made right, salads are delicious, but they're not worth the five dollars you spend for them at the local fast food joints. Cut up some romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces and add some sliced red onions, crumbled feta cheese, mandarin oranges and sliced avocados. Take your favorite vinagrette in a small sealed container to toss with the next day.

* Do you love Mexican food? Then make a Mexican-inspired salad. Combine a can of black beans (drained), a can of corn (also drained), a small can of black olives, three green onions, one to two coarsely chopped cucumbers, three cups of corn chips and about one cup of store-bought salsa. Pack in a tightly sealed plastic container.

* If you love a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich, why not bring a heartier version of one. Instead of plain old PB&J, why not try peanut butter and bananas (bananas can be sprinkled on right before eating, so they don't brown) or peanut butter, jelly, granola and cubed apples sprinkled on top?

* How about spicing up your normal bland couscous with some dried currants, chopped fresh parsley, celery, onion and pine nuts? This can be made the night before and sealed tightly in a container.

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