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On-The-Go Packed Lunches

Lunch? Lunch? What’s for lunch?

By Bob Wilson BS, DTR

Bringing lunch from home is truly a bargain in a bag easy on both your weight and your wallet. Making your own midday meal gives you better control over portion size, calorie and fat content, and at the same time provides nutritional benefits that can even lower the risk of many chronic diseases and save lots of money too.

The most popular purchased lunches to eat at the office are sandwiches, wraps and salads. But they can be full of hidden fats and calories and poor nutrition bargains. The only way to get a true bargain is to make your own.

Surveys indicate most workers eat lunch at their desks or while doing errands. According to one study, less than half of office workers surveyed say they bring a packed lunch from home at least once a week, and only 20 percent do it every day. Of those surveyed, 34 percent bought take-out or delivered food, and another 4 percent used the office vending machine at least once a week. How about you, what do you do?

Although take-out sandwiches and other popular lunch items can be made with healthful ingredients, and reasonable proportions do exist, but are often hard to find, or in locations that are not conveniently close to the office. Many take-out or delivered lunches are oversized portions of foods high in fat and calories. To solve this dilemma, learn the art of bringing your own!


Preplanning is important. Failing to plan is planning to fail. An ounce of preplanning is worth a pound of fat! Remember, it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”—you can still use your cafeteria for a main course, but bring along cut up veggies or fruit to supplement.


What to do:

  1. Sandwiches prepared the night before or in the morning before leaving for work should be safe to eat, if properly handled. Proper handling means good sanitation, adequate cooking, and refrigeration.

  2. If the food was properly handled at home with the sandwiches being chilled or frozen, it should be safe to eat at lunch time, even if not refrigerated at work.

  3. A small thermos with a wide mouth might be a good investment. It can be used to carry such things as chili, sliced fresh fruit, and coleslaw—foods that might add variety.

  4. Save small plastic tubs (about 6 – 8 ounce size) or Ziplock® bags. The containers are good for carrying salad, fruit, yogurt, and cut up veggies.

  5. Try to use leftover meats and meat substitutes as sandwich fillers; e.g., chicken salad made from leftover chicken, roast beef, tempeh, or marinated tofu.

  6. Raw veggies are a treasure house of nutrients! They are also high in fiber, which helps prevent cancer and colon disorders.

  7. Lowfat cheese and crackers with perhaps an apple or some grapes provide a simple and delicious lunch meal.

  8. Desserts should be kept simple. Try raw or dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, or maybe some other nuts.

  9. Many light and quick lunch ideas are discussed throughout this Website.


Keeping foods safe:

In really hot weather, put something cold in the lunch bag--a cold drink, frozen sandwich, a small plastic refrigerator dish filled with water and frozen, or one of the new commercial freezing gels, suggests the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the publication Safe Food To Go. Some plastic lunch boxes have lids that can be frozen to keep foods cool for several hours. Canned drinks and some of the juices in paper cartons can also be frozen. I keep a canvas bag with a double brown bag as an insulator and found that that works out very well. Visit Bob's Strength -Training Food Bag!

Freezing luncheon foods:

  1. Freezing only the bread helps out. Normally, it keeps other foods cold enough without refrigeration.

  2. Sandwiches could be wrapped in foil or plastic sandwich bags and frozen the night before. When freezing sandwiches, omit lettuce or other greens. Wrap lettuce or greens separately. Add to sandwich at time of eating.

  3. Sandwich freezing cautions:

    1. Salad veggies become watery and limp.

    2. Hard boiled eggs get rubbery.

    3. Cream cheese gets crumbly, but still tastes OK.

    4. Condiments like mustard, catsup, etc, freeze well.


To begin, be prepared. Have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your home at all times. Check out Bob's Healthy Kitchen, What's In It?.


                                     Sandwich Ideas


Chop hard cooked egg (or cook egg substitute) and mix with yogurt or salad dressing. For variety, add one or a combination of the following:





bean sprouts


grated carrot

diced red/green pepper

grated cheese

raw spinach


Herbs: basil, dill, Italian seasoning, pepper, curry powder, or cilantro


Sauces: plain yogurt, mix with horseradish, chopped parsley, green onions, or use yogurt and spicy mustard.


Plain yogurt = 8/T; mayonnaise = 100/T; lowfat mayonnaise = 50/T; sour cream = 26/T; mustard = 15/T; tomato catsup = 15/T

Low-fat Cheese or cottage cheese

Sliced or grated with salad dressing (or yogurt/curry dressing). For variety add:


bean sprouts

spicy mustard

chopped fruit

crushed pineapple



green pepper rings

chopped/sliced onions


Baked beans

Mashed with chopped onion, green pepper, and a small amount of chili sauce and raisins; can also just use canned refried black or other beans.

Hummus or

garbanzo spread

Can add: sliced tomatoes, spinach or chopped chard, sprouts, thin sliced cheddar cheese, or red/orange sweet pepper strips


Water-pack tuna with: diced onion and celery, spicy mustard, pepper, catsup, dill pickle relish, or apple slices and raisins!

Regular or smoked salmon with low-fat mayonnaise or salad dressing, celery and sprouts

Sardines with thin sliced red onions and sprouts.


Turkey sausage or salami


Beef or pork, sliced or chopped

With meats (or meat substitutes like tempeh, veggie burgers, or marinated tofu) add: spicy mustard, sweet pickle relish or curry dressing and sprouts, peppers, sliced tomatoes and onions, raw greens, and shredded carrots. You could add cranberry relish (see dinner recipes).

Muffin pizzas

English muffin (pre-toasted) add: bottled spaghetti sauce and top with mozzarella cheese and Italian seasonings. Perhaps top with: red onion slices, tomato slices, sliced mushrooms, red pepper slices, garlic and pepper seasonings. Broil until crisp.




Explore delicious and dense breads, pocket breads, or even corn tortillas. To cut back on calories or carbs, eat half a sandwich or make an open face one.


Whole grains, which are much more nutrient-dense than refined white flour, are full of fiber and filling. They are rich in many health-protective substances, like antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamin E, folic acid, zinc, selenium and magnesium. When selecting a loaf of bread, the ingredient label should list as the first item either “100 percent whole grain” or the word “whole” followed by the grain used.

Try purchasing different kinds of whole-grain breads, if a particular one doesn’t appeal to you. Multi-grain breads with oats on the outside tend to be slighter sweeter. For a wonderfully soft and chewy taste, bake your own with whole-wheat flour, or look for freshly baked loaves. Whole-grain tortillas and pita bread are also great alternatives that you may prefer.

Fruits and/or Vegetables

Some thing crisp or juicy…yum!


Raw veggies:

Anise/fennel root

Cucumbers (I love small pickling)

Carrot strips

Celery sticks

Jiccima slices or chunks

Cherry/grape tomatoes


Turnip sticks

Cauliflower florets

Cucumber strips

Kohlrabi slices

Lettuce or cabbage wedges

Broccoli floweret’s

Steamed marinated veggies (see dinner recipes)

Raw fruits:
















Melon wedges




Foods to choose less often:


Foods which might be chosen less often are those which contain excessive amounts of saturated fat, sugar, or potentially harmful food additives, regular corn or potato chips, sticky cakes, cookies, and rich pastries. These foods have little or no nutritional value and are high in calories and cost. Explore Confused About Carbohydrates?


Remember what you eat (and think)…becomes you!


                           Packed Lunches for On-The-Go

Cottage cheese & raisin sandwich on multiseed/multigrain bread

Green pepper wedges

Fresh orange

Turkey salad sandwich on multigrain bread

Small green salad (low calorie dressing)

Banana &Barbara’s® Raspberry Fig Bars


Bean sandwich on whole wheat bread


Carrot sticks

Fresh apple

Salmon salad sandwich with romaine lettuce

Carrot strips & fennel root

Fresh cherries

Sliced turkey, tomato, lettuce on whole wheat English muffin

Baked yam or sweet potato wedge

Green pepper strips



Chicken drumsticks

Whole-grain roll or muffin

Cherry tomatoes

Fruit salad


Cheddar cheese (spicy mustard) & bean sprout/sliced onion sandwich

Cauliflower & cherry tomatoes

Fresh orange & raw walnuts

Scrambled egg sandwich

Fresh tomato/spinach leaves

2 T. pumpkin, sunflower seeds, or pine nuts

Fresh pear

Tuna salad on whole wheat roll

Green pepper wedges

Broccoli florets & Jiccima chunks

Fresh apple or grapes

Ricotta cheese and pineapple (spices: nutmeg and cinnamon) or whole wheat raisin bread

Jiccima & red pepper wedges

Fresh orange

Swiss cheese sandwich with spicy mustard, sprouts and avocado in whole wheat pita bread

Cucumbers & grape tomatoes

Tangerine or plums

Hummus/lowfat cheese sandwich with sliced tomatoes & chard on spelt bread

Pickling cucumbers & cauliflower

Kiwi fruit & raw pecans

Veggie sandwich on whole wheat with sliced cucumber, romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, sprouts, and lowfat cheddar cheese

Marinated cauliflower

Fresh peach

Fresh lemonade/limeade

Cold chicken breast

Whole wheat French roll/hot Chinese mustard

Sliced tomatoes and red onions

Watermelon and kiwi fruit

Chopped chicken liver sandwich on rye bread

Carrot sticks & cherry tomatoes

Fresh apple

Lowfat cheese wedges

Lowfat  taco chips

Mexican salsa

Banana & dried date


You could also make…


Warm and hearty soups to take along, or colorful and crunchy salads, or leftover stir fries, or satisfying steamed vegetables. Enjoy all of these delicious lunches! Frolic around: Quick Menu Ideas for Home and On the Go , Stoveless Meals , and Making Quick Dinners: Dinner? What's Quick and Easy?


Surprises—food for the spirit!


On special occasions (really any time!), include a favorite treat in the packed lunch. Add a message like “You are magnificent,” or a short poem or verse like “You’re cute, you’re cute, I love you…to boot!” Include a funny drawing (even on a banana) or a portrait on an open face sandwich. For the face use peanut butter or ricotta cheese, carrot curls or parsley for hair, green pepper, apple, nuts, and raisins for the eyes and nose.

Food for the Spirit


A fun thing to do is to write a message on a green banana and mail it to a friend. Just wrap it in a tissue paper, put it in a small box and mail it. When it arrives at its destination, it will have ripened to its normal yellow color and greet its recipient with cheery tidings. You’ve heard of F.T.D. florists? Well, this is B.T.D. banana—Banana Trans Delivery! A sample message could be, “My love has ripened for you.” Or “You drive me bananas.” Or "I find you so appealing."


I keep a meditation book  in my lunch bag so that I can take time to "nourish my spirit."  I may bring along some sticky notes (or bananas) with affirming messages from Nourishing Affirmations! and find that these can help really make my day. They are fuel for my soul and lift me up when I feel drooped. When I'm feeling the need to be embraced by kindness, I review Loving-Kindness: Learn to Befriend Ourselves and Others. If I'm feeling really confused I look at Out of Hell, Into Freedom Thoughts.

For a printable version On-The-Go Packed Lunches.pdf


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             Copyright © 2001-2018 Bob Wilson BS, DTR  All Right Reserved. Articles are for personal use only. Please request permission for other uses. Thanks!