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How to Save Money and Lose Weight at Lunch
By Kathy B. Glazer   View more articles by this author
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May 05

How can you save money and lose weight at lunch?  I know this sounds like a tag line for an infomercial, but it is true that bringing a brown bag to work or school will help you save money and calories and thus help you to lose weight. For one you have the control over the options, portions and ingredients.  For people who say “I don’t have time to pack my lunch before work,” I recommend that you pack the lunch the night before, when you have more time and are less stressed. In addition, think about how much you typically spend for one lunch $5.00, $10.00 or more and now compare that to what a homemade lunch costs. You can save money and eat healthier. Below are some guidelines for packing your lunch.

Don’t have any ideas of what to pack, or what is healthy?  Let’s get started with some basics because what you have available impacts what you can pack. Do you have a refrigerator at work?  If not you will need an insulated lunch bag or cooler, and a cold freezer pack in your lunch. You can also freeze a juice box or a water bottle to keep your food cool.  Do you have access to a microwave oven to heat up items? Is there a lunch room or do you eat at your desk?  I recommend that everyone try to eat in a different space than their work space. It breaks up the day and gives your mind a break, and keeps your work surface clean. You also don’t want to make your desk space an area for constant mindless snacking.

Okay now let’s get to the food choices.  Easy choices could be leftovers--cold chicken, turkey, beef, or lean ham--used in a sandwich, wrap or as meat on your salad.  Purchasing the bagged salad greens in the market cuts down on food preparation.  Another easy way to do a salad is to use the salad bar in the grocery store or local market.  Prepare raw vegetables to grab and go, such as carrots, celery sticks, or green pepper strips to add to your lunch.  You can also buy the small bags of carrots or other produce such as broccoli, cauliflower, and pea pods pre-washed, cut up, and packaged in the vegetable aisle. Another idea is to use the salad bar to buy raw veggies ready to eat or cook. It may cost a little more, but you are saving time.

  • Protein.  Here are some sources of protein to choose from:


chicken, tuna, or salmon in a water packed can or foil pouch, sliced turkey, chicken, beef or ham from the deli counter. Hard cooked eggs made up in a batch the night before can be used in salads or eaten separately.


Cook a double batch of protein for dinner and use the extra for lunches. You can also do some vegetarian options like, hummus on pita bread, lentil soup,  low fat Greek yogurt and fruit. You can also purchase sushi to take for lunch.

  • Whole Grain.  Add some whole grain choices to round out your meal:


Whole grain crackers, triscuit, ak mok crackers, wasa, wheat thins.
Whole wheat pita, whole grain tortillas, Whole grain bread
Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous.
Snacks of popcorn, whole grain pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn cakes.

  • Starches.  Other starches you may consider:


Reheat a baked potato, or baked sweet potato (it’s all the stuff you add to the potato that make the calories increase).  Try adding low fat Greek yogurt and chives to your potato instead of sour cream and butter.   Whole wheat couscous, quinoa, brown rice, lentil or beans and rice you can reheat, or bring in a thermos container to keep warm.

  • Vegetables.  These can include:


Carrots, celery, cucumbers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, pea pods, green, red or yellow peppers, jicima, sprouts, and so on. These can be raw or cooked depending on how you like them. You can eat them separately or add them shredded to a sandwich or a wrap

  • Fruit.  Choose a Fruit to add to your meal:


Fresh, frozen, canned in its own juice or water packed. Prepackaged cups of fruit.
Try to avoid dried fruit since it has a high density of calories for the portion.
Use this as dessert or bring 2 and save one for a snack later in the day.
Cheese, crackers, veggies, and an apple make a quick lunch too.

  • Extras.


If you have some extra room in your calorie budget, you can pack some low calorie gelatin or low calorie pudding for 60 calories. The 100 calorie bags of baked chips are a better alternative to regular potato chips. Or try a 100 calorie bag of popcorn (or divide the larger bags into smaller portions). Remember the 100 calorie snack bags of cookies or crackers are still junk food. You can get a more nutritious snack picking a fruit. If you pick a 100 calorie snack bag just eat one. You can add an ounce of nuts for 175 calories (and make your own snack bag).

Finally let’s focus on when it’s worth considering paying more for organic produce or buying more conventional fruit and vegetables.  Buy Organic for the dirty dozen produce, these have more pesticides than other fruits and vegetables. The dirty dozen include: apples, celery, carrots, cherries, grapes (imported), kale, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, sweet bell peppers, strawberries.

By contrast you can save money and buy conventional produce for the consistently clean (of pesticides) fruits and vegetables.  Buy conventional produce in the Clean 15: asparagus, avocado, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, eggplant, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya, pineapple, sweet corn, sweet peas, sweet potato, and watermelon.(1)


Putting the ingredients together to make a full lunch

A little planning can go a long way in helping you meet your weight loss goal.  Planning your lunch in advance can save you money and decrease you waistline.  So start packing your lunch. Here are some quick recipes you can make for a fast lunch.  Bon Appetite!

  • Tropical Fruit Smoothie:   255 calories

½ cup frozen fruit (banana, pineapple, peaches)
½ cup nonfat yogurt (or tropical flavor)
¼ c orange juice
3 oz. medium or soft tofu 1” slice
Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Store and carry in a thermos.

  • Mexican Roll up: 315 calories

6” whole grain tortilla or wrap
Low fat refried beans
¼ cup of low fat cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce,
½ chopped tomato
1-2 Tsp Salsa
Spread top of tortilla with low fat refried beans. Add on top lettuce cheese and tomato. Roll up and store in an aluminum foil. Add salsa to a snack size baggie. Add prior to eating the roll up so it does not get soggy.

  • Mini-Gouda& Baguette: 186 calories

1 mini reduced fat Gouda cheese (mini bonbel)
1 6” baguette
2 marinated artichoke hearts- chopped
Slice cheese thinly & place on both halves of bread.
Add artichokes hearts, Microwave until slightly melted.(2)

  • Greek Stuffed Pita: 259 calories

2 fresh spinach leaved washed and chopped up
2 TBSP crumbled low fat feta cheese
2 sm. Cubes of laughing cow reduced calorie cheese
Combined spinach & cheese. Stuff mixture into pita bread
Melt in microwave.(3)

  • Pita Chili Melt: 359 calories

½ large whole wheat pit bread
½ canned pinto beans
2 TBSP grated low fat cheddar cheese
1 TBSP diced green chili
Put beans, cheese & chili into pita bread. Microwave until cheese melts.(4)

(1) EWP shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
(2)-(4) Recipes by Evelyn Tribole -“Eating on the Run”

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