Making a healthy lunch can take a decent amount of planning and preparing. Doing so for yourself in addition to the whole family may seem like a hassle. Choosing what foods to throw in your grocery cart and taking the time to portion items out for your lunch is all part of the process. Have you considered the benefits of eating a healthy lunch at home? Or packing it up to eat at school or the office?
By neglecting to pack a lunch and opting for takeout, we’re cheating ourselves in two vital ways – financially and nutritionally. We also risk losing out on key health and productivity improvements.
The Financial Impact
According to Top Dollar, those who eat takeout for lunch are spending an average of $9,000 a year. That’s a lot of money and fast food!
Although bringing a packed lunch to work or school isn’t free either, it does have the potential to help you save money. To look at it another way, the savings from bringing your own lunch are roughly the equivalent of a healthy mortgage payment or the average electric bill. Just like the cost of buying lunch adds up, so do the savings of bringing it from home!
The Nutritional Impact
Making your own lunches does require time and effort, but the biggest benefit of food prepared at home is that it typically entails healthier choices. You have more control over the types of food you choose and you’re able to utilize portion control. You can use tools such as measuring cups or a food scale to decide how much of each item to pack in your lunch. Preparing meals in large batches like soup and pasta can be divided up into containers for each day of the week. You can also chop up vegetables for salads in advance.
Then, there’s what you pack. Instead of a cookie for dessert, try to have a piece of fruit for four days and a cookie or piece of chocolate as a treat on the fifth day. Ditto for veggies – instead of fries or chips, you can opt for something more nutritious, like carrot or celery sticks. When you bring your own lunch, you’re able to limit the temptations of add-ons that are loaded with fat, salt and sugar – like candy or soda.
Health and Productivity
A 2021 study by OnePoll found that 51% of Americans consume their midday meal at their desks. It’s so important to take a break and give your eyes a rest from the computer screen. Take a walk outside for some fresh air before you sit down to eat your lunch. Studies show that taking a lunch break allows your mind to rest, recharge and refocus, which can improve your productivity for the rest of the day.
Eating a healthy lunch gives you an energy boost when you need it most and can help you past the 3pm slump. Additionally, it decreases the urge to grab those afternoon snacks which are usually high in salt or sugar. Think of food as fuel to help you stay on top of your daily tasks. Not taking a lunch break may leave you feeling more tired and stressed. Even if it’s only 15-20 minutes, it’s a great way to reap the benefits of a healthy lunch and stay energized throughout the day.
3 Basic BYOL Tips
1. Keep it simple. Try some hummus with a side of carrot sticks and a piece of whole-grain pita bread. Or a couple pieces of turkey with a handful of grapes and a low-fat string cheese – little to no prep!
2. Stick to superfoods. Choose fresh berries, leafy greens, nuts and other superfoods to incorporate quality ingredients into your meals. Variety is the key here as it keeps things from getting boring while keeping a balanced diet.
3. Enjoy the leftovers. When you plan ahead, you can pack delicious and nutritious leftovers for lunch all week. Roasting a chicken on Sunday? That’s chicken to put over some greens, chicken salad and chicken soup for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
One final tip: If you like the camaraderie of going out to lunch with coworkers, set aside one day a week to continue that tradition. Maybe it’s Friday, so you can catch up on the week’s activities and discuss your weekend plans.
By committing to that one lunch out of the office, you’ll get to socialize and stay connected with your colleagues. And you'll still get to maximize the financial, nutritional and productivity benefits from your new routine.
For more tips on how to eat healthier while sticking to your budget, check out our other blogs How to Get Healthy Without Breaking the Bank and Tips to Live Your Best Life on a Budget.