LEE ANNE GRACE: Packing lunch pinches calories, pennies

H3H3_lee_ann_graceThe start of another school year is right around the corner. With back-to-school items filling store aisles, this would be an opportune time to purchase a new lunch box or tote, and adopt the habit of packing a lunch for work.

With a little bit of time and planning you can save money and have control of your caloric intake. Many people sabotage their healthy eating patterns by going out to eat during the lunch hour every day or noshing on the office spread that’s brought in. If you spend between $6 to $10 on lunch per day, that adds up to $120 to $200 per month. It usually costs a fraction of that to bring a lunch from home.

If not having access to a microwave at work is hindering you from taking your lunch, you can buy one for under $50. Most people will save more than $50 in the first month by packing their lunch instead of going out to eat.

On weekends, I plan the lunches I am going to pack for the upcoming week. After making a list and shopping at the grocery store, I divide lunch items into single serving containers. Since early mornings are hectic at our house, I pack my lunch the night before and grab it from the fridge on the way out the door.

Packing your lunch does not have to be boring. If brown paper sacks don’t get you excited about packing your lunch, maybe a stylish lunch tote or a retro lunch box from your elementary school days will inspire you It would be really nostalgic to own a Spiderman or Barbie lunch box again, and a wonderful conversation starter as well. Add a couple of colorful recyclable containers and ice packs to complete your lunch-packing arsenal.

It is important to change what you pack from day to day so you don’t grow weary of what you find when you open your lunch box.

Here are some of my current favorites to pack for lunch:
• Baby carrots, sugar snap peas and celery dipped in hummus

• String cheese wrapped in deli-sliced turkey

• Yogurt

• Fresh fruit

• Left-overs

• Homemade lunchables, using toasted pita triangles, lowfat cheese slices and deli meat

• Palm-size serving of almonds

• Sandwiches.

I keep it interesting by varying the bread. I like to use FlatOut brand wraps and bagel thins. These can be found in the specialty bread section of local grocery stores. I use hummus or deli mustard for a spread, vary the meat, and pile on the veggies. I usually pack sandwich components separately so the sandwich doesn’t get soggy.

• Dried edamame. This is found in the produce section with the nuts and dried fruit.

• Large salad with components packed separately

• Chipotle black bean garden burger on a bagel thin with sliced avocado and salsa

• PB2

This is powdered peanut butter and can be found at Kroger in the health food section. You can also order it online for a better price at www.bellplantation.com or amazon.com. PB2 has 45 calories per serving, compared to 190 calories per serving for regular peanut butter. If you pack PB2 in your lunch, it tastes better if you wait and reconstitute it right before you eat it.

Enter “healthy lunch box ideas” into your favorite search engine to find many more innovative things to pack in your new lunch box.

Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for four years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.