Healthy Eating: It’s in the Bag

Brown bag it! Bringing your own lunch or fixing meals “to go” can help cut costs and keep you and your family healthy. With fall sports and activities in full swing, many parents and kids rely on the convenience of fast food, but portions sizes and extras, like French fries, are incredibly fattening. And for a family of four, eating on the run can cost upwards of $30 per meal!

Packing your own food gives you control over ingredients, portions and your budget, but one of the most daunting aspects of brown bagging it is deciding what to make. The best meal would consist of equal portions of lean protein, whole grain, veggies and fruit with a single serving of low-fat dairy.

As you shop, try to buy foods that are as close to their original form and have as few ingredients as possible. Processed foods are often changed dramatically from their natural form and tend to be high in sugars and fats, contain artificial ingredients and chemicals and lack important vitamins and nutrients.

Jane Shughart, PA-C with White Oak Pediatric and Adult Medicine warns shoppers to look nutrition facts labels for at sodium content and focus on eating good carbs such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.

Here are some options to get you started:

Leftovers are a great choice as long as you have access to a microwave. When you cook dinner, make a little extra to pack in a microwave-safe container. “Crock pot dinners are ideal for leftovers,” says Jane, a busy working mom. “Just add a small bag of veggies or fruit and you have a nutritious meal.”

Sandwiches can range from basic to gourmet. Try whole grain breads, wraps and pitas and fill with low-fat protein like tuna, turkey, cheese or sliced eggs. Top it off with lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes or hummus.

Rice and beans are satisfying and filling. Try adding different seasonings and ingredients for everything from Mexican to Italian flavors. You can even add some lettuce and wrap the ingredients in a whole-wheat tortilla for a healthier taco.

Smoothies can be a great way to combine fruits and protein. While Jane prefers homemade smoothies, she often relies on store-bought smoothies purchased from a big box retailer. Jane adds fresh or dried fruit, nuts, veggies or a protein bar as a side to the smoothie.

Jane recommends eating a good breakfast and making lunch your biggest meal of the day. “And don’t forget to drink plenty of water,” adds Jane. “Athletes need to stay hydrated.”

If you need help breaking out of your fast-food habit, talk to your primary care physician about creating a nutrition plan or get a referral to a nutritionist. Meritus Health offers a child nutrition class. Click here to learn more.