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Better Box Lunches


Be sure you're packing in high-octane fuel for afternoon alertness, your exercise routine, or the end-of-the day energy burst you need to corral kids and put dinner on the table.

Lunch can be a dilemma or a delight for working women. Some relish their relaxing break, while others find excuses for skimping on lunch: "I'm too busy" or "I'm on a diet."

Why Is Lunch so Important?

Lunchtime is the time of day when you need to recharge your energy to get through the workday and after-work activities. Nutritionists advise eating about a third of your day's intake at lunch. Spartan lunches make it more likely that your hunger will stir cravings for junk food that increase your odds of gorging on bad food choices the minute you get home from work. Or you might overcompensate at dinner, which for some can result in an undesirable weight gain.

An Action Plan

If you make noontime fueling a priority, you can probably find a few minutes the night before or in the morning to prepare a lunch. Plan ahead to include at least three different types of foods in each lunch—preferably four, so you can include one from each food group (see illustration at left: not shown): lowfat dairy foods, fruits and vegetables, proteins, and breads and grains. Carbohydrates found in breads and grains are especially important for active women because that's what refuels muscles.

Here are two strategies to help you save time on shopping and decision-making:

  • Find one healthful lunch you enjoy eating day after day. Some possibilities: a bagel with peanut butter, a cup of yogurt, and a banana; a turkey sandwich made with light mayonnaise, an orange, a lowfat cheese stick, and pretzels; or pita bread with hummus, a cup of yogurt, baby carrots, and a green pepper.
  • Stock a desk drawer at work with nonperishable lunch foods such as dried soups, single-serving packages of crackers, peanut butter, instant oatmeal, cereal bars, pretzels, and dried fruit. Then you can pull together a quick meal.

If you take one of these approaches, just be sure to eat a variety of foods at other meals.

Invest in an assortment of food containers: a wide-mouth thermos for soups or dinner leftovers, small 6- to 8-ounce containers for applesauce, canned fruits, or yogurt, sandwich containers, and an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack to keep foods chilled.

What About Eating Out?

Going out to lunch or eating in the employee cafeteria are alternatives when time or supplies run out at home. Stick to balanced, healthful foods rather than high-fat burgers and fries. Some good choices are:

  • bean or broth-based soup with a roll or sandwich and lowfat milk,
  • a submarine sandwich made with lean meats such as turkey or roast beef, lettuce, tomato slices, and mustard or light salad dressing,
  • yogurt, a small bagel, and a banana from the corner store, or
  • thick-crust pizza topped with veggies (use a napkin to blot grease off the top of the pizza).

The extra efforts you make on healthful planning have many attractive payoffs: more stamina for exercise, fewer food cravings and food obsessions, and more energy to choose and prepare a well-rounded dinner.



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