Brown-Bag Lunches

Working part-time is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have so much other free time to fill. On the other hand, you don’t have any money to, for example, buy lunch near your work when you have those long days. Packing your lunch is the most economical thing to do even when you CAN afford to buy a panini from the cafe, though, so here’s my recipe for brown-bag bliss:

I’ve found that the best packed lunches are actually a variety of more snack-like items. Pick one or two from each list, and I guarantee you’ll have a complete lunch that will fill you up, for even less than Applebees’ $7.99 lunch combos.

Protein:
Ham and Cheese roll-ups–Thick-sliced deli ham, with a thin-sliced deli cheddar, colby-jack, or swiss. Two or three roll-ups should be plenty.
String Cheese–There’s plenty of interesting options out there now! Kraft has flavored string cheese, with things like Tomato-Basil Mozzarella and Cracked Black Pepper Mozzarella. String Cheese isn’t just for kids anymore!
Hard-boiled Eggs–One or two, with a dash of black pepper, or salsa, or whatever else you like your eggs with, pack perfectly! Peel them and put them in a small Tupperware container; they have some at my dollar store that are perfectly sized for two eggs.

Carbs:
Wheat Thins–A single serving size of wheat thins (or Triscuit, or any other whole-grain cracker) pairs well with sliced cheese (or the cheese sticks I mentioned!).
Cold pasta salad–Or hot, for that matter, if you want to throw it in the microwave. Watch your portion sizes, and make sure it’s a side-serving, not an entree, unless it’s more veggies than pasta. Creamy pasta salads should be accent foods.
Whole grain sandwich–My favorite has hummus, tomato, and cucumber on it, which possibly also qualifies it for the veggies portion of the lunch!
Leftover Rice–I make for myself the Zatarains Rice Pilaf for dinner some nights, but I obviously can’t eat a whole box in one sitting, so I portion the remainder out to take to work the next few days. It microwaves hot in a minute or so, and is very filling.

Fruits and Veggies:
Carrot sticks (Or celery, or cucumber, or bell pepper!)–Don’t bother with more expensive pre-cut baby carrots. It only takes a few minutes to cut a 3-lb bag of carrots into large matchsticks. Portion them out into snack baggies, and collect the snack baggies into the original carrots bag. Five minutes of prep-work gives you an excellent grab-and-go snack! Pair with ranch dressing or (my favorite) hummus.
Apples, oranges, bananas, or pears–All of these are easy to grab and eat on the run, if your break involves walking anywhere.
Tomatoes, olive oil and pepper–A little on the messier side of the spectrum, this is nevertheless a delicious, ‘gourmet’ addition to lunch. Pack it in a small Tupperware, since a baggie will be difficult to eat out of. If you want to add to it, they sell pearl-sized mozzarella balls that you can add a tablespoon or so of. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil and fresh-cracked black pepper is best, but you can make do in a pinch.

A little of everything is the best way to fill you up and get a balanced diet. The vitamins in fresh fruits and veggies, plus the energy from the combined carbs and protein, will keep you going for hours longer than a microwave ‘lean-cuisine’ meal, and it’s even cheaper than going to McDonalds!

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