Breaking the Brown Bag Blues

After working with nutritionists for what seems like an eternity, I have gotten pretty good at meal planning. This has come in handy when packing lunches or traveling because I’m crafty at making portable food into a satisfying meals; and essential tool for the over 200 lunches I pack each year between Ryan and my work schedules! I mentioned in my Savings Savvy post that brown-bagging it prevents us from spending thousands of dollars a year on food outside of groceries AND helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle.

At my job we don’t get a lunch break. My students cannot enter the school, or eat with their peers in the cafeteria, so we eat as a group in our homeroom. This means my only option other than packing would be a quick trip to the school kitchen.

Have you been to a school cafeteria lately? Do you know Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? Well it has not yet reached central Pennsylvania. I actually work in the school I graduated from, and when I was a junior and senior I used to write letters and BEG the school board to get better food. At that point there was nothing but iceberg lettuce, brown carrots, maybe a tomato, cheese and croutons on our salad bar. Today they have made some improvements, offering a few relatively healthy soups, spinach, low fat string cheese, and skim milk, BUT they also serve a rotation of Pizza, Cheeseburgers, Chicken Fingers, Burritos, and every other fast food item you could possibly think of, on a daily basis. So as far as my health is considered, bringing from home is the way to go. Even working at the pool, my shift falls over a meal time, so I pack here as well. In both situations I have access to a microwave and a refrigerator, widening my options a little bit, but even with these appliances, five days a week of packed lunches, can start to create a BROWN BAG BUMMER.

So if you are sick of the simple sandwich, salad, and fruit, maybe I can offer a few suggestions….

One thing I have learned is that to stay satisfied and nourished I need to have a variety of nutrients. I need carbohydrates (whole grain of course), protein, and some good old healthy fats. Without even one of these groups I don’t stay full for long, and sometimes have trouble focusing. Second I think about my personal preferences. I posted on this a few weeks ago, but my palette likes something sweet, something salty, and something crunchy. I try to make sure I have these bases covered, just for fun, as well.

So where do I start?

Step One

I start Sunday morning, menu planning for the entire week to ensure I have all the necessary stuff on hand, or work with what is already stocked in the house.

Step Two

Decide on a main item. I considered a main item a combo of the “big three,” carbs, protein, fat. This can be anything from a sandwich, salad (not just lettuce and veggies) and roll, hearty soup and crackers, greek yogurt with cereal, nuts and fruit, etc.

Step Three

Pick some “side dishes.” This is where I usually satisfy my sweet, salt, crunch aspect. I often add pita chips (read my post about kashi’s new treat), string cheese, nuts, animal crackers, fruit….I will list some of my personal favorites later J

Step Four

Decide if your lunch has a high satisfaction aspect, and review your schedule to see if there is anything abnormal that may cause a greater appetite, or cause an extended length between meals. You may want to throw a few extra snacks in you bag, or store some in your desk drawer like I do, just in case the hunger bug strikes.

In the future I plan on expanding the list of what I want to talk about next, because I am constantly trying to think of new things to pack, but maybe I can help you have something different in your lunchbox tomorrow….

Main Items

1. Sandwiches

Sandwiches are standard, but do not have to be boring…these are my three favorite with a few suggested variations:

Almond Butter and Apple on Thomas’ Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast Bread

-variations can include other nut butters (sunflower is delicious too!) different fruits, or spreads, and obviously another type of bread because there are about a bagillion out there…this just happens to be one of my favorites J I also like Peanut Butter, Banana, and Honey!!

Turkey/Chicken/Tuna Pita with Hummus and Veggies

-any protein will work but these three are my favorite! I use humus a lot to make a “mock” chicken or tuna salad because I don’t care for mayonnaise. It still gets a really creamy texture and tastes fantastic while providing a healthy fat.

Pizza Party Sandwich (Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and some Oregano on a Crusty Bread)

-this can either be heated up or eaten cold, but I like it hot. Any cheese or bread will do but I obviously think whats listed above, is a “party” in my mouth. (Ok, I am officially a cheese ball J )

2. Salads

To me you have to add a lot of stuff to make a salad have a high fullness factor. A lot of times I will use whatever is in my refrigerator or pantry to bulk up the greens. Here are some of my favorite combos…

Chicken, Almond, and Strawberry Salad with Balsamic and Feta

-all these ingredients thrown over a spinach mix is AWESOME. I like the honey roasted almonds myself because they really bring out the sweetness in the strawberries. This would good with another protein, different nuts, maybe glazed walnuts, other fruit like blueberries, craisins, or peaches, and of course your preference of dressing and cheese.

Mann’s Broccoli Slaw, Lettuce, Slivered Almonds, Chicken and Newman’s Own Low Fat Sesame-Ginger

-there is a post in my archives with a photo of this combo. The dressing is fantastic and has some pretty good nutritional stats. I think this would also be good if you added mandarin oranges.

Mom’s Magnificent Pasta Salad

-this is a staple we always make in the summer…corn on the cob, loads of veggies! Literally anything and everything that is in season, whole wheat pasta, grilled chicken marinated in fat free Italian, and then mix all together and toss with balsamic vinegar. It is even better the day after!

Taco Salad Extravaganza!

-I love Chili over a salad in the winter, topped with a little plain greek yogurt, roasted peppers and salsa, but in the summer I make my own black bean and corn salad that also works well over greens…

Black Bean and Corn Fiesta

Canned Black Beans Drained

Peppers washed and chopped to tiny little pieces

Red Onion

Corn (Cut off the cob or frozen prepped and drained)

LOTS of Balsamic Vinegar (DO NOT be shy with this ingredient!)

Pinch of cilantro

Salt and Pepper

Leave in the fridge overnight and enjoy! (it is always better a day later when the balsamic really soaks in!)

-I love this on its on own, with chips, or over greens, but if you don’t have chili on hand or feel like throwing together your own salad, used canned refried, or any other type of bean, frozen black bean burgers, etc. its like a Mexican kitchen sink!

—these aren’t specific, but I love to add hummus, vinegar, apples, and other random things to my salad bowls just to mix things up a little. Start experimenting, because you’d be surprised at how delicious the most obscure things can be!

3. Breakfast for Lunch

Greek Yogurt Parfait

-its no secret that I love breakfast and don’t often have cereal in the mornings because it doesn’t usually keep me full for very long, but it is an excellent addition to some greek yogurt for a fast lunch. Greek yogurt of your choice, cereal (I love Kashi Go Lean Crunch) some nuts and fruit, and you have a combo meal (or snack) that is AWESOME with a capital A!


-hardboiled are easiest to transport and really versatile…egg salad, chef salad, egg sandwich


-now obviously you can use a different brand but frozen waffles make a seriously good sandwich! I love them with either cream cheese and strawberry preserves, plain greek yogurt and fruit, or peanut butter and anything! it’s a nice little switch up to bread.

Side Items I LOVE


  • Pita Chips (Kashi and Stacy’s are my favorite! Both are crunchy with the perfect amount of salt!)
  • Nuts (Emerald Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Sweet and Salty Mix, Blue Diamond Honey Roasted, Blue Diamond Salt and Vinegar, Blue Diamond Habanero BBQ…there are so many to name!)
  • Pretzels (falvored or plain are both great to me. Paul Newman makes some awesome spelt and protein pretzels that are always in my snack drawer)
  • Baked Chips (I am pretty much obsessed with PopChips)
  • Edamame
  • Peanut Butter Crackers (If you are not too thrilled about making your own…Late July is delicious and reminds me of my childhood…Ritz Crackers anyone?
  • Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs (Barney Butter is great because they come in one tablespoon servings or two! And you can order them online)
  • String Cheese (Trader Joes has a light mozarella, and so does pretty much every brand in the regular grocery store)


  • Animal Crackers (Trader Joes Cats for People are to die for)
  • Nuts (hello, Emerald Sweet and Salty Chocolate Peanut Butter)
  • Flavored Greek Yogurt
  • Fruit
  • Kashi Cookies (Trail Mix and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal…definitely try these)
  • Clif Mojo Bars (awesome sweet and salty combo I have discussed in a few posts)
  • Granola (Warrior Crunch is all the rage AND it helps a friend in need! Go here to order


-many of the above have a crunch aspect, so pick your favorite and enjoy!!!

If I am being lazy….

Soups (I love Trader Joe’s brand anything and Amy’s Low Sodium Varieties)

Frozen Meals (Kashi Pesto Primavera is my favorite right now!)

I hope this helped, and like I said, I will add to this list pretty frequently…in fact I may even page it its own page! If you have any suggestions feel free to share! I work evening shift tonight so I will be packing dinner in a few hours! J


8 thoughts on “Breaking the Brown Bag Blues

  1. I adore this whole blog!! You are such an amazing woman…grown so much from the amazing friend down the street!! Will you pack my lunches? Ha!

    • Oh my gosh thank you for commenting!! That’s really nice to say you like my blog! I wish I could actually enter the building other than to escort these children around because I could seriously use some female company to break up my day!! And of course I’ll pack your lunch, I take orders every Sunday haha

  2. Pingback: WIAW: Flying Solo « Healthy, Happy, Whole

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s