5 Smart Staples for Lunch Packers

Light Bread

Close up of fresh sliced loaf of bread
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Sandwiches are a brown-bag staple and, despite what you might think, they're not off-limits for calorie counters. You just need to choose wisely, especially when it comes to the bread.

Instead of opting for any old loaf in the bread aisle, take a look at those nutritional panels. A lot of products have 100 calories or more per slice! Go with light bread, which has around 45 calories per slice. I also love 100-calorie flat sandwich buns, high-fiber flour tortillas, and light flatbreads. They're perfect for making healthy sandwiches—just keep the total bread calorie count at around 100. 

Pro tip: Lightly toast your bread before you make your sandwich. This will help keep the bread from getting soggy by lunchtime. 

Portable Proteins

Hungry Girl's Lunch Staples: Portable Proteins
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When it comes to sliced meat, go with the extra-lean kind. These are often labeled as 96% or more fat-free. My personal favorite is turkey breast, but you can find extra-lean chicken breast, ham, even roast beef when you're grocery shopping for healthier picks.

If you're watching your sodium, look for reduced-sodium, low-sodium, and no-salt-added varieties. And check the deli counter, which often has even more options than the prepackaged section.

Another great protein is tuna. Tuna packs come portion-controlled and some, like StarKist pouches, come pre-seasoned and don’t require draining or additional condiments. If you’re making your own tuna salad, use low-calorie add-ins like light mayo, salsa, relish, and mustard, or you can pack them on the side and assemble a sandwich at lunchtime. 

All-Star Salads

Hungry Girl's Lunch Staples: All-Star Salads
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Start with a big base of chopped lettuce: iceberg, romaine, mixed greens, whatever you like. Then layer on veggies like cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms, and more. Top it off with skinless chicken breast, shrimp, or even some of those deli slices. Prefer tuna? Just pack it on the side. As for dressings, stick with light ones or get creative—I like to use salsa instead.

The key to the perfect on-the-go salad is to pack the dressing separately. When you’re ready to eat lunch, add the dressing, re-cover, and shake the container. Your dressing will evenly coat your greens, and those greens will have stayed crispy. 

Pro tip: Got leftover taco meat from last night's dinner? Turn it into a taco salad! Just fill your salad container with lettuce, tomatoes, black beans, and corn. Top it off with the taco meat, and pack salsa on the side.

Portion-Controlled Snacks

Hungry Girl's Lunch Staples: Portion-Controlled Snacks
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What's a lunch sack without a snack or two? I'm a big fan of pre-portioned snacks like light string cheese, single-serving bags of popped or baked chips, and 100-calorie packs of nuts. I also like fresh fruit, cut veggies, and jerky. Need a quick dip for those veggies? Mix salsa with fat-free Greek yogurt for a creamy yet zesty sauce. It's fantastic with baby carrots, sugar snap peas, jicama sticks, and cherry tomatoes, which are also awesome healthy emergency snacks.

Pro tip: Pair fiber with protein for a filling snack. Go for an apple smeared with a light cheese wedge, or that veggies and dip combo—the Greek yogurt adds protein! 

Sweet Treats

Hungry Girl's Lunch Staples: Sweet Treats
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The best way to avoid the temptation of fattening sweets throughout the day? BYOD: Bring Your Own Dessert! I like to keep my dessert fix at 100 calories or less. Some of these picks are perfect diet-friendly ways to kick a chocolate craving, too:

  • Vitalicious VitaTops
  • Dessert-flavored light yogurt
  • Chocolate-coated snack bars
  • Caramel rice cakes
  • Lollipops and hard candy

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