According to the National Restaurant Association, the average American age 8 and older eats out at least four times a week. Half of those meals are eaten at lunch. Including coffees, teas and snacks, young adults under the age of 27 eat out as many as 30 times a week.
In 2009, one study looked at the factors influencing lunchtime food choices among working Americans. About one half of the study participants purchased lunch greater than or equal to two times/week. The typical source for purchasing lunch was a fast-food restaurant, followed by an on-site cafeteria/snack shop, full-service restaurant, supermarket, vending machine and convenience store.
When making your lunch, you have more control over what you're eating. It gives you a better opportunity to eat more nutritious food and monitor portion sizes. Lunch choices affect overall daily consumption of calories, fat, saturated fat, fiber, sugar and sodium.
When packing your lunch, aim to include a serving from the five food groups: fruits and vegetables, grains, protein and low-fat or non-fat dairy. There are many delicious options you can prepare at home to take to school or work. Keep it simple with leftovers from the night before, a salad or a sandwich.
For the latter, use these tips to build a more nutritious version of this midday-meal favorite:
1. Choose Your Bread or Wrap1 of 6
Any whole-wheat option will do: bread, wrap, English muffin or tortilla. The key is to choose one with whole wheat as the first ingredient.
2. Choose Your Spread2 of 6
Be creative here! Try hummus (there are various flavors to choose from), avocado, pesto, nut butters (peanut, almond and cashew), mustard or non-fat, plain yogurt.
3. Choose Your Protein3 of 6
Any lean protein will do: mashed beans or lentils, turkey, chicken, tofu, eggs (scrambled or hard boiled), tuna or salmon (fresh or canned), veggie burgers and nut butters.
4. Add Lots of Vegetables4 of 6
Go crazy here; you want a rainbow of color. Fill your sandwich with raw or roasted vegetables. Add leafy greens like spinach, kale or arugula. Try carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumber or zucchini. Any favorite vegetable of yours will work.
Turkey-Avocado-Veggie Sandwich5 of 6
Here's how to build this delicious and nutritious sandwich:
1. Bread/wrap: Whole Wheat Bread
Adults need 5-to-8 ounce equivalents of whole grains per day and having a whole grain at lunch, like whole wheat bread, will help meet that goal. Whole grains will also provide fiber, B vitamins and trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper and magnesium.
2. Spread: Avocado
Heart-healthy avocado is high in mono-unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat. Avocados are a good source of fiber, potassium, folate and vitamins C, K and B6.
3. Protein: Fresh Turkey Breast
This high-protein choice is a good source of B vitamins with less saturated fat than other meat choices. Just make sure you stick with a 2- to 3-ounce portion size. Also, be aware that some turkey breasts can be high in sodium.
4. Vegetables: Arugula + Cucumber + Red Bell Pepper + Tomato
Arugula is a good source of folate and calcium, and an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Cucumber is naturally low-calorie and a good source of vitamin C. Red bell peppers are rich in vitamins A, C and B6, and a good source of vitamin K. They also contain beta carotene and lycopene. Lastly, tomatoes are high in vitamins A and C, and they're a good source of potassium and lycopene.
Pair this delicious sandwich with a small container of non-fat plain Greek yogurt with your favorite berries added in to round out your meal.