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Pack Daily Adventures in Brown-Bag Lunches


NEW YORK — Brown-bagging it can take on a whole new meaning. You can save money--and calories--when you bring lunch from home, instead of buying it from a deli or a vending machine.

Sounds too boring? Take a break from the everyday sandwich.

You can replace the jelly in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with fresh fruit slices or chopped dried fruit. You'll add flavor and nutrients and save on sugar.

Mix flaked, cooked fish or water-packed tuna with fruit, bean sprouts, chopped cooked or raw vegetables.

Combine chopped cooked lean meat or poultry with chopped raw vegetables, moistened with plain low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese.

Use a variety of breads such as whole-wheat, rye, pumpernickel or bran; pita pockets, rolls, bagels, tortillas, English muffins and rice cakes.

If you're tired of sandwiches, try different foods.

Low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese can be mixed with chopped and drained unsweetened canned fruits, or chopped or shredded fresh fruits or vegetables.

Rice cracker mix and nuts is a combination of miniature crackers and dried legumes with a spicy Oriental flavor, available in the dried food section of most supermarkets.

Another suggestion: pepperoni, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces, and crackers.

Use an insulated lunch box instead of a paper bag when packing cold foods. Use an ice pack or a gel freezer pack to keep hard-cooked eggs, meat and milk products cold.

If lunch just isn't lunch unless it's hot, use a wide-mouth vacuum bottle for soup, chili, chowder or stew; chili or baked beans; casseroles made with pasta or rice.

Preheat the vacuum bottle by filling it with clean, hot water and letting it stand for a few minutes. Empty and promptly fill with hot food. Use a stainless-steel or glass-lined vacuum bottle rather than a plastic-lined one for hotter and safer food.

For beverages: choose low-fat or skim milk and fruit juices instead of soda. Vegetable juices supply important nutrients, but may be high in sodium, so balance these juices with low-sodium foods.

You'll save calories if you bring a naturally sweet fresh fruit such as apples, grapes and pears for snacking and dessert, instead of buying chips and candy bars from a vending machine.

A 1988 survey by MRCA Information Services states that 44% of all Americans carry food and-or beverages from home. The most avid brown-baggers, the survey says, are children from 6 to 12 years of age, and adults between the ages of 35 to 54. The apple is the most popular brown-bag item, followed by cookies, carbonated soft drinks and potato chips.

Chinet, makers of microwave-safe, disposable tableware that is 100% biodegradable, recently surveyed office caterers for their tips on brown-bag and eat-in working lunches. Here are some of their ideas:

--Invest in a quality lunch box or insulated bag and a thermos.

--Bring a favorite mug from home or buy one just for the office.

--Stash a few staples in a desk drawer, including salt and pepper shakers, paper napkins and plates.

--Prepare and pack a lunch the night before, so you won't be scrambling in the morning.

--Clean up leftovers in the refrigerator by packing them for lunch. Slice leftover grilled chicken and top it with avocado, tomato and shredded cheese. Wrap in a flour tortilla or use a bread.

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