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Hottest lunch trend: Brown bag lunches that are affordable and diet-friendly

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Be hip, healthy and save money!

A growing trend for lunchtime dining is brown bag lunches. Millions of women are opting to pack their own lunch as well as their family's lunches in order to save money. As an extra bonus, those brown bag lunches may also trim their waistlines. Here are some tips to pack delicious lunches for you and your family that are both affordable - and healthy.

Time for Lunch

Brown bag lunches can save your family hundreds of dollars

Nearly two-thirds of US women currently pack a lunch for themselves, and women with school age children are more likely to pack lunches than women without kids, according to a recent Harris Interactive survey conducted on behalf of the Grain Foods Foundation.

Eighty-one percent of women in the survey indicated that money is the primary reason for packing their lunch. The average cost of lunches eaten at restaurants is around $9. A brown bag lunch can cost as little as $2. Brown bagging can literally save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per year, especially if you have a large family.

Kate Gosselin of TLC's Jon & Kate Plus Eight, who has teamed up with the Grain Foods Council to promote affordable and healthy lunches says, "Managing expenses is a priority not just in my family but with many others across the country right now. Making sandwiches and packing healthy lunches is a relatively easy way to save money and control your diet."

Brown bags can also trim your waistline

In general, brown bag lunches tend to be smaller in portion size and lower in calories as compared to restaurant – or fast food – meals. Though sandwiches tend to be the number one choice among brown baggers, Gosselin also suggests using leftovers from dinner.

"I just put leftovers from dinner right into containers and then into my lunch bag and I'm ready to go the next morning. Plus, things like granola bars, pretzels and popcorn are easy, healthy items to toss in for a midday snack."

When you pack your own lunch or lunch for your kids, you know what is going into it. Sandwiches made with whole grain breads and lean proteins paired with fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthy snacks are far better choices than high-calorie, high-fat restaurant meals and sugar-laden junk food from the vending machine. In addition to saving you money, brown bag lunches will also save you hundreds of calories!

Tips to save money and calories with brown bag lunches

Courtesy of Kate Gosselin and the Grain Foods Foundation

1. Let every lunch be unique. Variety is the slice of life, so try a new type of bread every day of the week. Instead of the usual tuna on white bread, give whole wheat a try. Make your PB&J's with raisin bread. Layer your turkey and Swiss on pumpernickel. Vary your breads and vary your sandwich fillings to keep lunch intriguing. To make lunch interesting for your kids, use two different types of bread to make each sandwich, cut them into quarters and flip two of the quarters over for a checkerboard effect.

2. Toast it. Mmmmm, the delightful contrast of crisped bread and melting cheese - unbeatable! Add texture to your sandwiches by toasting your bread. At work, take advantage of your break room toaster and be the envy of the office.

3. Bring your own lunch and share. Gather your buddies at work or at the park one day a week for a sandwich exchange. Just think, a filling and affordable lunch with no bill or tip at the end of the hour.

4. Show your kids you care. Packing lunch for your kids is another way to show them you care. Include a note in their lunch bags or scribble words of inspiration or a funny joke on a napkin. And if you want to get really creative, use large cookie cutters to turn your child's sandwich into a work of art. Little surprises will let your kids know you are thinking about them – and it will make them smile.

5. Use eco-friendly lunch bags. Most women love to show off a new handbag – why should your lunch bag be any different? There are a host of insulated, eco-friendly options in fashion-friendly colors and designs. To jazz up your kids lunches, use recycled paper bags and have them add ribbons, name tags or their own drawings. With a little creativity, packing healthy lunches can become a fun family tradition.

6. Join the Brown Bag Club. To demonstrate just what kind of impact brown bag lunches will have on your wallet and waistline, the Grain Foods Foundation has created an online savings tool. By joining the Brown Bag Club, you can calculate your savings, download coupons, get delicious sandwich recipes and register to win a year's worth of free groceries. Visit GrainPower.org to register.

Whether you are a mom, in college or working 9 to 5, brown bagging is a hip, healthy and economical way to lunch.

And here are some more delicious lunch tips and recipes


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