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Nutrition in a Little Brown Bag

Food Fitness. Nourish your body.

Bringing lunch from home is a bargain in a bag -- easy on both your weight and your wallet. Making your own midday meal gives you better control over portion size, calorie and fat content, and at the same time provides nutritional benefits that can even lower the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Chicken Sandwich

The most popular purchased lunches to eat at the office are sandwiches, wraps and salads. But they can be full of hidden fats and calories and poor nutrition bargains. The only way to get a true bargain is to make your own.

A good place to start with your brown-bag lunch is the traditional, central item: the sandwich. Since about 60 percent of a sandwich is bread, use one made of a whole-grain flour. But just because bread is dark brown, doesn't always mean it's a whole grain bread. Caramel color or molasses is often added to bread to give it a deep color.

Whole Grains Whole grains, which are more nutrient-dense than refined versions, are more fiber-rich and filling than refined grains. They are rich in many health-protective substances: antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamin E, folic acid, zinc, selenium and magnesium. When selecting a loaf of bread, the ingredient label should list as the first item either "100 percent whole grain" or "whole" followed by the grain used.

In choosing sandwich fillings and considering an alternate to meat, remember that most cheeses contain more fat per ounce than most meats. Consider a reduced-fat cheese.

Sandwich fillings made with soft cheese can also include vegetables or fruits, or both, creating extra flavor, texture and nutrition, as do the following spreads. Each makes about 1-1/2 cups, or 1-tablespoon, per average slice of bread.

Packing a Lunch

Nutrition in a Little Brown Bag

  • Keep delicate foods, such as crackers and pretzels, at the top of your lunch bag so they don't get crushed.
  • Reach for a thermos to carry soups and stews to work or school.
  • Bringing a salad for lunch? Pack your dressing in a separate container to prevent lettuce from wilting.
  • Consider buying differently colored reusable lunch bags for each family member so everyone knows they're walking out with the right lunch.
  • Don't have a container small enough for your dressing? Pour a small amount into the corner of your salad container and cover it with plastic wrap. then add your salad ingredients to the container.
  • Buy a few reusable ice packs to keep things cool. Place the ice pack in a resealable plastic bag to keep other items dry.
  • If you are making a lunch that will not be eaten for several hours, keep food cool by placing a frozen juice box (wrapped in a paper towel) in the bag or lunch box.

Following are some suggested recipes to try, but be creative based on your personal preferences to make healthy eating actually enjoyable!

Carrot Spread

Carrot and diced carrot

1 (8-ounce) package low fat cream cheese
1-1/2 tablespoon low-fat or regular sour cream*
1 cup coarsely grated or finely chopped carrot, as desired
1/4 cup well-drained crushed pineapple
2 tablespoons chopped blanched almonds or other nuts of choice

Mix well!

Nutrition information per tablespoon of spread:
Calories: 31
Total Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Sodium: 30mg
Carbohydrate: 2g
Protein: 1g
Dietary Fiber: <1g

Source:  AICR

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Chunky Cranberry Spread

Cranberries in a basket

1 (8-ounce) package low-fat cream cheese
1-2 tablespoons low-fat milk*
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped blanched almonds or other nut
1/2 teaspoon orange zest, preferably fresh

Place cheese in a medium bowl and allow to soften at room temperature. Mash and work with a fork until texture is light enough to combine easily with other ingredients.

Using sour cream for the carrot spread or milk for the cranberry version, gradually add just enough liquid so cheese becomes soft and easy to spread.

Mix in remaining ingredients for the spread of choice. Cover and refrigerate up to two days ahead or let stand at room temperature one hour before serving to allow flavors to blend and mellow.

Spread on slices of a whole-grain bread.

Nutrition information per tablespoon of cranberry spread:
Calories: 36
Total Fat: 2g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Sodium: 29mg
Carbohydrate: 3g
Protein: 1g
Dietary Fiber: Less than 1g

Source:  AICR

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Flax Seed Butter

2 tablespoons. flax seeds
1/2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons good yeast
2 tablespoons water
Pinch of salt

Grind flax seeds to a fine powder in coffee grinder. Blend all ingredients together until smooth. Add salt to taste. If you are putting the butter on potatoes or cooked vegetables, you can also add onion powder, garlic powder, Vegit or any seasoning of your choice. Flax butter needs to be eaten fresh because of the delicate essential fatty acids in the flax seeds. The good tasting yeast gives this spread a distinct buttery taste. The flax seeds produce a slightly nutty flavor.

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Almond Butter

Almond butter can be made fresh daily in small batches or kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Almond butter is a nutritious and hearty topping for bagels or muffins and it's a snap to make at home. Just chop whole natural almonds in a food processor and blend with a little vegetable oil and salt and until almost smooth. Or jazz it up a bit with this recipe:

Pinch of salt

Add desired amounts of almonds and grind in your coffee grinder. A second batch ground for two to three seconds and added to the finely powdered almonds makes a great chunky almond butter. Add honey and mix well with water for desired constancy. Mix in a pinch of salt and cinnamon. Honey can be replaced with cold pressed peanut oil, flax oil or pumpkin oil for a richer butter. This basic recipe can be used for making any nut butters. Experiment to find what is you and your family's favorite nutty flavor. A Champion juicer makes an excellent almond butter.

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Almond Spice Spread

30 almonds
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients in two batches in your coffee grinder. Thinly slice a raw sweet potato. Spread soft mixture on top of sweet potato slices and sprinkle with Good Tasting Yeast or top with raisins and sesame seeds. A great junk-food replacer for those late night munches. Also makes a great decorative entree for guests.

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