Beat brown bag boredom

In these recessionary times, packing your own lunch makes a lot of sense. Think about it: if you typically spend $8 on lunch every workday, that’s $40 a week. The savings over an entire year comes in around $2,000.

The downsides? Besides having to find the time to prepare a lunch, there’s the matter of facing a variation on the same old meal (usually involving a ho-hum sandwich) every single day.

Here are some tips on creative brown-bag lunches from Consumer Reports that can help you cut costs and beat boredom — while staying healthy.

Think breakfast foods. Both frittatas and quiche pack well, and they taste good served cold or warm.

Leafless salads. Chopped raw vegetables such as peppers, seeded cucumber, and carrots tossed in vinaigrette hold up better than lettuce. Add black beans and corn to make a complete protein.

Portable pasta. If you’re having pasta for dinner, prepare a little extra. It will taste delicious either hot or cold the next day. If you’d prefer dress it up a little differently, use your favourite vinaigrette and canned salmon or tuna for a second meal.

Antipasto and dips. Skip the standard sandwich and prepare a selection of appetizers instead. A few ideas: mozzarella cubes wrapped in roasted red peppers (fresh or from a jar), olives, deviled eggs, slices of salami, and roasted almonds. Or pack a small container of hummus along with some pita or vegetables to scoop it up.

Sandwich upgrades. Move beyond the tried-and-true (read boring) by experimenting with different combinations. Leftovers from last night’s dinner, such as meatloaf slices or roast chicken, are great ingredients for sandwiches or even cold entrees. Or instead of packing a traditional sandwich, bring wedges of good, flavourful cheese, a crusty whole-grain roll and some grapes or veggies.

Soups. Invest in a good wide-mouth thermos and take homemade or canned soup. Leftover stir-fries, stews and casseroles stay hot and pack well in a thermos, so always make a little extra when you cook dinner. When the weather is warm, chilled gazpacho makes for a tasty treat.

Other healthy and budget-friendly lunch ideas:

— A whole-wheat tortilla wrap of hummus, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, feta cheese and black olives. Round it off with a carton of fat-free vanilla yogurt, and berries.

— A whole-wheat pita stuffed with vegetarian refried beans, salsa, lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese. For dessert, slice an apple and spread on some peanut butter.

— A green salad prepared with canned chunk light tuna, carrot strips, pepper slices, tomato wedges, red beans, and dried cranberries topped with balsamic vinaigrette. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a cup of low fat chocolate milk.

— A peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat bread. Finish with a piece of fresh fruit and low fat yogurt.

— Whole-wheat tortilla roll with sliced turkey, sliced low-fat mozzarella cheese, red pepper strips, and lettuce leaf (pack separately to keep it crisp), followed by a fruit salad.

(For more healthy lunch ideas, visit WebMD.)

Note: Keep in mind that lunches that include meat, fish, poultry, or dairy need to be kept refrigerated. If you don’t have access to a fridge, invest in a good lunchbox, Thermos, and ice packs to keep your lunch at the proper temperature.

Sources: Consumer Reports; WebMD.

Photo © Greg Nicholas

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