Nutritionist Suzanne C. Burns is a fan of mason jar salads for healthy take-along lunches. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Let’s do lunch

When you are working a long shift, eating a healthy lunch (or dinner if you’re on the night shift) can be problematic.It is estimated that Americans spend about $1000 per year, eating out at lunch time. That’s a pretty hefty price tag. If you opt for less costly fare, like fast food, the toll on your health can be significant.So, the cheapest, healthiest option is to pack your own meals. Again, this can be problematic since busy schedules often mean extra time is at a premium.So, what to do?We took some time to chat with Suzanne Burns, RD, LD, CDE. Burns has been a registered dietitian for 17 years and currently works in the Diabetes Education department at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainseville, Georgia.Nutritional requirements vary wildly based on the individual, but if you’re looking for a good rule of thumb you can look at the RDA guidelines at the National Institute of Health’s website.Burns also offers this helpful review for healthy eating. She says that these are the things you need, “Vegetables – most of us need to eat more vegetables – any vegetable you like is encouraged, raw or cooked, fresh or frozen, any color – they are all good. Vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – plus vegetables are low in calories and high in fiber which will fill you up.”“Lean protein –cooked chicken, turkey, beef or pork, tuna or salmon, eggs, nuts or nut butters, seeds, beans, cheese, and/or dairy products. When you are hungry, the protein will make you feel full and more satisfied. You use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.” “Whole Grains – whole grain breads, wraps, crackers, grains like quinoa, barley, brown rice, whole grain couscous, or pasta. When looking at the food label the word “whole” or “whole grain” should be listed before the type of grain as the first or second ingredient. For example, whole wheat flour; whole oats; whole grain rye. Whole grains foods are good sources of fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and minerals. If you are gluten free, just choose a grain that doesn’t contain gluten like corn, buckwheat, oats, rice or quinoa (or others).” “Fruit – any fresh or frozen fruit is good, and you can now get individual portions of fruit in the grocery store. Less processed food – less salt, less fat, less artificial ingredients. Less junk.”Again, eating this way takes time but Burns says the key to making it work is meal planning. She says, “Consider making a grocery list to make sure you will have what you will need to eat healthier.”When making that list, she recommends considering these popular lunch entrées that include salads, grain bowls, wraps or sandwiches, and leftovers from the night before.

Prep your meal the night before or in some instances you can prep a week in advance. Burns recommends having plenty of freezer and microwave safe storage containers on hand. She says, “Leftovers are always a good option. When you make dinner – make a little extra (or eat a little less) and pack your leftovers for your lunch the next day. You can always add a green salad or a cup of yogurt for a healthy and perfectly portioned meal.”If leftovers aren’t your thing, Burns recommends mason jar salads. These can be prepped up to a week in advance and are easy to assemble. She offers these simple instructions, “Get 5 quart size mason jars – and prepare your lunches for 5 days this week. Start by layering 2-3 tablespoons of salad dressing in the bottom of the jar, then add vegetables that can handle being marinated in the dressing like carrots, onions, cucumbers, beans, peppers. Add any other vegetable like broccoli and lettuce or spinach, then top the salad with your ready to eat protein – cooked meat, beans or egg. Then seal the jar.”She also says that you can find a wealth of recipes by using Google or going on Pinterest.Another option that can be easily prepped in advance is the healthy and economical grain bowl. To prep these, Burns says, “Arrange your prepared grain, vegetables like roasted or grilled green beans, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, corn, tomatoes, and protein in a bowl. Feel free to use any vegetable including any leftover. Use a tablespoon of a vinaigrette dressing over the top, and you are ready to eat. You may want to make 3-4 days of your grain bowls for your lunches for the week and mix up the vegetables for variety.”Finally, there is the universal lunch favorite…the humble sandwich. Burns’ take on this standard lunch fare is far from humble and offers a lot of healthy ingredients.She recommends, “Take your whole grain bread or wrap and brush on your favorite condiment – like mayonnaise, mustard, pesto, cream cheese, then layer it with protein chopped small, and chopped vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (you may want to brush your vegetables with salad dressing for more flavor). Wrap it up and secure with saran wrap.”And, if you just completely run out of time (and ingredients) Burns says that a PB&J on whole grain bread with a piece of fruit or a container of Greek yogurt is delicious, nutritious and economical.Eating healthy does take a little planning and a little extra work. But Burns states, “Committing to a healthy diet can be one of the smartest decisions you ever make. Why? Not only can eating well make you look and feel better, it can also save you money on future health costs.”

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