Bag Lunch That Beats Eating Out — Meal Prep

Bag Lunch That Beats Eating Out — Meal Prep

Meal Prep: Gear up for the week with tips for making the local life work.

Hello, I’m Justin, Jeannie’s husband. I spend my days as a graphic designer. That’s right—I’m snobby about the aesthetics and functionality of everything. It’s a deep personality defect I’ve successfully turned into a career at this point.

Another confession: I’m also a dedicated brown-bagger. I love no other lunch more than my own prepared lunch. After years of packing my own, I’ve got it down to a science. When Jeannie asked if I’d mind sharing how I prep my lunches, I replied “YES” in audible all-caps.

Why not eat out? I’m so (too?) glad you asked. For me, lunches out are…

  • an annoying time drain during what can be a very productive part of the day

  • expensive after a while

  • rarely a balanced meal—usually just an entrée

  • boring if you’ve tried the options within a reasonable driving distance, no matter how tasty those tacos once seemed. (If you know, you know: On the 8th day God put in a half day because he realized he forgot to make Las Meras Tortas.)

  • not my own food. Asked and answered: I prefer my own taste in, uh, taste?

I’ll take my own lunch every time. I want to eat a whole meal, including servings of fruit and vegetables and enough stuff to really get full (but not sleepy). I’m hopelessly hooked on the lunch zen in the middle of a day that, let’s be real, is probably getting on top of me by noon anyway.


Here’s how to take your make-ahead lunch game to the stratosphere. First, you need the right gear.

Starter Kit

  • Waxed canvas lunch bag you’ll be proud to take out of the fridge

  • Glass containers with well-sealing lids like these

  • A promise to yourself that you’ll eat at 12 sharp, come conference call hell or high water

You eat with your eyes first, they say. (They love to say things like that.) This must go double for lunches. I don’t want to eat a lunch that doesn’t look inviting. To that end, I start with a sturdy, reusable, handsome-looking lunch bag. Look for one that’s resistant to inevitable leaks. The better-looking options aren’t insulated, though if you have access to a fridge this works in your favor.

Next, acquire glass containers. Glass offers two superior benefits. First, no worry of BPA leaking into your otherwise mouth-watering food. Second, glass is much more pleasant to eat out of than plastic (sorry-not-sorry, plastic). Go to Target and find a set you like. Then please test the lids. A little hard to get off? Perfect. That’s a great seal at work.

Last, make a pact with yourself that you’ll stop at noon for lunch. I make my worst, most comfort-oriented food choices when I’m stressed and over-hungry. Don’t let it come to that. Make this the appointment you keep with yourself, for yourself. This is your time.

Now you have your kit. How do you fill your awesome lunch bag?

4 Magic Lunch Categories

  1. Healthy protein

  2. High-fiber fruit

  3. Vegetable

  4. Entrée

Let me metaphorically unpack those a bit.

1. Healthy Protein

Reach For: Greek Yogurt & Granola

I usually pack 1/3 cup low- or no-fat Greek yogurt with a tablespoon or two of made-ahead granola. I love the mind-boggling quantities of protein without any saturated fat or cholesterol penalties. Costco carries Fage basically by the bucket, but your supermarket will offer solid options. I avoid big meat servings like whole chicken breasts as my protein because of how sleepy all the meat makes me and how heavily those miserable animals’ lives weigh on my conscience. Lunchtime is not the time for bodily or moral sluggishness.

If you buy Greek yogurt, please buy in the largest containers you can, for two reasons. First, eating out of flimsy, logo-laden plastic costs more of our souls than we can spare these days. Second, picking your ideal portion ensures minimum waste and maximum savings.

2. High-Fiber Fruit

Reach For: Apples, Strawberries

I once read that Christian Bale lost zillions of pounds to prepare for his role in “The Machinist” (crazy movie (and actor)). Afterwards, he gained back many of those pounds to play The Dark Knight in “Batman Begins”. The pounds rolled off because he ate only cans of tuna and apples for meals.

Therefore, I often eat apples with lunch. If it’s good enough for Mr. Bale, it’s good enough for me. But more to my goal, they’re very filling. You could do even better by eating strawberries when they’re in season. Both make excellent choices for targeting filling, body-regulating fiber without taking in all the calories of, say, a banana.

Hot tip: Slice your apples at lunchtime. You’ll be amazed how little of the apple you have to throw away. But also? Eating an apple by the bite is a job. Eating slices is a crunchy, satisfying snack (especially if the apple is cold).

3. Vegetable

Reach For: Baby Carrots & Hummus, Pepper Strips, Small Salads

Another filling source of fiber! I love raw vegetables the most. They tend to be crunchier, and therefore more interesting to eat. But they also retain more of their nutritional value. I think baby carrots and hummus balance fuss-free and yummy the best.

4. Entrée

Reach For: Last Night’s Leftovers

I usually pack a spare serving of whatever we had for dinner the night before. Since the rest of my meal comes together by formula, leftovers put some (literal) spice in my lunch relationship. I find something very fun in eating a tiny meal within a meal.

A couple tricks make this leftovers entrée scenario work most of the time. First, try making dinners for a couple more people than will actually eat it that night. (Or have picky one- and three-year-olds—that’s what I do.) Second, make dinners like homemade burritos in a giant batch every two or three weeks. Individually wrap and freeze what you don’t eat that day. In a leftovers pinch, grab your own delicious prepared food.

A typical lunch for me looks like an olive lunch bag containing a stack of containers of Greek yogurt, granola, a dozen baby carrots, a tablespoon of hummus, last night’s dinner in miniature, and a Gala apple.

I hope lunchtime finds you in a self-care routine. Today you kept yourself alive and feeling great, and by golly you did it your way. What does that routine look like for you? Any genius lunch hacks of your own to share?

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