How could we be so skeptical of a homemade meal? A recent JAMA Pediatrics study found that the typical elementary and middle school student’s home-prepared lunch is seriously lacking in vegetables, fruit and whole grains and overflowing with sugar and sodium. Kids aren’t packing their own lunches—so we’re looking at you mom and dad; could your lunch be just as nutritionally-lacking as your little one’s? While there hasn’t been a study done to confirm, we fear that this might be the case. To help you gauge the quality of your midday meal, we’ve come up with a list of brown-bag lunch blunders that may be hindering your weight loss efforts. Here are the top nine, plus simple ways to reverse the damage.
You’re Eating Bread That’s Worse Than a Cookie
If you think your PB&J or turkey sandwich is a healthy addition to your lunch, you may want to take a closer look at you bread’s nutrition label. If “enriched flour,” “high fructose corn syrup” or “sugar” is one of the first few ingredients listed, you’re not doing your waistline any favors. Look for bread that comes in around 80 calories and three grams of sugar per slice and lists whole grain as the first ingredient. Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Bread and Alpine Valley Organic 21 Whole Grains Bread both fit the bill.
You’re Putting Fatty Add- Ons In Your Sandwich
Speaking of PB&J and turkey subs, let’s take a closer look at what you’re putting between those pillows of carbs. If Thousand Island, mayonnaise, or processed cheese typically makes an appearance, you could be adding hundreds of unnecessary calories to your midday meal. Instead of these naughty picks, add some flavor and healthy fat to your bread with a thin layer of olive oil-based hummus or mashed avocado. You’ll also want to pile on slices cucumbers, spinach, tomato and onion. These fibrous veggies will make your sandwich more filling, without adding a ton of calories.
Your Sandwich and Salad Meats Are Scary
A group of researchers found that the consumption of processed meats—like the cured, salted and smoked tubular ones lining the deli counter—have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. A vast majority of deli meats also include sodium nitrate, a preservative that’s been shown to interfere with the body’s natural means of processing sugar, leading to an increased risk for diabetes. Is your favorite a top offender?
Your Food Is Covered with Pesticides
While we commend you for throwing some produce into your lunch bag, if they’re covered in pesticides they may cause weight gain and a dip in your metabolism. Although researchers aren’t totally certain why this happens, it seem the toxins–which are stored in our fat cells after consumption–may interfere with the energy-burning process. When packing apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, peaches, strawberries, cherries, grapes, lettuce and pears in your bag, opt for the organic varieties. These produce items tend to have the highest levels of pesticides.
You’re Dunking Your Veggies Into a Fat Pool
Yes, carrot and celery sticks are healthy additions to your lunch, but the dip you’re serving them with may be hindering your weight loss efforts. Popular to-go containers of dip can have up to 210 calories and 21 grams of fat! If you won’t dare eat your veggie bare, switch to a single serve hummus instead. We like Wild Garden’s squeeze packs, which have just 63 calories and three grams of fat.
Your Thermos Is Loaded with Sodium & Chemicals
Whipping up a big batch of homemade chili or vegetable soup over the weekend is a great healthy lunch-hack for those with little time for mid-week meal prep. Packing a store-bought variety, on the other hand, doesn’t always ensure a healthy lunch. Many soup cans are loaded with sky-high levels of bloat-inducing sodium and may be laced with BPA, a chemical that’s been linked to obesity. If you don’t have time to make your own healthy variety at home, look for cans that are BPA free and have less than 120 calories and 600 mg of sodium per serving. Most of Campbell’s V8 soups are good options.
You Don’t Pack a Drink
Drinking water is essential for all your body’s functions, and the more you drink, the better your odds are of staying thin. In fact, one University of Utah study found that dieters who downed two cups of water before each meal lost 30 percent more weight than their counterparts who didn’t sip any H20. Drinking water is so important, in fact, that a group of scientists is hoping to convince the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to add a water icon to forthcoming version of the updated MyPlate (the USDA’s nutrition guide). If you don’t have a water cooler at your office, fill a BPA-free bottle with water at home and drink at least two cups during lunch.
You Forget About the “Plate Rule”
Even though you may never eat your brown bag meal off an actual plate, you should still be following the MyPlate guidelines. Fruits and veggies should comprise half of your meal, a protein, like beans, tofu, chicken, beans, or cottage cheese, should take up a quarter, and a whole grain should fill in the remaining 25 percent. It may help to imagine spreading your lunch items on an actual plate to see if your go-to meal fits the bill.
Your Food Is Low-Fat
If you typically pack low-fat cookies, crackers and snacks into your brown bag as a “healthy” dessert you may want to reconsider. When food makers strip out fat, they typically replace it with fast-digesting carbs that cause blood sugar to spike and quickly drop, increasing the odds the vending machine will be calling your name soon after. If you’re keen on peanut butter sandwiches, the same rule of thumb holds true. Use full fat nut butters to keep hunger at bay and stay slim.