By KAREN McDOUGALL

Every morning I ask myself what I am going to have for lunch. Do I feel like packing or am I going to buy? Then I start to feel guilty because I know packing would be healthier for me, but sometimes I get the cravings for fast food.

Once upon a time, packed lunches were sandwiches, chips, fruit, cookie and milk. Have you ever noticed we tend to eat the same thing week after week?

Now, with Facebook and Pinterest, the possibilities are endless. Instead of buying those fast foods, why not make your own? You can get the recipes online, make them for dinner, and have leftovers later in the week.

I’ve learned we can control the amount of sodium, fat and sugar intake while getting creative with texture, color, flavors, and shapes. Recipes are just a guideline. If you want to add something different, you can try some of these suggestions.

  • Think you still need a sandwich for lunch? Try different breads or make a wrap. Trade in the peanut butter and jelly and go for egg salad, tuna salad or even chicken salad while using less mayo. Try a little Greek yogurt instead.
  • Enhance your salads with different kinds of salad greens, spinach, or spring mix. Try adding different proteins to give your salad some pizzazz. Instead of meat, try adding nuts, beans, cheese or hard-cooked eggs.
  • Limit your intake of hot dogs or lunch meat. Exchange them for leftover meatloaf or other proteins like roast beef, grilled chicken, or hummus. Eating protein will help you feel fuller until your next meal.
  • If you need something that goes “crunch” at lunchtime, trade in the chips for whole-grain items such as popcorn, whole-grain crackers, or blue corn tortilla chips.
  • With gardens or farmers markets, there is a bounty of peak-season fresh fruits and vegetables. This is a great time to eat the rainbow: With the different colors, textures and robust flavors of different fruits and vegetables, we could eat something different each day.
  • Need something sweet? Why not make carrot or zucchini mini muffins? Sometimes fresh fruit is just enough to satisfy our sweet tooth.

Remember to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. An insulated lunch bag with a freezer pack can keep items cold until it’s time to eat.

Hot items can be put in an insulated Thermos if a microwave is not available. These mini Thermoses can be used for leftover soups, stews and other hot items.

Try to avoid the morning rush. Spend a few minutes to pre-bag veggies, slices of bread, crunchy items, and mini muffins for the week. These make for easy grab and go while saving time.

Better yet, while cleaning up dinner, pack your lunch with leftovers. This way, you will have a few extra minutes in the morning to do something else.

Think outside the lunchbox.

McDougall is the SNAP-Ed program assistant at the Ohio State University Extension of Hancock County.

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