Why struggle through school cafeteria lines with little choice? Why try to feast on garden salads from whichever restaurants co-workers decide to order from for lunch? Why waste the money on meager meals, spend time questioning waitresses over the ingredients of pre-packaged enchiladas or worry over what will be vegan-friendly? If you want to be sure, and if you want a well balanced lunched that will carry you through the afternoon, then brown-bagging it is the way to go.

It’s a cheaper, healthier, worry-free route to eating away from home. Restaurants, even when it is only a side of veggies and plain baked potato, are exploitative in their mark-ups. What’s more, when you pack your own lunch, you can focus on the foods you need rather than settling for what’s available. Who needs the stress: Does this have butter? Cream? Bacon fat? Any other of the animal-based variables that wind up in everything? And, that doesn’t even approach other troublesome aspects like GMOs and preservatives.

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Packing a lunch is way better, and it doesn’t have to be an endless string of PB&Js. I’m a brown-bagger from way back, and here’s what I do to keep things fresh and healthy:

Always Include a Snack

Nothing is worse than hitting a mid-morning lull, getting low on energy and irritably hungry with nothing to eat. This is where a good trail mix or some fruit and nuts come in handy. A to-go cup smoothie also works wonders here with granola. Choose something with good calories and minimal labor.

Green Thinking: Though we’ve called it brown-bagging, gone are the days of throw-away paper and sandwich bags. Get yourself a hip lunch box, buy a variety pack of washable containers and help the earth by using less resources and not producing extra waste. It’ll save you money in the long run as well.

Sandwiches … Sometimes

Sandwiches are great, and there are lots of fantastic vegan options to try out (like this veggie humdinger and this chickpea ‘tuna’ salad sandwich). However, remember that there are plenty of other brownbag possibilities. Sometimes, simply leaving the sandwich unassembled makes for a nice smorgasbord without anything getting soggy. But, I especially like dippy stuff: refried beans, salsas, hummus, Baba Ganoush and so on. Make a big batch then just add some sliced up veggies, a few chips every day and you’re done. Also, leftovers always feel right, so it pays to just cook a little extra at dinner when making your favorites.

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Balanced Thinking: It’s easy to throw a bunch of random things in a bag and call it lunch, but it’s just as easy to set it up right. Try to make sure there’s a good protein source (beans, hummus, nut butter), some raw veggies, fruit and complex carbs.

A Mood Lifter

It’s important to remember that lunch is technically break time, so it doesn’t have to be all business either. Having something with smidge of decadence about it makes getting to the bottom of the brown bag so much richer. Pack a dessert of sorts, something that might be healthy but is equally smile-inducing. A snack bar, a homemade cookie or even just a few bites of cacao nibs will make the effort to pack your own lunch worthwhile, even if the health benefits don’t.

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Thinking Ahead: It never hurts to have edibles stocked around the office, stored in your bag and tucked away in the locker to quell unexpected hunger and stomach grumbling. Prepare some snacks so that it doesn’t come down to candy machines and soda pop.

Brown-bagging it the plant-based way is so much better than suffering through another garden salad, even when you — as I do — really like garden salads. It’s better. No take-out packaging, less cost, more balanced, wider selection and cleaner food.

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Image source: mistermundo/Wikimedia

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