Back to Work. Back to School – A Guide to Packed Lunches

As the summer season comes to a close, it’s time to gear up for a new phase of life – heading back to work or school. With busy schedules and the need to maintain a balanced lifestyle, meal prepping packed lunches emerges as the superhero of convenience and nutrition. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of meal prepping, how to build a balanced plate following the guidelines from the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the economic advantages of packing a lunch. Knowing what to eat can be puzzling, especially as life gets hectic and busy. We will unpack the meal prep confusion so you can pack a nutrient-filled lunch that will leave you fueled for the day.

Healthy lunch options for diabetics.

Healthy lunch options for diabetics.
Julianna Parham Lyle, ©2023, Clemson Extension

The Magic of Meal Prepping

Meal prepping is the practice of preparing your meals in advance, typically during the weekend or a day off, and pre-portioning them into individual containers for easy grab-and-go throughout the week. This simple habit can save you time, reduce stress, and foster healthier eating choices. Meal prepping is not just a culinary trend; it’s a powerful lifestyle habit that can positively impact your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Give yourself healthier choices that are hassle-free. When you preplan your meals, you take the guesswork out of what to eat during busy weekdays. Having nutritious, balanced meals ready to go makes you less likely to succumb to unhealthy fast-food options or sugary snacks. It empowers you to stay on track with your health goals, whether it’s managing weight, supporting your fitness routine, or improving overall nutrition. With meal prep, portion control is easy as you can measure and allocate precise portions, preventing overeating and promoting mindful eating habits. This is especially important for individuals managing diabetes, as it helps better regulate blood sugar levels effectively.

Contrary to the misconception that meal prepping means eating the same meal every day, it actually opens up a world of culinary possibilities. You can prepare different dishes each week, exploring various cuisines, flavors, and ingredients. This keeps your taste buds happy and engaged, making healthy eating an enjoyable experience. Meal prep on the days you have free time, like your days off or the weekends, to save time on busy days. It can also include only prepping meals for a few days throughout the week when you know you might feel rushed or have less time to cook a balanced meal. Additionally, meal prepping isn’t limited to individuals; it can benefit families, too. Planning and preparing meals together can foster stronger family bonds, while also helping manage grocery expenses. Buying ingredients in bulk and using them efficiently reduces overall costs and ensures every family member enjoys a wholesome meal.

Building a Balanced Plate

Packed lunches don’t have to be boring! In fact, meal prepping encourages culinary creativity. Experiment with different cuisines, flavors, and combinations to keep your taste buds excited and engaged throughout the week. Pair your meal with a glass of water or a low-calorie beverage, such as sparkling flavored water. This will keep you hydrated and ensure you have a complete and balanced meal. So, how do I prep my nutritional lunches? The American Diabetes Association provides valuable guidelines for creating a balanced plate to ensure you get the necessary nutrients without compromising flavor or variety. Follow this simple formula:

  • Half plate of non-starchy vegetables – Fill half your plate with a colorful assortment of non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and zucchini. These nutrient-rich powerhouses provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber to support your overall well-being.
  • Quarter plate of protein – Allocate a quarter of your plate to lean proteins like chicken, turkey, tofu, fish, or legumes. Proteins are the body’s building blocks, essential for muscle repair and immune function. Choosing lean proteins means they have a lower fat content, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
  • Quarter plate of starch – The remaining quarter should include whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, or whole-grain pasta, which provide sustained energy and essential nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Blood sugar is highly affected by the amount of carbohydrates in foods. Keeping starchy carbohydrates to only one-fourth of the plate prevents blood sugar spikes after consuming a meal.

To learn more about how to craft the perfect lunch, see HGIC 4246, Packing Lunches for Work or School.

Limiting Waste

While it’s tempting to buy lunch daily, the costs can add up significantly over time. Packing your lunch can help you save money and enable you to invest in higher quality, nutritious ingredients. Purchasing items in bulk and preparing meals at home gives you more control over your expenses and nutritional choices. Meal prepping also allows you to reduce food waste. By carefully planning your meals, you can buy ingredients in precise quantities, use everything efficiently, and decrease the chances of produce spoiling before you can use it.

Having pre-made lunches is a lifesaver as your schedule becomes busier with school or work commitments. Instead of scrambling to find a healthy option during lunchtime, you can enjoy a nutritious meal without any stress. Using reusable containers and utensils for your packed lunches significantly reduces single-use plastic waste. Adopting this eco-friendly practice contributes to a cleaner, more sustainable environment.

In conclusion, meal prepping is a powerful tool that empowers you to take control of your nutrition, time, and overall well-being. By investing a small portion of your time during the week, you gain immeasurable benefits that extend far beyond the dining table. Whether you’re heading back to school or work, embracing the magic of meal prepping will undoubtedly set you on a path to a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lifestyle. So, roll up your sleeves, get those containers ready, and embark on this delicious journey to a better you!

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes

Stirring Up Healthy Recipes is a FREE monthly cooking class that provides practical nutrition education to those living with a chronic disease diagnosis.

If you have not registered for Stirring Up Healthy Recipes – what are you waiting for? You can sign up by following the link HERE.

Recipes to Try:



If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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