Calling All Lunch Packers & Pre-Dinner Snackers!

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Hi HG,

I'm looking for recipes and ideas for sandwiches and other packable lunch items. I eat lunch late, so hot sandwiches get cold and cold sandwiches get soggy. I want alternatives to the same boring lunch I take every day. Can you help me?

Bored with Brown Bagging

Hi Bored,

I'm all about changing things up and keeping meals exciting... It's DEFINITELY the best way to help you stay on track when it comes to smart eating.

To start, get yourself an insulated lunch bag. There are some super-cute ones out there! And store a couple of cold packs in your freezer to add to your bag and keep your food cool.

As for soggy sandwiches, one thing I've found that helps is to lightly toast the bread. It's also a good idea to pack the bread separately and assemble your sandwich at lunch. And try using things other than traditional light bread slices. High-fiber pitas, flat sandwich rolls, light English muffins, and thin bagels tend to hold up better than soft bread. Whatever you use to hold your sandwich fixins, look for options with some fiber and a total of 120 calories or less.

Zazzle up your sandwich with fun condiments and toppings. Flavored mustards (like Vivi's Original Sauce), Dijonnaise (an HG staple), and the new Buffalo-flavored reduced-fat mayo from Hellmann's/Best Foods are all great picks, and they add very few calories if you stick to a single serving. (Pack the condiments on the side so they don't soggy up your bread!) For toppings, shake things up with sliced jalapeño peppers, pouched sun-dried tomatoes... even turkey pepperoni.

Try new deli meats to beat the boredom. If you always have turkey, go for sliced chicken breast, roast beef, or ham. It's actually really easy to find extra-lean varieties of all of these, and a 2-oz. serving (about 5 slices) has just around 60 calories and 1.5g fat. Scoopable deli-style salads also work great on sandwiches. Just stick with a guilt-free version (click here and here for some recipes), pack the salad separately, and assemble at lunchtime.

Want full-on sandwich recipes? Check out these mini club sandwiches, and skip the last step so you have one big sandwich. And this chicken salad sandwich is insanely delicious. There's also an ENTIRE CHAPTER of sandwiches in Hungry Girl 300 Under 300, several of which would be fantastic as part of a packed lunch.

Another lunch idea? Make a big salad with lots of lean protein (dressing on the side; then dip, don't pour). If you like tuna, just toss a pouch in your lunch sack and add it at lunchtime. I love pre-seasoned pouches, like StarKist Tuna Creations. Beans and pouched salmon are two more great ways to add protein to your salad. You can even get single-serving packets of light or fat-free dressing -- click here for a great site that sells them. Or just stock up on a few mini sealable containers for dressing.

And don't forget to pack sides to fill out your lunch. Click here and here for tons of travel-friendly foods. Hope you're feeling inspired to try something new!

Dear Hungry Girl,

I am so hungry when I come home from work that I tend to eat unhealthy snacks while preparing dinner. Any suggestions for healthier alternatives I should keep on hand?

Feed the Cook

Hi Feed the Cook,

You're not alone. We're constantly making food here at the HG HQ, and sometimes just seeing it (or smelling it) makes me hungry. Luckily, I've got lots of guilt-free snack ideas to fight back. Check 'em out...

Always keep cut veggies and low-calorie dip or salsa on hand. Baby carrots are easy, but mix it up with some other fresh finds. If raw veggies aren't your favorite, try this Mostly Roasted Veggie Explosion. It'll last you all week! Apples are great too. I've been known to have a Fuji while preparing dinner. I'm also big on having a little soup before a meal -- you're likely to take in fewer calories during dinner if you start with a broth-based soup. I recently discovered these little packs of miso soup that dissolve in hot water -- just 25 calories and 1g fat each.

If there's something specific you tend to eat a lot of while you cook, have a smart swap on hand. Always go for salty snacks? Bake up a batch of kale chips, or keep a bag of (popped) 94% fat-free microwave popcorn in your pantry, and portion out a cup or two -- click here for our picks. If you often get into sweets, try hard candy, a sweet sugar-free beverage, or even a cup of hot (or chilled) cocoa made with a packet that has 20 - 25 calories.

A few general tips... If you know you're super-hungry and ready for dinner as soon as you get home, don't plan on making something time-consuming. Stick with quick and easy meals -- click here for some time-saving staples. Slow-cooker recipes are also great -- add the ingredients in the morning, and dinner will be ready and waiting at the end of your workday. And consider having a late-afternoon snack to take the edge off your hunger -- something with protein and fiber.

Now you can cook (and chew) without guilt. Enjoy!

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