It was a tragic lesson in the risks of consuming a fast-food, sugary diet:
Dr. Mona Meighan’s normally punctual 26-year-old son, Luke, did not show up for work one morning in 2009. A concerned co-worker stopped by Luke’s apartment and found the young man dead in his bed. An autopsy determined he died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes.
“For seven years, through college and into his work life, Luke lived on pizza and fast foods, sodas and sweet desserts,” says Meighan, an education consultant and author of What Are You Doing for Lunch?: A Friendly Guide to Brown Bagging as a Better Way to Lunch.
“Since we have no diabetes in our family, I can only believe Luke’s diet contributed to his death. Too often, young people aren’t aware of how food affects their health. As an educator, I thought the best way to remember Luke was to give people the tools to change their lunch habits. By brown-bagging, you can avoid a lot of processed foods loaded with calories and carbohydrates. It’s healthier – and less expensive!”
Meighan emphasizes she is not a chef – not even a cook! All of her recipes are designed to be tasty, and quick and easy to prepare. A couple of her favorite examples:
Pesto and Tomato Sandwich: Add 3 Tablespoons plain or vanilla yogurt to 4-6 Tablespoons prepared pesto. Spread on 4 slices of whole-wheat bread. Add thinly sliced tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. (Place in a toaster oven for 2-3 minutes, if desired.)
Hummus Salad Wrap: Spread ¼ cup hummus over two whole-wheat or flour tortillas and add 1 tomato, thinly sliced, 2 thin slices of Swiss cheese, and 2 lettuce leaves, cut up. Tightly roll the tortillas and spear with a toothpick.
If you’re new to brown-bagging, Meighan offers tips to help you get off to the right start.
• Determine your personal lunch style. Some people are willing to spend 15 or 20 minutes in the kitchen the night before or morning of the workday to prepare a familiar lunch. These are Traditionalists. Others want to just grab a container of food – perhaps something put together over the weekend, or last night’s leftovers – and hit the road. Meighan calls this the Grab-and-Go style. Maybe you’re Creative, a Midday Gourmet, a Social Networker (likes to coordinate a group lunch) or a mix of all of the above, depending on what the week looks like.
• Do you have what you need to pack your lunch? Do you need a cooler-style lunchbox? How about reusable containers for sandwiches and soups? (Going green is, of course, better for the planet, and it saves money on items like disposable baggies and plastic cutlery.)
• Determine your upcoming week’s recipes. First, decide how many days you want to pack lunch this week, and plan your menu. Take stock of the ingredients you already have, and make a list of those you need to purchase. (To save even more money, either repeat lunches or plan lunches with similar ingredients.)
• Invest time on the weekend preparing food, if necessary. If you plan to Grab and Go, put together the first couple days’ lunches. If you’re a Midday Gourmet, you might want to cook up some Homemade Chili ahead of time; the Creative may want to whip together Grandma’s Chicken Salad.
• Enjoy – and don’t overwhelm yourself! If you’re used to going out for lunch five days a week, start slowly. Try brown-bagging twice a week at first. You can make it more interesting by finding a buddy and taking turns preparing a lunch for two. If you eat at your desk, plan a rewarding way to spend your lunch hour, whether it’s running an errand or taking a walk in a park.
About the Author: Mona Meighan holds a doctorate in education and has spent more than 35 years teaching and developing curricula for adults and children, with a special focus on effective instruction for children in foster care. She currently teaches classes and workshops for educators across the country. “What Are You Doing for Lunch?” was written in collaboration with Sara S. DeHart, a former nursing instructor with a doctorate in developmental psychology. Meighan plans to provide free copies of the book to non-profits, and is donating a portion of proceeds from sales to charities that support awareness of healthy, economical lunches.