As much as we look forward to and enjoy holiday celebrations, there’s sometimes a price to pay after they’re over. Now that it’s time to assess the damage to waistlines and wallets, a few simple course corrections may be in order. One of the easiest is to brown bag homemade lunches, for better control of ingredients and total calories. Replacing a restaurant or drive-thru lunch with an easy to prepare lunch from home will be healthier, with the added benefit of being easier on the budget.

Actually, the damage may be less severe than anticipated. For many years, nutritionists cited statistics that indicated the average American gained an alarming 7 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. However, a 2016 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked a large group using wireless scales that reported weigh-ins to an internet site, and found that on average, a 1-pound gain was the norm for the holiday season.

The downside, however, was that the study found that only half the weight gained was lost after the holidays, leading to a steady creep upward. Eating a healthy lunch can help to stop and even reverse that upward creep, and it doesn’t have to feel like penance for past indulgences.

Cutting back after the holidays doesn’t mean cutting back on protein. Including a protein-rich item in a packed lunch, and at other meals, helps to control food cravings and build muscle mass. UTMB’s Douglas Paddon-Jones was the lead author of a 2015 research paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that concluded, “Habitually consuming 25-30 g protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner provides sufficient protein to effectively and efficiently stimulate muscle protein anabolism and may delay the onset of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), slow its progression, and/or reduce the magnitude of its functional consequences.”

Chicken, turkey and beef are all portable sources of protein that can be part of a healthy packed lunch. Brown bagging doesn’t have to be an unbroken string of sandwiches: wraps and salads are reliable ways to incorporate high-protein foods into a delectable meal on the go.

Instead of a sandwich, putting a chicken or turkey salad in an insulated drink cup makes it easy to transport and keep chilled (replace the cup’s drinking straw with a carrot stick or piece of cheese to prevent leaks.)

Pita pockets are an edible container for protein-rich salads, as are tortillas, flatbreads and spring roll wrappers. Lettuce or collard leaves work, too. Complete the lunch with fruit, cut vegetables or, for more of that all-important protein, a hard-boiled egg or a container of yogurt that’s been frozen overnight.

There’s an easy way to enjoy hard-boiled eggs without the mess of peeling them at lunchtime. When packing lunch, sprinkle salt, pepper, or other seasonings in a small zip bag. Peel the hard-boiled egg and put the unshelled egg in the zip bag. By lunchtime, the spices will have worked their way into an even layer around the egg.

Bernice Torregrossa:

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