The Slim Down

Top tips for home-made lunches – save money and shed pounds

Yahoo nutritional expert Rachael Anne Hill reveals her top tips for home-made lunches that will do wonders for your wallet and your waistline.

Photo: © Rex

According to a brand new survey of over 2000 adults carried out by Philips, the average Brit spends almost £900 a year on lunchtime sandwiches, wraps, crisps, chocolate bars and drinks and these typical, shop-bought packed lunches can contain close to 1000 calories (see below).

So while our midday meals are eating into our purses they are adding to our midriffs too.

The main reason cited by participants of the survey for buying lunch is that they don't have time to make their own.  Many said they also feel uninspired when thinking about what to make and lack the confidence to put together a healthier alternative.

Here are a few super simple, wallet and waistline friendly ideas to get you started:
1. Home-made soups and stews make a really nutritious, filling and healthy alternative to sandwiches and can be a great way to increase your fruit and veg intake.

Try cooking in bulk when you have a little more time and freezing individual servings.  Then, simply defrost a portion the night before you need it and either re-heat in the morning and take in a flask or pop it in the microwave at work.

2. Tinned and frozen foods can make throwing together a healthy packed lunch so much quicker and easier and can be every bit as nutritious as the fresh stuff.

Fruits tinned in natural juices or ready prepared frozen varieties require no peeling and chopping, are more economical and can be blended with a banana and some fruit juice to make a really filling, nutritious smoothie in seconds.  Half size cans of fruits make a great instant snack or dessert too.

Frozen vegetables such as soya beans, peas and sweet corn can be added to left over rice or pasta from the night before to make a super quick, super healthy lunch box salad.

Add some canned tuna for extra protein or some tinned salmon or smoked mackerel for extra, immune boosting, omega three fatty acids.  Tinned lentils or mixed beans can make a great instant base for a lunch box salad too and because of their high protein and fibre content they'll keep your feeling fuller for longer.

[Related feature: How to get out of your food rut]

3. Keep the fat content of you sandwiches down by swapping the usual mayonnaise (which can contain over 200 Kcals per tablespoon) for chutneys or sauces such as cranberry, chilli or bbq (all contain less than 50 Kcals per tablespoon) instead.

Squash the fat content of your salads too by swapping oily dressings (up to 150 calories per serving) for a drizzle of good quality balsamic vinegar which is practically calorie free.

Another top tip is to add a squeeze of lemon juice to homemade salads. Lemon juice is a natural flavour enhancer, is full of vitamin C, helps keep foods fresher for longer and the acid in the juice helps to slow the rate of gastric emptying helping to keep you fuller for longer.

4. Over 90% of us don't eat enough whole grains so up your intake by switching to wholegrain breads, pitas and wraps.  They taste great, help to reduce the incidence of a whole range of lifestyle diseases and will really help to add some variety and interest to your sandwiches.

5. Alternatively, why not ditch the sandwiches in favour of a super healthy, homemade 'pot noodle to go' made from the contents of your fridge and freezer?

Simply fill a clip top preserving jar with some wok ready noodles.  (Most other types of noodles will work equally well but may just need to stand for a little longer before eating).

Then add some finely sliced spring onions, carrot, sweet corn, peas or some other vegetables you like and have to hand.  If you have some left over chicken, beef or ham you can add that or throw in a handful of frozen prawns instead.

Finally, add half a stock cube, crushed garlic and ginger and a splash of soy sauce and you're done.

Seal the pot, take to work then when you're ready to eat it simply pour over boiling water, let it stand for a couple of minutes and tuck in.  It really doesn't get tastier, fresher, healthier or cheaper than that!

6. Much of the calories and excess fat in a typical packed lunch lies in the addition of chocolate, crisps, cakes and biscuits so add in some healthier snacks instead such as wholegrain crackers, vegetable batons and reduced fat hummus, mixed nuts and seeds, semi-dried fruits, low fat yogurts, chicken drumsticks, celery sticks filled with a little reduced fat crème cheese or peanut butter, ripe, cherry tomatoes or some mini jam or lemon curd sandwiches made with wholegrain bread instead of cakes or biscuits.

7. Always opt for low fat yogurts then pep them up by adding some nuts, seeds or fresh or dried fruits.

8. Finally, watch out for all the hidden calories, sugar and caffeine that can be lurking in your drinks.  Fizzy and fruit flavoured drinks can be some of the worst culprits.  Opt instead for diluted fresh fruit juice (a 200ml serving of unsweetened juice will count as one portion of your "5 a day quota") or better still go for plain water.

*A typical, average packed lunch can contain over 1000 calories

Sandwich (450 Kcal)
Bag of crisps  (150 Kcals)
Small chocolate bar, cereal bar or biscuits  (200 Kcals)
Small pot of yogurt  (100 Kcals),
Soft drink (100 Kcals)
Piece of Fruit  (70 Kcals)
Total:  1,070 Kcals

*All calorie estimates are averages.