Lunch is "in the bag" for more and more Americans.
Nearly 11 percent of all Americans carry their lunch from home every day, according to research by the NPG Group in Chicago. And the numbers have been gradually increasing for the last 10 years.
Brown bagging is a winner because it puts you in control. It's a lot like packing your own parachute -- you know it was done right.
Your word is law on cost, quality, fat, fiber and calories.
According to the NPG survey, contents have been changing.
When the average American carried 42 meals from home in 1984, 71 percent of them contained a sandwich. Now, folks carry 53 meals from home each year, but only 58 percent include a sandwich.
I wonder if folks gave up sandwiches because they think bread is fattening (it isn't). We're finally admitting our need for 6 servings of grain-based foods daily. Bread, cereal, noodles and other products made from wheat, oats, rice, barley and corn are now in vogue.
Most people I've talked to understand the need for bread. They are, however, confused about what goes in the middle, and they're trying to cut down on fat in general and red meat in particular.
To expand your lunch-packing repertoire, call (800) 877-1406 and ask for information on a new cook book called "Lunches to Go" by Jeannette Miller and Elisabeth Schafer. It offers 160 recipes and 260 menus with nutrition information in the same form approved by the FDA for the new food labels.
Here is a week's worth of easy-to-pack lunches that break the sandwich mode without giving up the grains. Remember, any lunch gets a nutritional boost by adding nonfat yogurt, skim milk, raw vegetables or fresh fruit.
* Pocket salad. Toast and split a small whole wheat pita pocket. Fill with leftover salad vegetables and 2 or 3 ounces of well-drained tuna or tofu cubes. Carry along some fat-free salad dressing to add at lunch time. Add a ripe, creamy banana for that finished feeling.
* Munch lunch. If you just like to nibble, try some reduced-fat string cheese, whole wheat pretzels, baby carrots and a box of raisins.
* Legume boom. Green split pea or lentil soup (carry in a thermos or microwave at the office), sesame bread sticks, honey and a tangerine.
* Sweet tooth. Fruit-flavored nonfat yogurt, fresh pear and blueberry bagel.
* Middle Eastern. Hummus, stone-ground whole wheat crackers, fresh kiwi fruit.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.