Best Lunch Bag for Health and Convenience

Healthy nuts and dried fruit for a very convenient lunch bag

Healthy nuts and dried fruit for a very convenient lunch bag

Are you looking for very convenient yet healthy lunch options? I worked with a nutritionist about 5 years ago to address a number of deficiencies in my diet, and one of the outcomes was a simple plan for lunches: lots of nuts and dried fruits.

My girlfriend Lynn and I are big fans of these lunches, which we have used for the past 18 months, so much so as to feel like claiming that they make up the best lunch bag for health and convenience. We’re looking forward to hearing your feedback about that!

Our Story: Attempts at Many Diets

In my early twenties, I mostly ate the standard American fast food diet, until I got sick, hospitalized, and was explained that I needed to eat healthier. It wasn’t too clear what healthier was though (I could not look it up with just one click on the Internet like we can do today!), and I went through various phases, like vegetarian and vegan. I stayed dependent on lots of restaurant meals and ready-meals. Although my diet had improved, it wasn’t great, and I had various symptoms of a poor diet, like low energy and persistent stomach-aches.

Food Intolerances

I went through a detailed food intolerances and food allergies battery of tests, worth about $3000, fortunately all covered by my insurance. This revealed a few allergies I knew, and lots of these so-called food intolerances. It is still very much a matter of debate in the scientific community whether food intolerances are real, and if the test results are meaningful. Nevertheless, I was alarmed by my test results, and with the help of a very sensible nutritionist, I proceeded to greatly improve my diet.

My test results were saying that I had intolerances to just about everything I liked and everything I was eating regularly: wheat, gluten and all common grains, milk and all milk products, some meats, eggs, many common fruits and vegetables, tea and chocolate, etc. For about a year of great distress, I mostly eliminated the offending foods, until I realized I could start reintroducing them without bad symptoms as long as I didn’t eat them too often.

I think my story is pretty typical of those who go through food intolerance testing. For most people, these expensive tests are useless, because just too many foods will test positive, and it is totally unclear what that means: whether that is a real problem, or just evidence that these foods showed up a lot in the person’s diet.

The benefit of the tests was thus indirect: it kicked me into making the effort for a big change. In brief, my breakfast is mostly just fresh fruit, 4-6 different kinds each morning, with a latte (coffee+lots of warm milk). My girlfriend skips the latte, and instead has natural yogurt and granola over a smaller amount of fresh fruit. The lunch is as explained below, while my dinner is essentially the Mediterranean diet: meat or fish with lots of vegetables. It features hardly any bread stuff outside of restaurants and the odd pizza.

As for how Lynn adopted the lunch diet, it was straightforward: she loved the convenience of having a ready-made meal to grab in the morning and take to the office for lunch without any refrigeration. She wanted some adjustments to the recipe, to make it less sweet, including cutting out the chocolates. I agreed they were good changes. She wanted fewer hard-to-chew almonds, fewer ultra-sweet medjool dates, and no salted ingredients, all good ideas.

The Lunch Ingredients

Nuts and seeds (I’ve put in parentheses additional ingredient ideas that we don’t typically use ourselves):

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Cashew nuts
  • Pistacchio nuts
  • Macadamia nuts (very expensive!)
  • Peanuts
  • Coconut (careful, lots of saturated fats!)
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • (Sesame seeds: too small)
  • (Chia seeds: also too small)
  • (Pine nuts: expensive!)
Almonds, Cashews, Pecans, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Macadamias

Almonds, Cashews, Pecans, Hazelnuts, Walnuts, Macadamias

Dried fruits:

  • Dates (the medjool kind)
  • Apricots
  • Prunes
  • Pineapple
  • Ginger (feels like a fruit but it’s a root!)
  • Papaya
  • Cantaloup
  • Apples
  • Mangoes
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Figs
  • Cranberries
  • (Other dried berries: strawberry, blueberry, raspberry)
Apple, Date, Apricot, Raisin, Plum

Apple, Date, Apricot, Raisin, Plum

We used to include dark chocolate in various forms, but removed it upon admitting to ourselves that the mix was already sweet enough with all the dried fruits.

Ideally, use unsalted nuts and seeds.

We don’t include granola or various grains, but you can certainly experiment with that. As I am updating this post today 4 months after the first version, I note that we still don’t put granola in our lunches, and that many granola products have a lot of added sugar, but of course you can select products without.

You can also experiment with adding dried chickpeas or soy nuts or edamame.

The Optimal Ratios of Nuts to Dried Fruits

There is a lot of leeway in the various ratios.

Some considerations:

Walnuts are high in omega-3 oil, hence if you like them, put twice as much of them as the average ingredient.

Some ingredients are more expensive (macadamia, pistacchio), so put less of them according to your budget.

Careful about ingredients with added sugar: typically this is the case with dried ginger, pineapple and definitely cranberry.

Don’t put more than 3 dried apricots and 3 dried prunes in each bag, to avoid digestive issues.

We aim for an overall 2 for 1 ratio of nuts to dried fruits.

The Benefits of Nuts & Fruits Lunch Bags

These lunches are delicious! They also offer plenty of variety and flexibility.

Energy:

  • This is not a weight-loss diet! These foods are packed with energy, and they will sustain you until dinner.
  • You will feel full for multiple hours, with no need for snacking, yet you won’t feel stomach-heavy and overfull because the ingredients are so dense.

Health:

  • The nuts are packed with good fats, and contain a sizeable amount of protein.
  • The dried fruit will provide you with plenty of carbohydrates and good sugars, as long as you limit the amount of ingredients manufactured with added sugar.

Convenience:

  • Your lunch for the day doesn’t need refrigeration.
  • If you don’t use it, e.g. because you had a last minute change of plans like colleagues asking you out to lunch, you don’t waste your lunch, you can use it the next day.
  • You can put together 20-25 bags in 60-90 minutes, store them in the fridge. This will last you perhaps 2-4 weeks.
  • You don’t need to get all the ingredients all at once: you can shop for them over several weeks at the stores that have the best prices, and stack them, until you are ready to do your next batch of lunches.

    A few lunch bags

    A few lunch bags

Making your own mix as opposed to using ready-made mixes is best because: it offers more variety, more control over the content (especially to avoid added salt and sugar), also you would find that it turns out to be more economical than a ready-made mix if you put exactly the same ingredients.

Typical costs for us average $5 per bag, and we tend to eat between 1/2 and 2/3 of a bag per day as a lunch meal. The advantage of having a bag size that is larger than a lunch meal gives us flexibility: if we are more or less hungry, we eat more or less, but don’t run out of food.

Potential Criticisms

No vegetables: You will notice that this lunch menu does not contain vegetables. It is well established that it is not necessary to eat every essential nutrient at every meal. We love vegetables and eat nearly only vegetables at dinner time. By all means, if you need more variety, it is totally fine not to eat a nut and fruit bag like us every day, or complement it with practical vegetables, fruits or anything else.

Nuts are expensive: Indeed, nuts are delicious but expensive ingredients. We are lucky to find them in large fresh quantities at Costco mostly, and a few other stores. If you don’t have good access to affordable nuts near you, it is very sensible to reduce the amount of nuts in favor of other ingredients like granola.

How about stomach sensitivities? For some people, hard nuts may hurt the stomach. Perhaps it is just an issue of chewing the nuts fully before swallowing them! But we understand that it could be much more complex. As for us, we digest these nuts and dried fruits very well.

Conclusion

If you are a busy person who would like to automate one meal per day, this recipe could be the solution for you!

Please let us know your experience with this, or any other question that you may have in the space for comments below.

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20 Responses to Best Lunch Bag for Health and Convenience

  1. Gomer says:

    In the coming years, I will be spending some time visiting the United States, and with that, I am thinking how will I cope with the food available in your country. Looking at your recipe, I wonder if I can get by those food as here in Asia, we are heavy on carbohydrates consumption. We eat a lot of rice!

    You mentioned about the benefits from these food combinations, and I am quite assured that I will still receive the energy that I need though it is not as high as the one we get from eating grains like rice here in Asia. For every cup of rice, how much volume of nuts do you think I should eat to substitute for the rice?

    • phil says:

      Thank you for your questions, Gomer. I’ll wish you a great trip to America once you’re visiting.

      We also eat a lot of rice ourselves, and you are quite right that they are high in carbohydrates.

      Humans can do well by eating a wide variety of diets. Rice is an excellent staple food.

      However, it is low in proteins, and very low in fat. The nuts and dried fruit diet we are proposing for lunches is higher in proteins, and much higher in fat.

      The nuts and fruits diet is also much denser than cooked rice. So about half of a cup of the nuts+dried fruits would have the same filling effect as a whole cup of rice.

      But nuts+fruits and rice are not at all equivalent. The nuts+dried fruits are much more complete nutritionally.

      But they are not complete on their own, they are just a practical recipe for lunch, to be supplemented with vegetables and a richer source of proteins for dinner and/or breakfast.

      Another important point is that the ingredients might not be available in your location or only at a cost that is prohibitive. Hence this lunch menu is unfortunately not for everyone.

      Hope this was helpful though. All the best! Phil

  2. Monalisha says:

    Hi Phil.
    Your post gave me a great solution because I never like vegetables from my childhood. The launch option you have provided is really very good. Everyone always told me to take vegetables for good health. But after reading your post I have learned the ways by which I can make healthy launch without vegetables. Though you have mentioned vegetables are necessary, so I will definitely try to have vegetables.
    Anyway, the convenient yet healthy lunch options you have provided are really good for all, especially for the busy person. So I am gonna share your post to others.
    Thank you so much.

    • phil says:

      Hi Monalisha, I’m glad you liked the idea of these lunches, and please do come back to tell us about your experience with it! Sorry to hear you don’t like vegetables. I agree they can take some getting used to, but maybe with some experimenting, you will find vegetables that you like, especially starting with the young and fresh ones!

  3. Aabidah Ahmed says:

    I think it’s bad that I’m not eating any Nuts or Dry Fruits these days. This post is giving me a lot to think about. There are certain dry fruits I can’t stand the taste of, but other than that I’ll eat the rest. 

    I do love my vegetables. I use them in food and I make sure my baby gets them as well.

    Even though I’m not eating healthy right now, as long as I’m keeping my baby healthy, I’m all good.

    Thank you for this post and all the best.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for your comments, Aabidah. Yes, vegetables are very important, but they are not so convenient to bring along in a lunch bag that is not refrigerated.

  4. Harry says:

    A friend of mine recently went through a similar test for intolerances and as it seems she was intolerant in just about everything she ate 😛

    Anyway, I am working for like 12 hours a day and I really don’t have the time to eat a normal meal at work and those lunch bags seem convenient enough to stop my hunger while providing me with nutrients to keep myself going.

    Plus, I really love dried fruit!

    Thanks a lot for the help!

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for sharing, Harry! Sorry to hear about your very heavy workload! It sounds like the lunch bags would be a great option for you. Yes, food intolerances tests are not yet scientifically calibrated so that they are rather misleading for now. Hopefully, there will be improvements to these tests eventually.

  5. Henry says:

    Hi! Thank you for sharing your story. Most of us take the standard American fast food diet. It’s handy and so much easier for us when we’re constantly rushing. But it definitely has very negative effects.

    I really enjoy nuts and seeds, specially walnuts and pistacchio nuts. I agree with you concerning the overall 2 for 1 ratio of nuts to dried fruits. I’m glad I stumbled upon your site. I’ll bookmark it and visit regularly.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks Henry. Glad to hear you enjoy nuts. Remember to have variety, since too many pistacchio nuts might generate some food intolerances later on.

  6. John says:

    I think it is funny that your recipe is only nuts, seeds and dried fruits. It’s not arguable that they are good foods for a healthy living but in no time one will get tired of eating just this for lunch. You’re an expert however and you’ve had an experience with issues of eating bad food just like me so yest, I’ll pack this up in a simple bag and try it out for myself. Its actually the first time I’m hearing about the Dates (the medjool kind). I actually don’t know what the medjool kind of date is, can you come out more explicit on that please?

    • Phil says:

      Good question, John. Medjool dates are for many people the best dates: they are the softest, sweetest and biggest of the commonly available dates. They are more expensive than other dates, though.

  7. Tracy says:

    Hello, this is actually great and surprisingly healthy to me. While reading through this post, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how I never truly considered making a lunch box out of nuts. Wow! This is great for me especially based on the fact that I dont usually have time to taking breaks to eat at work. This would provide an option for me to take to work. Thanks

    • Phil says:

      Hello Tracy, I’m glad this article was thought-provoking and that you could find an immediate use for it. You’re very welcome to let me know how it goes!

  8. Henderson says:

    Wow, I wonder how you must’ve felt to find out that your body was getting intolerance for some of the foods you were so used to eating. But you needed to do something about it for the sake of your health right? So I think you didtight by choosing to stay away from those foods. I’m happy to learn about this healthy lunch foods that can be strapped on ina bag. Very good idea I must say. I’d give it a go one of this days because I am also a very busy person. Thanks.

    • Phil says:

      Thanks for your question, Henderson. 

      Yes, around the time of my food intolerance tests, I was quite unhappy with my diet, especially the lunch meals which consisted mostly of processed food put in the microwave. My nutritionist would have preferred me to have a more varied diet at lunch time, but he was happy enough with the one we arrived at that consisted of dried fruits and nuts. 

      I’m looking forward to hearing about your experience with the nut and dried fruit bags when you get to it! 

  9. Willy says:

    This is an excellent and thorough review here…I have never seen such a comprehensive post that has to do with lunch bag and I must commend you for this excellent job… Sharing your experience and making us understand how important it is to consume the right lunch in order to prevent stomach upset or unhealthy living… The list of the proper kind of lunch advisable for health and energy is really helpful and I am glad for feeding on this well of knowledge embodied in a review. 

    Thanks! 

  10. Chloe says:

    Thanks for such vital post. I have been meaning to try some meal that is my more different from what I have been eating for the past two moths. I have been on a vegetable diet since my doctor said I consume it a lot. As it stands now in no longer deficient in vitamins but I’m quite addicted to the diet and I feel this would make another nice diet try. Would you suggest I take it as a fix diet or a meal i take regularly considering the absence of some vital class of food? 

    • Phil says:

      Hi Chloe, thank you very much for your question. In matters of health like yours, I would definitely recommend that you check with your doctor, whether this diet could be suitable for you and whether it could be deficient in some ways. Your doctor will be able to look at the full picture. Good luck, and please let me know how it goes! 

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