To commemorate the start of the school year, we thought we’d discuss the most important aspect- lunch. When it comes to lunch, brown bagging brings major benefits. The extra five to 10 minutes it takes to throw together a lunch is like scoring a major bargain at your favorite store in weight loss terms. You save calories and money. What a deal! You also avoid all sorts of temptations you might encounter at your local deli or restaurant.

A brown-bagged lunch doesn’t have to be tasteless, monotonous, or boring. You can enjoy delicious, healthy meals on a medical weight loss plan. In fact, if you follow these tips to build a healthy lunch, you will probably find your packed lunch more satisfying than the fast-food joint around the corner.

It’s not one-size fits all. The perfect, healthy lunch for one person isn’t the same for another. The amount of calories you should be consuming in a day is based on your basal metabolic rate, or the amount of calories you would burn to do nothing but breathe and remain conscious, and your activity level. So a more active individual may require a higher-calorie lunch, but be careful. You can talk yourself into adding things into your lunch for all sorts of reasons. A medical weight loss professional can help you determine your caloric needs.

Step 1: Pick a protein. Eggs, chicken, turkey, salmon, and tuna are you safest weight loss picks because they are leaner than fatty protein sources like roast beef and salami. Think white meat as leaner meat and red meat as fattier meat, which is also linked to cardiovascular disease.

Step 2. Decide how you want to eat your protein. A sandwich, salad, or even eaten alone are all suitable possibilities. Sandwich lovers: Stick to whole-wheat and whole-grain bread because it’s packed with fiber, which claims it fame by aiding digestion, among numerous other health benefits. Hold the mayo. Just one tablespoon clocks in at 90 calories and 10 grams of fat—not exactly diet friendly. Opt for mustard or hummus for lower-calorie options that pack a punch of flavor. Salad lovers: When prepared properly, salad can be a dieting dream. When prepared poorly, it can be a dieting disaster. Rules of thumb: The more colorful the better, load up on greens, stay away from the white stuff (pasta salad, potatoes, croutons, etc.), and choose a dressing with an olive oil and vinegar base.

Step 3. Pack a piece of fruit. Fruit is low in fat, sodium, and calories but contains a lot of fiber to keep you feeling full. Plus, nature’s sweets give you a natural boost of energy that will help prevent an afternoon crash. It’s a must-have when you pack your lunch.

Step 4. Drink water. Hydration is key not only for successful weight loss but also for overall health. Our body depends on fluids, and when we don’t get enough we feel sluggish and have trouble thinking clearly.  Nothing can replace water. Steer clear of sugary sodas and juices that contain high-fructose corn syrup, which can tack on hundreds of calories and will leave you dehydrated. Unfortunately, caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea aren’t much better because they act as diuretics and can actually pull water from your body.

Step 5. Watch your portion sizes. Dried fruit, berries, nuts, and peanut butter with whole-grain crackers are excellent complements to your brown bag, but it’s important to consume in moderation. These foods are healthy but addicting, and the calories add up fast. Don’t bring an entire bag of nuts to work, for example. Pack one-serving portions in Ziploc bags to keep your eyes from becoming bigger than your stomach. Think one handful, or about two tablespoons for each of these snacks.

Step 6. Satisfy your sweet tooth. If your lunch isn’t complete without something sweet, look for individually wrapped pieces of dark chocolate to put the finishing touch on your meal. Studies show dark chocolate has antioxidant properties that may help ward off heart disease, and a small serving will leave a sweet taste in your mouth without derailing your weight loss plan.