“Back to Basics” Nutrition Advice From Experts: Healthy Make and Takes

Editor’s Note: In the coming months Arizona Farm Bureau is finalizing a book regarding “Back to Basics” with nutrition and health advice from local nutritionists and other experts in the field. This article is an example of one of the chapters you’ll find when the book is released.

Chapter Author: 
Cathy L. Martinez, PhD
Family, Consumer, & Health Sciences Agent
U of A Pinal County Cooperative Extension


Healthy Make and Takes 

One of the challenges many of us face is having to eat “on the run” between the many activities and events that fill our busy lives. What’s a person to do when you don’t have much time for meal preparation and you want to still eat something that’s healthy as well as delicious? And of course we want food that we eat on the run to be food that is simple to make as well. Included in this chapter is advice about what to pack so that your make and take meals are nutritious and recipes that are quick to make!

When packing food to go, keep portion size in mind. For most vegetables that would be 1 cup (about the size of a fist) and for fruit it would be a medium fruit (about the size of a baseball). It’s also important to remember some simple nutrition basics when you’re planning meals, whether they will be eaten at home around the dining room table or in the car, at your desk, etc.

The first nutrition basic is to make half of your plate / meal fruits and vegetables. One of the ways to make this simple to do is to prepare fresh vegetables ahead and put them into serving size plastic bags – that way all you have to do is to grab a few baggies (such as one with carrots, one with bite-size pieces of broccoli, and one with grapes) and you’ve got that part of your meal covered. Another way is to make sure your quick recipes include fruits and veggies.

Often when we’re trying to avoid fast foods, it’s because many of them are full of calories from fat or have too much sodium or added sugar. So the second nutrition basic is to keep calories that come from fat and sugar to a minimum, and don’t add a lot of salt to your recipes. Food can be very flavorful and not include a lot of fat, sugar, or salt. If you pack a salad, be very careful about using too much oil or oil-based dressing – a salad that has 0% of calories from fat can become over 50% calories from fat very quickly!

The third nutrition basic is to choose sources of lean protein, which includes not only lean cuts of meat and fish but also beans, nuts, legumes, etc. And keep serving size in mind – a 3-oz portion of meat or fish is one serving (about the size of a deck of cards) or ½ cup of dried beans or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.

A fourth basic is to avoid sugary drinks and opt for water. You can flavor your own by adding lemon wedges, strawberries, or cucumber slices to a pitcher of water – you’ll enjoy the flavor and you won’t have those extra calories to worry about or sugar (sugar is what the bacteria in your mouth which cause tooth decay love to feed on!). Plus you’ll enjoy all of the health benefits of water!

And finally, when preparing and transporting food, be sure to follow good food safety practices!

  • At the store (especially in the hot AZ summer) select cold foods last before you head to the register.
  • For perishable foods, keep in mind you have a maximum of 2 hours (accumulated time) for perishable food to be out of the refrigerator; so if you pack perishables either go straight to your destination and put things in a fridge or make sure you’ve packed them in something that will keep them cold. And when the temperature is over 90°, your time limit is 1 hour out of refrigeration – so bring a cooler with a cold source.
  • To prevent cross contamination, store meats, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Wash your hands before and after handling food, scrubbing vigorously for 20 seconds.
  • Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator (or in the microwave for immediate use).
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables in cool running water; scrub with a brush if the produce is firm. That includes things like oranges because you don’t know what germs may be transferred to the orange sections in the process of peeling it.
  • Discard any fresh produce that has been cut, peeled, or cooked after 2 hours at room temperature.
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

If you’re having breakfast on the go, this quick meal can be made the night before, refrigerated, and warmed in the microwave before you leave the house – be sure to add the avocado, tomato, and salsa after you reheat. It’s a great choice because you have lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and veggies. Pair with a piece of fruit and you have all the food groups represented!


Breakfast Tortilla Wrap


  • 4 eggs (2 whole, 2 egg whites), cooked to your liking
  • ¼ cup low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 4 whole wheat tortillas
    • Optional:  Salsa


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Layer cooked eggs, cheese, avocado and tomato on tortilla.
  3. Wrap tightly.  If desired, serve with salsa.

Yield:  4 servings

tortilla wrap

For another quick breakfast on the go, this Dress Up Yogurt recipe is ideal. When you choose the add-ins you control the amount of added sugar!


Dressed Up Yogurt


  • 16 ounces plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup Raspberry jam (or other fruit jam)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup almonds, chopped


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Spoon yogurt into 4 separate bowls.
  3. Add jam, honey and chopped almonds.
  4. Stir to combine.

Yield: 4 servings

dressed up yogurt

Wraps are a very popular alternative to sandwiches. If you’re using perishable foods in wraps or sandwiches, make sure you have something in the lunch bag that will keep the food cold. Also when choosing your wrap or any bread, to be sure it’s whole grain and not just colored with molasses, look at the fiber content – check the food label for 3 or more grams of fiber.


Pesto Chicken Rolls


  • 2 cups Rotisserie chicken, shredded, (or canned chicken, drained)            
  • 4 tablespoons Pesto, prepared
  • 4 ounces sundried tomatoes, drained
  • 1 cup Arugula lettuce
  • 4 whole grain tortillas (or whole grain bread, wrap, lavosh, etc.)


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Spread one tablespoon of prepared Pesto on tortilla.
  3. Add ¼ cup sundried tomatoes on top of Pesto.
  4. Layer ¼ cup Arugula on top of sundried tomatoes.
  5. Roll tortillas and cut on bias.

Yield:  4 servings

pesto chicken rolls

Here is another lunch or dinner quick meal – you can let someone else do most of the cooking, but you can be the star by creating a great sandwich quick and easy. Add some veggies, a piece of fruit, and a cup of low-fat or fat-free milk for a balanced meal.


BBQ Chicken Sandwiches


  • 2 cups Rotisserie chicken, without skin, shredded
  • ¼ cup prepared barbeque sauce
  • 4 whole wheat sandwich rolls


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Using two forks, shred Rotisserie chicken, and place in a mixing bowl.
  3. Pour barbeque sauce over chicken and stir until well combined.
  4. Serve on a whole wheat bun.

Yield:  4 servings

BBQ Chicken sandwiches

This recipe is an example of how you can make something unexpected that is healthy and delicious. The combination of flavors is really great. Keeping the oil to a minimum keeps the calories in check too. For a fat-free alternative you can leave the oil out of this recipe.

Tomatoes & Peaches


  • 2  cups tomatoes, sliced and seeded
  • 2 cups fresh peaches, sliced
  • ½ cup red onion, thin sliced
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped (or other favorite herb)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
    • Optional:  salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Place seeded and sliced tomatoes, sliced peaches, thinly sliced red onion, and chopped cilantro in a mixing bowl.
  3. Whisk together olive oil and lemon/lime juice.
  4. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and mix well.  If desired, add salt and pepper to taste.

Yield:  4 servings

tomatoes and peaches

Another great side for a make and take meal, this one includes some lean protein (the nuts) and fiber (celery is full of fiber), plus it packs a lot of flavor!


Stuffed Celery


  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 chili pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 -3 tablespoons water
  • ½ cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, washed and cut in half


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Place cashews, chili pepper, garlic and soy sauce in a blender.
  3. Add water to moisten ingredients.
  4. Scoop blender ingredients into a mixing bowl.
  5. Fold in chopped cilantro.
  6. Fill celery pieces with mixture.

Yield:  4 servings

stuffed celery

Want something more inspired than a piece of fruit? Try this recipe. You don’t need to add sugar to add sweetness to fresh fruit – just a little lemon juice will freshen the salad and keep fruits from turning brown.


Fresh Fruit Salad


  • 4 cups of any combination of fresh fruits, diced/sliced/balled
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. Dice, slice or ball your favorite variety of fresh fruit.
  3. Toss with fresh lemon juice.

Yield:  4 servings

fresh fruit salad

Looking for an easy dessert that’s also healthy? Try these cookie sandwiches. Don’t forget, though, that cream cheese is a dairy food and needs to be kept cool.


Ginger Snap Sandwich Cookies


  • 8 Ginger Snap cookies
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 4 ounces low fat cream cheese


  1. Wash hands with warm water and soap.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine honey, lemon zest and cream cheese.
  3. Spread cream cheese mixture between 2 Ginger Snap cookies.

Yield: 4 servings

ginger snap sandwich



For more healthy meal ideas visit www.pinterest.com/MyPlateRecipes.

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