What can I pack for lunch?
The answer is usually to grab whatever is handy — a frozen dinner, leftovers, cold cuts. But with a little bit of planning, you can make healthy, easy choices and head out the door knowing you’ll actually enjoy your midday meal.
The key to throwing together a good lunch quickly is the supplies. Get ingredients that don’t need too much preparation and can be combined in different ways. These include:
- Fresh and frozen vegetables
- Varieties of canned beans
- Whole-grain wraps, pasta or crackers
- Healthy grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur wheat)
- Canned or pouched fish (tuna, sardines, salmon)
Spend time prepping
Once a week:
- Chop vegetables and store them in containers that allow you to easily see the contents and/or clearly mark what’s inside using painter’s tape
- Cook meats, fish or chicken and divide them into lunch-sized portions
- Make large portions of grains or pasta and store them in the fridge
- Boil 4-6 eggs to keep in the fridge
Once you have ready-to-go ingredients, you can whip up a work lunch that hits all the marks: healthy, delicious and satisfying.
Try a few of these twists on a classic midday meal:
Dips aren’t just for chips. Use sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, baby carrots and grape tomatoes as your scooping vehicle. Add a few whole grain crackers for some crunch.
Put it in a bento box
This simple, elegant presentation of food items is commonly used in Japanese restaurants and is great for organization. Use a bento box or divided lunch container and pay attention to presentation by choosing colorful ingredients — after all, we eat with our eyes first. To achieve nutritional balance, mix and match the ready-to-eat vegetables, grains and proteins you’ve already prepared.
Here’s an example of a burrito bowl bento box lunch that you can easily replicate.
Freeze it and microwave it
Frozen vegetables have all the nutrients of fresh, so peruse the frozen food aisle. It’s a great way to enjoy favorites that are out-of-season, and you won’t have to worry about spoilage.
Bypass the premixed-with-sauce options and load up your cart with vegetables: carrots, sugar snap peas, broccoli, artichoke hearts, vegetable medleys. Once you get home, divide them into individual portion bags. Keep a supply of microwave steam bags on hand (these non-plastic bags are reusable) and you are set.
Lunch can be any combination of vegetables, sauce and protein:
- Chicken strips with bell pepper, onion and salsa
- Shrimp “fried” rice using brown rice, peas, water chestnuts, carrots and hoisin
The possibilities are endless. Check out Primer: A Guy’s Guide to Growing Up for more on this idea.
Wrap it up
Use a whole grain wrap or lettuce instead of bread for those times you need a hand-held lunch. To avoid a messy meal, choose ingredients wisely.
- Romaine or butter lettuce leaves are sturdy and sizable, making them a good choice for lettuce wraps
- Use bite-sized pieces of protein and vegetables
- Leftover rotisserie chicken is a great option
- Avoid runny sauces or dressings
- Mashed avocado, a yummy substitute for mayonnaise, works to bind all your wrap components together
For more healthy lunch ideas, click here.