Tips and recipes for packing a healthy lunch

It’s officially March: dietitians’ favourite month! That’s because March is Nutrition Month, a time when we get to bring nutrition into the spotlight and share all of our best tips in the media. Okay, we do that year round anyways. But still – it’s pretty cool to have a month devoted to our field.

This year’s theme is “Eating 9 to 5!”: in other words, eating healthily at work. This can be a challenge for a lot of us because it requires some planning. I mean, it’s so much easier to just buy lunch every day right? But often even the healthiest sounding meals from the food court or cafeteria aren’t as healthy as we might think they are. Not to mention, they can get pricey! I once paid $12 for the lamest, most unsatisfying salad of my life when I was in university – and after that I vowed to pack my lunch every day.

If you’ve been wanting to get into a routine of packing your own lunch, I’m here to help you. First, I want to reassure you that making lunches for the week doesn’t have to be time consuming. Just 30-45 minutes on a weekend can be enough time to prepare lunches for the whole week!

Tips and recipes for packing a healthy lunchPhoto credit: Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen, The Honour System, and The Healthy Maven

I’ve rounded up some ideas in this post for make ahead lunch foods, divided into different categories: salads, sandwiches, snacky lunches, bowl type meals, and healthy snacks to eat between meals. Some of these recipes fit into that 30-45 minute time frame, while others might take longer to make. But there should be something for all schedules, diets, and cooking levels in this post. I hope these ideas inspire and help you to eat better, save money, and stay energized at work by packing a healthy lunch!

spring chickpea quinoa salad

Salads

Salads are one of my favourite make ahead lunch foods because you can make a big batch that covers all five of your lunches for the week. I like to divide it up into containers right after making it so that all I have to do in the morning is grab a container and go! If the salad is made with leafy greens I’ll pack the dressing separately, but otherwise I’ll mix it right in.

To make your salad satisfying, make sure to include some protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. Two of my favourite foods to use in salads are grains and beans. Grains are full of fibre and B vitamins to keep you full and energized throughout the afternoon. And I love beans because when you buy them canned, they take no time to prep at all! Here are some good ideas for both:

Spring Chickpea Quinoa Salad via Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen
Lentil and Sweet Potato Salad via The Healthy Maven
Asian Quinoa Salad via Two Peas and their Pod
Roasted Chickpea Salad with Grapes and Feta via Making Thyme for Health

Curried Egg Salad from The Honour SystemPhoto credit: The Honour System

Sandwiches

Sandwiches are an easy lunch that can be made the night before in just 5 minutes.  Or if you’re making a salad filling for your sandwiches, that can be made ahead of time and stored in a container (pack the filling in a small container in your lunch and add it to your sandwich right before eating to prevent the bread from getting soggy!).

Make sure to look for 100% whole grain on the label of your breads and pick a protein-rich filling like chicken, turkey, egg, fish, hummus, or nut butter. These are some great ideas for sandwiches if you need inspiration:

Curried Egg Salad via The Honour System
Avocado Tuna Salad via The Healthy Maven
Chickpea Salad Sandwich via The Simple Veganista
Red Pepper Hummus, Chickpea, and Feta Pita via Love & Lemons

Easy homemade hummus

Snacky Lunches

When you don’t have much time to prepare lunch, snacky lunches are a good quick option! Just combine 3-4 snack foods like hummus, crackers, chopped veggies, fruit, cheese, nuts, or yogurt to make a complete meal. Snacky lunches are also good if you have a busy, erratic schedule at work without time to sit down to a real lunch. Many of the snack foods I listed can be bought straight from the grocery store with little prep work required. Or, if you have some extra time to make your own, try these recipes:

Caramelized Onion Hummus via Hungry Healthy Girl
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus via Fit Foodie Finds
Classic Homemade Hummus via Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen
Chipotle Rosemary Spiced Nuts via The Lean Green Bean
Homemade Seedy Crackers via My New Roots

Winter Abundance Bowl from My New RootsPhoto credit: My New Roots

Bowl Type Meals

First let me explain what I mean by a “bowl type meal”. By this I mean a combination of a grain, a protein, some veggies, and a sauce/dressing that you eat all together. This type of meal is great for lunches because the components are easy to prepare and you can switch them up every week to add variety. All you have to do is choose one of each:

    • Grain: brown rice, quinoa, millet, farro, bulgur, buckwheat, freekeh, couscous, etc
    • Protein: chicken, beef, tofu, beans, eggs, etc
    • Veggies: any ones you like (raw, steamed, grilled or roasted)!
    • Sauce/dressing: Thai peanut sauce, tahini sauce, yogurt sauce, homemade vinaigrette, teriyaki sauce, etc.

Combine them to make your own creation, or try out one of these recipes:

The Big Vegan Bowl via Oh She Glows
Sunshine Bowl with Sunflower Seed Tahini Sauce via Feasting at Home
Winter Abundance Bowl via My New Roots
Protein Power Bowl via Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen
Quinoa Burrito Bowl via Kiwi and Bean

Blueberry vanilla energy balls

Healthy Snacks

To stay energized throughout the day, pack yourself one or two healthy snacks to have between meals. Aim for snacks with fibre and/or protein to keep you satisfied! Fruit and veggies make great snacks and help you reach your recommended daily servings. I also love trying out homemade snacks like these:

Blueberry Vanilla Energy Balls via Chelsea’s Healthy Kitchen
Banana Bread Muffin Tops via Oh She Glows
Crunchy Honey Roasted Chickpeas via Diary of an Ex Sloth
Banana Bread Granola Bars via Running with Spoons
Peanut Butter Yogurt Fruit Dip via Prevention RD

Hopefully some of the tips and recipes in this post have given you some lunch inspiration. For more ideas for eating well at work, follow some of these great dietitian Twitter accounts: @DietitiansCAN@ShanCrockerRD, @GreatMealIdeas, @DAmbrosioRd, @upbeetRD, @langernutrition, @food4happiness, and me!

What are your tips for packing a healthy lunch? What are your favourite foods to pack for lunch?

29 Comments

Filed under nutrition, recipe round up

29 Responses to Tips and recipes for packing a healthy lunch

  1. Love these tips, Chelsea! As I work from home, it’s been a long while since I’ve packed lunch and I’m not going to lie- I don’t miss it at all! When I was working in an office, I used to almost always try and double up on dinner quantities so I could take the leftovers for lunch. I also used to pack my lunch the night before to streamline the process in the morning- that way all I’d have to do is grab my lunch out the refrigerator and I was good to go!

    • Chelsea

      Yeah doubling up on dinners is one of my favourite ways to make packing a lunch easier too! I’m not a big fan of packing lunch after dinner though – I prefer to get them all done and packed on the weekend so that it takes almost no effort during the week!

  2. Great ideas Chelsea! I think this is so helpful to those people who are just not very motivated, if they see all these options, they may chance their minds! I love taking a good old almond butter and jelly sandwich, but I also love taking avocado and tuna mixed together. Thanks for the new suggestions :)

  3. I’m all about packing my lunch! Our cafeteria actually has pretty awesome salads and soups so I occasionally get a little something but most of the time I try to pack!

    • Chelsea

      That’s nice that your caf has such good options! That’s definitely handy for times when you just don’t feel like packing a lunch (it happens haha).

  4. Caramelized Onion Hummus?!?! That’s a must try. Sounds delicious! Thanks for including the Curried Egg Salad recipe. I like encouraging folks to bring a lunch. So much better for you and you can spend your $$ on quality groceries instead of limp, lifeless, overpriced salads.

    • Chelsea

      I know right? I seriously love caramelized onions! And I bet they taste awesome with hummus (but what doesn’t taste good with hummus?).

      Ugh don’t even talk to me about overpriced salads. It always kills me how salads are so much pricier than the unhealthy options at cafeterias and food courts.

  5. What a fabulous roundup! Thanks so much for including my hummus recipe!

  6. Great post, girl! Packing lunches was something that I used to dread back in the day when I was going to school and working away from home, so a post like this would have been super helpful. I mostly just packed wraps or almond butter and banana sandwiches… and you know I always had to get my snacks in there! Usually bars or whatever I happened to be baking at the moment. That and fruit… always, always fruit <3

  7. Food prep is so important if you want decent sustenance- Great list here! Not going to lie, I have resorted to banana bread or granola for lunch. Also not going to lie that it may have been done on purpose….

  8. This was a fantastic post.

    I always bring my lunch, although I do have some weird fetish about packing salads and sandwiches ahead of time. I don’t like the idea of the sandwich already assembled and chilling in the fridge for hours. Same goes for salads. I will however bring in the components and put them all together when it’s time to eat. It takes a whole lot more Tupperware though which I’m sure my coworkers love. Not.

    .

    • Chelsea

      I’m fine with packing sandwiches like turkey or chicken ahead of time, but for sandwiches with salad type fillings like tuna salad, I pack the filling separately like I said in the post. I haaaaaate soggy sandwiches! Haha.

  9. Ayngelina

    So many awesome ideas here!

  10. Great post, Chelsea! It’s definitely not easy to bring your food every single day when you work a regular desk job. I used to rely on sandwiches and salads when I worked in an office and in a gym and I couldn’t leave for lunch. These days, I have more flexibility which is nice. But you can never go wrong with a mixed-bowl of goodness, featuring veggies, meat and a grain!

    • Chelsea

      Packing a lunch definitely takes work, so I truly understand why people prefer to just buy lunch everyday. That’s why I like easy lunch foods that take only a little effort to make ahead of time!

  11. Snacky lunches & dinners are the best! I love a variety of foods/textures/flavours. It’s one of the things I treasure most about living without a man – SNACK PLATE DINNERS.

    • Chelsea

      I know right? Plus I feel like snacky meals are a good excuse to eat a huge hunk of cheese with crackers haha.

  12. Such awesome tips! Admittedly I could learn a thing or two from these considering how lazy I am when it comes to lunch. It’s too often determined by what I’m cooking that day so if brownies are on the menu then uhhhhhh. Or eggs…all the eggs. Thanks for including me babes!

    • Chelsea

      I’m so lazy about lunch too lately since I’m always home for it. I gotta get back into the swing of packing a lunch soon though!

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  14. Lunches are ALWAYS a problem for me so I’m always looking for new inspiration…recipes that are quick but healthy at the same time. Thanks for these new ideas. That caramelized onion hummus is the first thing I want to try!

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