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!
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!
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
Photo credit: The Honour System
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:
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
Photo 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
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?